Sanako is a Finnish Educational Tech company helping schools and language teachers to improve language teaching efficiency and results.
A question has frequently been posed on whether there is any evidence or research on the effectiveness of language labs in foreign language teaching. In this 2-part blog series we are going to have a deeper look on the effectiveness of modern language labs in language teaching.
Before we continue further it seems important to define the meaning of language labs of today.
A language laboratory is a dedicated space for foreign language teaching where students access audio or audio-visual materials in a real-time teacher-led teaching event such as a language class or exam. Modern language labs are usually computer classrooms or virtual environments where the computers run a special language lab software meant for language teaching such as Sanako Study or Sanako Connect for example.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Apparently, modern language labs are an inseparable component of the school ICT environment. After all, most of them require computers and a LAN network or access to the Internet. They promote the use of digital learning resources and integrate computer-specific features such as databases, chat or instant messaging.
All this is infused with audio communication which is mainly delivered via headsets, and teacher control capabilities (monitor, intercom, remote screen control, etc.) Thus, when we think of modern language labs, often referred to as multimedia language classrooms, language centres or suites, or digital language labs, we should not separate them from the ICT infrastructure in a school.
We need to look at them through the prism of ICT, and when we ponder upon their effectiveness in teaching and learning we have to consider both the benefits of a computer classroom setting as well as the benefits of the language lab communication facilities (pair, group discussion, intercom, telephone dialing, monitoring, etc.).
In our opinion, modern language labs are as effective as ICT is effective in teaching in general. In fact, there has been some research on the effectiveness of ICT in language teaching and the results suggest that the schools that implement ICT in Foreign Language Learning (FLL) get better results in teaching than those that do not.
Language Labs and Language Teaching
To return to the question posed at the beginning of this paper, I am fond of an answer given by Graham Davies who wrote in the LinguaNet forum on the effectiveness of ICT:
“Did anyone ever ask how effective the book is in teaching foreign languages? Did anyone ever ask how effective the blackboard is in teaching foreign languages? Did anyone ever ask how effective the tape recorder is in teaching foreign languages? My personal view is that computers are just another aid and their effectiveness depend on how teachers use them, i.e. in the same way as the book, the blackboard and the tape recorder depend on how teachers use them.
The right question to ask is: How effective are teachers at using ICT in language teaching? No resource, however good, will deliver successful learning outcomes is used inappropriately. It is not what ICT can do, but what you can do with ICT.”
In our case it can be translated to the following statement: language labs are really effective when used appropriately by teachers. And to use a wide range of labs’ facilities in an appropriate manner, teachers must be prepared to invest their time in training, class preparation, and new methodologies.
Even though Davies’ approach seems to be a correct one, one just cannot finish a debate with the sole opinion that the effectiveness of labs depends on how they are used by teachers.
For the 2nd part of this blog article, we have collected a few ideas, some of them “straight from the horse’s mouth” i.e. end-users and language teachers, with a hope that they will explain better the benefits of the language lab functionalities (communication and modes of learning) rather than the advantages of a PC lab.