Soy hombre alto y gordo.
I’ve often felt that my lack of a foreign language has held me back from many opportunities, and so I’ve decided to do something about it. Originally I planned to buy Rosetta Stone’s Spanish Language course, and run through it this summer. Then I found, through The Simple Dollar, this other website called Livemocha.com: It’s free language instruction in English, Italian, Spanish, French, Polish, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, and more.
So I signed up today, and ran through three or four language lessons pretty quickly, since I’m off-duty for the summer. My goal is to speak, write and read reasonably good Spanish by the time school comes back into session. Apparently my pronunciation is pretty good for a beginner, though I have no clue what I’m saying yet, though my writing is atrocious.
But! Here’s what they offer for free. If I assist in correcting other people’s entries in English, they give me help in correcting my Spanish (and eventually Korean and Chinese and French and Italian). By choosing various friends on their site, I gain access to chat possibilities via both text and VoIP. So I can do immersion speech, and practice my beginner Spanish skills. In exchange, I give lessons in how a native speaker talks in English. Hmm.
So let’s review. Instead of having access to one or two teachers in a limited field of languages at a local public school… I have access to a list of at least ten (and more, I imagine, as more become available) languages in which I can push myself to become at least an intermediate speaker, reader and writer in only a few hundred hours of practice.
I can practice every day at my own pace, instead of at a teacher’s artificially slow or artificially fast pace. I have access to a range of native speakers, and I can improve my pronunciation through direct practice with groups of native speakers, instead of being evaluated by one teacher and a group of students at the same level of ability.
And, as my father points out, I don’t have to put up with the dumber and more assinine elements of public school. If another young person decides to try to bully me while I’m studying Spanish, I can leave. I can study spanish with a group while at home. I can find people near me who want to study Chinese, and we can form a study group with people who want to study English on the other side of the world.
Why do we need a school, again?
I want to make clear, as a teacher, that I like schools, and I think they are important institutions, and that they need to survive in some form. But I think that this technology represents a TREMENDOUS challenge, and we have maybe 6 years — and maybe more like four, and maybe not even that — to incorporate this technology into our teaching.
Or the whirlwind will swallow us whole.