Luckily for everyone, the last few decades have produced technologies that revolutionized language learning. Gone are the days when textbook learning and being drilled in a classroom were the language learning methods of choice. Now, there are apps and games on phones, easy access to a plethora of film, video and music in foreign languages, and many other multimedia options for learning.
This is certainly exciting for the independent learner; nearly all these options are available to use at home, and all are informal, non classroom-based. All are uniquely different learners, and having a choice in the way you learn should be a good thing.
But how can you use these multimedia opportunities and know for sure that you can make progress in your chosen language?
Even if you are a relative beginner, you will certainly know by now that learning a language takes time and dedication. You want to know that you are spending your time wisely.
Thankfully, many academics have looked into this and their research shows just how useful various multimedia can be for learning. All six types of the most popular multimedia have been examined: music, film and video, audio, the internet, the stage and drama, and games and apps.
So, here are 21 research-backed ways of improving your language skills through multimedia.
Why Use Music in Language Learning?
Academic research has overwhelmingly found that musical activities can have a very positive effect on all learners, in all areas of the curriculum.
- “The Power of Music” study from the University of London found that music can enhance understanding and activate engagement; it can be used to heighten students’ perceptual, language and literacy skills. For all teachers and independent learners, it is a powerful tool.
- In terms of using musical activities for learning a language, researchers at CUT, Taiwan studied children who experienced learning English with songs, musical storytelling and musical movement. They found that their learning was “clearly enhanced.”
Partaking in musical activities can be seen as a universally accepted way of improving language learning performance. But, what about background music? Does this also help or hinder language learning?
- According to research from Goldsmiths, University of London, “music that is low in complexity has been associated with improved performance on language learning tasks.”
The study compared language acquisition of students studying Mandarin with or without background music, and found that those who had learned with the background music performed “significantly better.” In other words, the right background music can help you retain language.
It is clear that using music in a variety of ways should be a part of learner’s toolbox.
How to Use Music for Language Learning:
Play music during tasks that need concentration. Choose music that is low in complexity and without lyrics in any language. You may need to experiment with different music until you find something that you feel enhances concentration, rather than hinders it.
Learn and sing songs with lyrics in the language you are studying. The rhythm and melody will help you retain vocabulary, phrases and sentence structure.
Enjoy musical performances in the language you are studying. This can help forge an emotional connection with the language used in the performance, which can help retention.
Seek opportunities to immerse yourself in activities that link music with language (i.e., storytelling, or music and movement workshops).
Why Use Audio in Language Learning?
Think back to how you learned your first language, your mother tongue. You weren’t born speaking it. It was, in fact, the hours and hours spent listening to the people who cared for you as an infant that enabled you to learn.
This exposure meant that, over time, you grasped vocabulary, pronunciation and sentence structure. This all happened regardless of the fact that, as the tiniest infant, these words were barely more than noise.
Is there a reason why the same process cannot be applied to learning a second language?
No, as researchers have discovered, there is none. Dr. Sulzberger of Victoria University, New Zealand claimed in 2009 that the best way of learning a new language is to immerse yourself in listening to it, even though at first it will make little or no sense.
“Neural tissue required to learn and understand a new language will develop automatically from simple exposure to the language – which is how babies learn their first language,” says Dr. Sulzberger.
“Our ability to learn new words is directly related to how often we have been exposed to the particular combinations of the sounds which make up the words,” she added.
If you’ve ever learned a language in a classroom, this is unlikely to be how you learned; it challenged most pre-existing language learning theory. But, listening to audio material in your chosen language can be a significant tool in your learning, whether or not you are prepared to abandon traditional methods of learning.
In fact, the aural way of learning may particularly suit some of us. Aural learning is one of the seven learning styles, a widely used system of categorizing learners. Most of us have a preferred learning style, or a mix of just a few depending on circumstance.
How to Use Audio in Language Learning:
If you feel it suits you, purchase an audio-based independent language learning course as part of your toolkit.
Find audio-books or audio-stories to listen to as you do daily chores or during your commute.
Similarly, listen to news broadcasts and radio programs on interesting topics.
If you’re lucky enough to be in a location where your chosen language is widely spoken, take yourself to busy places, sit, and soak up the language spoken around you.
Film and Video
Why Use Film and Video in Language Learning?
For many people, watching films and videos are part of everyday life, and the way they choose to spend much of their leisure time. An excuse to watch more might be an appealing thought.
So, can watching film in a different language help you to learn?
The answer is yes, and there are a few reasons why:
Firstly, most people enjoy watching film and video. If you are enjoying yourself, you are more motivated and engaged, which must be a good thing for language learning.
Secondly, film gives examples of authentic, contextual language use. So, as with listening to audio, your brain is able to soak up natural speech patterns.
Thirdly, the language is given a visual context. Events on-screen and characters’ facial expressions help you to interpret the language you are hearing.
How to Use Video and Film in Language Learning:
Watch foreign language films and television.
