Coping with school closure: Bridging social distancing with language learning

Meta Description: A translation agency CEO suggests how teachers can use online language tools and videoconferencing to enrich lessons and student engagement.

In the fast-moving coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic, predicting the future is hazardous. But based on the first half of 2020, it will surprise no one to anticipate that social distancing practices imposed throughout the world are not going away soon. 1.5 billion children in 165 countries have been profoundly affected by school closures. Yet there’s an opportunity in this crisis to advance learning goals through innovation.

Coping with school closure: Bridging social distancing with language learning
ENRICHING E-LEARNING. Online language tools and videoconferencing can help remote educators enrich lessons and promote student engagement.

The Sudden Scramble for Distance Learning Solutions

The sudden developments have caused school administrators and educators to scramble for online distance learning solutions that can engage students and permit both regular learning and completion of academic requirements. As an entrepreneur and founder of an interpretation and translation company that provides online language services to organizations worldwide, I have always had a keen interest in distance learning solutions. In practice, however, there are substantial practical obstacles to successful implementation of an educational program.

As K-12 teachers and parents have learned, this is not an easy time to focus the attention of young people on their studies. Kids have been buffeted by the shock of a profound change in lifestyle as well as social and family life. Without diminishing the profound challenges facing our societies, the innovative use of online language tools can contribute to revolutionizing learning norms, improving engagement, and facilitating educational progress beyond the current crisis.

Putting ourselves into the shoes of our children, we can well understand the frustration of suddenly losing most social interactions. Kids at home are limited in their ability to go out and play. Classrooms were a social experience and an energetic interaction among pupils. 

Is there a way to restore these friendly and cheerful aspects of learning? Can distance learning be educational and fun?

Virtual World Travel and Conversation Across Language Barriers

There are exciting opportunities in language learning. In Spanish classes, I loved learning about life in Madrid or Mexico. The cultural dimension intrigued and excited me. I enjoyed conversational dialogues with strangers from another country, using a newly learned language to make social connections. 

Coping with school closure: Bridging social distancing with language learning
The current global health crisis has driven school administrators and educators scrambling for online distance learning solutions that can engage students and permit both regular learning and completion of academic requirements.
Now, with travel limited and face-to-face foreign language dialogue impeded, online learning programs and translation tools once used for business can be adapted to help our kids learn and interact.

Distance learning platforms use video conferencing and chat systems to connect teachers with students in their classes, enabling teacher-to-students, student-to-teacher as well as peer-to-peer communications. That’s great, and amazing when it works. The reality, unfortunately, is that many students aren’t engaged by the artificial nature of such interactions.

A Modest Proposal to Meld Media to Create Cross-Language Conversations

The idea –a vision to inspire educators and entrepreneurs – is to combine dedicated platforms in use, and free online platforms – to meld social interactions between local schools and those in foreign communities. Our kids sit bored and lonely in their homes. Why not use virtual connections to build bridges across language frontiers, building excitement and engagement in the process.

We have amazing online language course platforms, such as Blackboard, Moodle, and others recommended by UNESCO. We have machine translation tools like Google Translate, letting us hear how to say and understand anything in dozens of languages, or to read any foreign language sign or menu. They’re free. They’re exciting. Our kids love them. Our businesses also use Hangouts and Zoom to video conference. Our teens have group video platforms like Houseparty.

Wouldn’t it be thrilling, in a learning context, to combine the best of these solutions for cross-language global communication? Let’s empower kids in Spain to meet their peers in Manila via voice and video, sharing their current lives and learning languages along the way. Filipina kids wouldn’t just learn Spanish online. They’d be making friends, injecting closeness across the distances dividing us.

Coping with school closure: Bridging social distancing with language learning

“Sister Cities” and “foreign pen-pals” are old-school. Innovative minds can update these paradigms to adapt videoconferencing, teaching, translation, and interpretation tools to solve the urgent educational challenges coronavirus compels us to confront.

The author is the CEO of Tomedes, a translation agency specializing in remote interpretation and online translation.

Topics: COVID-19 pandemic , school , closure , online distance learning
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