Career and Education

Distance learning: strategies for keeping language learning engaging

Distance learning: strategies for keeping language learning engaging

All around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has split up students and their educators, but as we adjust to this new normal, education certainly doesn’t have to cease entirely. Indeed, many educators are embracing the challenge of connecting with their student’s minds in new ways. There are various ways that we can ensure that this enthusiasm for online learning translates into success during the current revolution of home-based learning norms.

In this article, we’ll look at five strategies to help educators engage students online in order to support them in their studies at home. We’ll focus on the language sector in particular, with various translation activities incorporated as examples. However, the general points can be applied to any topic, so let’s get cracking. 

Focus on variety – translation activity examples

Keeping lessons varied is key to ensuring that students remain engaged. Educators need to inspire their students and fill them with enthusiasm for the topic. Repeating the same dull exercises ad infinitum simply won’t cut it. 

What are fun ways to teach a language? Looking at language learning and translation activities provides us with plenty of examples: flashcards, quizzes, videos, songs, magazine articles, news stories, blog posts… There’s a wealth of freely accessible resources online that educators can build into activities in order to keep their students on their toes. 

Play language games

Our attitude to education is continually evolving and the coronavirus outbreak will certainly contribute to that change. Way back when, the concept of having fun in the classroom would have seemed preposterous, but we’ve come a long way since then. Educators can now build game-playing into their repertoire as a regular activity to get students thinking in different ways. 

Looking at language and translation games, everything from hangman to Words with Friends has a role to play. The key here is to get students expanding their vocab and practicing correct spellings in new ways that keep them excited about doing so. 

There are a vast number of language-based apps out there, from practical translation tools to well thought out games that take players on an entertaining journey while also embedding their language learning. 

What are the benefits of language games? Firstly, there are the academic benefits. Language games can be used for everything from introducing new linguistic concepts to embedding previous lessons. Language games also come with social benefits. Encouraging students to connect with one another virtually can help those struggling with the relative isolation of lockdown and social distancing measures. 

Blend on-screen and off-screen language learning 

Distance learning doesn’t have to be all about sitting in front of a laptop or a tablet. In fact, there’s a healthy balance to be had between on-screen and off-screen activities. Why not, for example, provide your language students with a recipe in the language they’re learning? Send them off to the kitchen with the task of undertaking the translation while they bake and then ask them to submit photos of the dishes they produce. 

It only requires a little imagination to come up with tasks like this that can see students getting away from their screens while also still practicing their language skills. You can even encourage them to get out into the fresh air, perhaps in the form of a nature trail with requirements to name and describe the plants and creatures they find in the garden or while out walking in their local area. The key is to use a bit of creativity while also factoring in the core language and translation practice. 

Provide emotional support

The COVID-19 pandemic will have long-lasting mental health implications. A study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that the aftermath of SARS in Hong Kong caused nearly half of respondents to report moderate or severely deteriorated mental health, while two-thirds of them reported feelings of helplessness.

Providing emotional support can be achieved in multiple ways. Doing so could help many students to focus better on their studies, despite the considerable global turmoil around them. It can also be done with language learning in mind, with educators setting up regular peer support sessions to help students to express themselves openly – and all in the language that they are learning, rather than their native tongue. 

Simply letting students know that it’s ok to not be ok is a good way to open a conversation. There are plenty of resources available online that you can use to help students to express themselves, so why not do so in their second language? 

Mix language and translation group sizes

Distance learning doesn’t have to be a solo activity. With apps like Zoom and Houseparty freely available, educators can quickly and easily set up group learning activities that allow students to connect with one another while they learn. Professionals around the world are using such apps – Zoom users have increased from 10 million active daily users to 200 million in the last three months. 

Video calls are great for one-to-one sessions, small groups, and larger classes, so educators can mix up group sizes based on the activity in question. Students can enjoy the variety that that brings, as well as social interaction. 

Ultimately, learning at home, just like learning in other settings, needs to keep students interested. If they are faced with activities that inspire them, they will find it easier to learn and will feel happier about doing so. The topic doesn’t have to be language and translation. Everything from virtual tours of art galleries and the British Museum (highly recommended, if you’ve not already checked it out) to chemistry demonstrations is available online. 

By mixing these superb online resources with a range of other on-screen and off-screen activities, educators have the opportunity to keep up a lively pace that will engage students in multiple ways, ensuring that distance learning is both enjoyable and effective. 

At the time of writing, it’s unclear how long the coronavirus-related social distancing measures will be in place or how long it will be before educational institutions are permitted to reopen in one form or another. For now, distance learning is here to stay. It’s up to educators to translate that reality into an opportunity – one that benefits their students in new ways while we wait for life to return to normal.

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