Seek out language learning resources from the internet to accompany films and to deepen your learning. This may be in the form of lesson plans for teachers with comprehension questions and discussion prompts, or guides for students that explain plot and vocabulary.
Look for language learning sites with video resources (like English Central) that allow you to watch video clips, then repeat the words for speaking and listening practice, and then get feedback from a native speaker.
Try creating your own animated videos by writing your own subtitles and providing a voiceover. Many websites allow you to do this.
Why Use the Internet in Language Learning?
For the independent language learner, there is little doubt that the internet as a resource for learning has had a significant impact on language learning possibilities.
In his book for the British Council, “Innovations in Learning Technologies for English Language Teaching,” Gary Cotteram argues that “digital technologies are ideally placed to help teachers working with learners, and learners working independently, to do the necessary ‘languaging’ that makes their language development possible.” Here, he is referring to the need to use and communicate with new language, rather than just learning about it.
Technology has allowed everyone to get instant feedback on language output, perhaps through using online language quizzes, word processing software, or by being able to have a video conversation with a native speaker on the other side of the planet.
Decades ago, a typical language learner would have had to wait for teacher response on textbook learning; now, the opportunities for practice and possibilities for feedback are far greater. This means learning can take place at a faster pace.
How to Use the Internet in Language Learning:
Use the internet to read about topics in your chosen language: news articles, travel information, or any topic of your choosing.
Join online forums to practice your written language and to pick up phrases and expressions that might be harder to learn on traditional learning platforms.
More advanced learners could try blogging in their second language and then encouraging feedback from willing volunteers.
Find a native speaker who’s willing to do a language exchange via video calling.
Drama and the Stage
Why Use the Drama and the Stage in Language Learning?
Visiting the theatre is an immersive experience. For a language learner, this falls into two strands: cultural immersion, and language immersion. Both are integral to successfully learning a language.
Being in the audience is also valuable, although it is a passive experience. Actually taking part in drama activities yourself can be a positive, active experience for learning a language, as Spanish research has found.
Learning through drama can be fun, motivating and informal.
In a group situation, role-play allows students to use language in natural conversation and be creative with the language they have required. Some students may not enjoy the risk-taking element of this kind of activity, but ultimately it will help confidence enormously.
Drama also allows you to connect verbal with non-verbal communication such as facial expression and stance, which can consolidate learning. Combining language available with non-verbal communication techniques also allows you to communicate to a greater degree than if you were wholly reliant on only the language.
How to Use the Drama and the Stage in Language Learning:
Visit theatre performances in your chosen language to immerse yourself in language and culture.
Consider joining a theatre group to perform on stage. Performing scripted lines on stage can help confidence enormously, and the experience can teach you a lot about the relevant culture.
Play drama games with fellow learners, such as charades, or “Where are we?” where a group act a scenario for others to guess what it is.
Games and Apps
Why Use the Games and Apps in Language Learning?
It’s no surprise that there’s a huge variety of language learning games and apps available for our smartphones, laptops and tablets. Many of these apps are free, and they certainly are popular — the most used app has 200 million users worldwide learning 30 languages. But are they truly valuable to the experience of learning a language?
There are some distinct disadvantages to using them as the sole way of learning a language — that there is no real communication happening. Many of them use audio-lingual drilling of certain phrases, a method of language learning that certainly has its limitations.
However, where apps and games come into their own is in the fact that they are in your pocket on your smartphone at all times. So, five minutes while waiting for a bus can be turned into a micro language lesson. They are also very motivating, even addictive. So, practicing your new language regularly becomes a breeze.
Used as a supplement to other language learning methods, they definitely can give your language learning a boost.
How to Use the Games and Apps in Language Learning:
Download a few games and apps to your smartphone and tablet and play whenever you have five free minutes – in line at the store, waiting for your take-out order, etc.
Try to play little and often, such as five minutes once or twice a day. If you have bigger chunks of time to devote to language learning, you are probably better off choosing a different method of learning.
Making the Most of Multimedia for Language Learning
With these 21 multimedia options, we can see there are so many ways of learning and practicing a new language, which is certainly exciting.
Many of them are particularly engaging and motivating, and when we feel as such, our brains are very much open to learning. This means multimedia learning is a brilliant tool for language learning, and can have really positive results.
But like all things in life, balance is the key. You can’t pretend that you are going to successfully learn a language by only watching movies, or playing on an app on your tablet. These multimedia ideas have to be seen as tools in a larger kit of learning methods.
If you get the balance right, however, all these methods can help deepen your understanding, overcome language-learning hurdles, and hasten or reinforce language acquisition.
Inherently different learning styles mean that some people may respond to different methods better than others. Experimenting with a few different ideas for multimedia learning until you find what works best for you will be time well spent.
Which will you try first?
Maloy Burman is the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Premier Genie FZ LLC. Premier Genie is currently running 5 centers in Dubai and 5 centers in India with a goal to multiply that over the next 5 years.