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So you want them to talk...
Update on ARRA Funds
Grant Opportunities

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Defense Language Institute
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Mason, Ohio

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Crestview, FL

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Suwanee, GA 

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Tandberg Educational, Inc. and the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) build on their long-standing relationship with the SANAKO Study 1200

Tandberg Educational, Inc. is installing the SANAKO Study 1200
throughout the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center
at the Presidio of Monterey. The recently awarded 4 year contract will
standardize the entire Institute on the SANAKO Study 1200 for all their
language teaching.

Regarded as one of the finest schools of foreign language instruction
in the world the Presidio of Monterey provides instruction in some 23
languages plus several dialects and can accommodate more than 3500
students. The DLIFLC has established itself as a national pacesetter in
foreign language education using cutting-edge educational technology
which includes their standardizing all their instructional labs in 875
classrooms with SANAKO Study 1200.
 So you want them to talk..

By Deborah Fernald Roberts
Foreign Language Department Head
Westwood High School
Westwood, MA
If you were to ask teachers of modern foreign languages which skill they would most like their students to master, the vast majority of them would say speaking- they want their students to be able to communicate and hold conversations in the language they are learning. If you were to ask their parents about their own high school language learning experiences, easily half of them would say something roughly equivalent to "I took 3 years of French (Spanish, German, etc.) in high school but I can't speak a word of it". Chances are that many of them used the language labs of the seventies and eighties, where the emphasis was on rote drill and substitution exercises such as:
 Est-ce que tu vas à la bibliothèque? ( cinéma)
 Est-ce tu vas au cinéma?
 Est-ce que tu vas au cinéma? (charcuterie)
Digital language labs of the 21st century have many features that enable teachers to move their students beyond repetition and pattern drills toward proficiency- the ability to communicate and exchange information about a variety of topics of general interest. Proficiency is front and center in the National Standards for Foreign Language Learning which are based on the five "Cs"- Communication, Culture, Comparisons, Connections, and Communities. Communication is split into three different modes: Interpersonal, Interpretive and Presentational. Interpersonal communication involves the exchange of information between at least two people. While interpersonal communication can be written, it is in the language lab where teachers have a wonderful opportunity to engage students in tasks that will help to develop their proficiency in spoken interpersonal communication.
To a certain extent we still tend to focus activities in the language lab on the development of grammatical skills. It is easy to direct our students to websites where students can practice verb conjugations, pronoun substitutions and the like. While it is necessary for students to learn these building blocks of language, this in and of itself does not lead to proficiency in oral communication. Students need multiple opportunities to talk with each other, take risks, make mistakes, and get feedback before they can become proficient speakers. Sanako labs have features which allow students to engage in both guided and spontaneous interpersonal communication, often in response to an open-ended prompt. It is activities of this type which will help our students to develop the ability to communicate with their peers and the confidence to use their language skills in real-life situations.
Putting students in telephone mode, where they can communicate directly with other students in the lab via headphones, is one such feature. You might set students the task of interviewing others (maybe 3 or 4) in the class to find out what their partners did over the past weekend (school vacation, summer months). By asking and answering questions using previously learned vocabulary and grammatical structures (past tense) the students perform this task, perhaps with the aid of a series of questions which were generated in a brainstorming session prior to going to the language lab. This would give students the practice they need to be able to accomplish this task. To turn this into an assessment, where students would be graded on their ability to perform this task, the random pairing mode could be used. Students would then be paired with someone whose identity they do not know in advance and would record and save their conversations. The teacher could then use a rubric to score these interactions based on criteria which had been previously presented to students. In addition to using the telephone and random pairing modes for practice and assessment, there is another feature of the lab which could be used to give them feedback. The teacher could record a spoken commentary at the end of their dialogue, or could use the "mark-to-speak" feature to imbed comments on pronunciation, grammatical errors, or vocabulary choices at appropriate points in the dialogue. After listening to these comments on a subsequent visit to the lab, the students could even do a final take which would give them the opportunity to improve their previous performance.  
Here are some other conversation topics or prompts that could be used as described above:
  • Students are going on an overnight class trip to a nearby city during which they will take a city tour, visit a museum, eat in a nice restaurant, and see a play. Two students discuss what they are going to bring with them for clothing.
  • Two students are planning a birthday party for a friend. They discuss what there will be to eat, what the activities will be, whom they will invite as well as other details about the party.
  • Two students are discussing a problem that one of them has. It could be a problem with a friend, at school, or at home. The listener has to ask for more information about the problem to be able to give the other student some advice about how to deal with the problem. At first this advice is rejected, so the listener then gives additional suggestions, one of which is accepted. 
  • Two students discuss what they have to do to help out around the house. They talk about chores they like and dislike how often they have to do them, and make comparisons to what other members of the family have to do.
  • Two students both went to the same party last night. Both were surprised by the behavior and appearance of some of the fellow guests. Someone looked really sad, another was really annoyed, and a third was in a bad mood. You discuss how people looked and offer possible explanations for their emotions.  
All of these prompts could easily be turned into homework assignments or written assessments where students have to summarize the results of their conversations.
Research tells us that that for most learners of a second language, speaking is the last skill to develop. The receptive skills, listening and reading, develop much more quickly, and students seem much more willing to take risks in the productive skill of writing than they are in speaking. If we want them to become proficient in interpersonal communication, we need to create multiple opportunities for them to engage in unscripted conversations. The language lab offers students the chance to practice until they feel comfortable and confident in taking risks. It also offers teachers the opportunity to assess their progress, determine if activities are effective, and ultimately revise and improve instruction so that we can reach our goal of having students be able to exchange information with others in the language they are learning.


Tandberg Educational, inc.
An Update on the ARRA Funds........
Secretary Duncan has made it clear all schools and districts should be considering how to use the ARRA fiscal stabilization funds to improve student outcomes over the next two years and to advance reforms that will have a long-term impact.
The most recent federal guidance says decision makers should consider whether they can answer "YES" to the following questions:
  • Will the proposed use of funds drive improved results for students?
  • Increase educators' long-term capacity to improve students' results?
  • Advance improvement plans and reform goals encompassed in ARRA?   
  • Serve as "bridge funding" to help transition to more effective and efficient approaches?
  • Foster continuous improvement?
Grant Opportunities.........................

Federal Register - All Federal Grants
ESchool News Funding Center
AT&T Foundation
The NEA Foundation
Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Champlin Foundations
National Science Foundation


A Language Lab is still the BEST instructional tool available for language learning.