Modern Languages Teaching Forum

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Forum 5 – December 2021: Moving on

On Wednesday 8 December 2021, the University of Kent’s School of Cultures and Languages hosted its fifth Modern Languages Teaching Forum via Zoom.

At the Forum researchers explored best practice methods and strategies to enhance Modern Languages teaching provision and to improve attainment for all students and pupils.

Together we took stock of our experience with distance learning, with online tools and technologies, to understand which good practices we were keen to port into blended experiences, and discuss our return to normal classroom settings. But also and more importantly we wanted to look ahead.

A recording of the forum can be found on YouTube.


0:00 Welcoming remarks

6:43 Learning with technology, learning from technology? Digitally-enhanced projects in the making – Pauline Souleau, University of St Andrews

28:46 Community Building and Social Presence. New Beginnings, Beginners Italian. – Maria Guarnieri, University of Leicester

49:55 Using Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) in the classroom – Marisa Ghirlandi, University of Kent

1:15:13 Q&A and discussion

1:26:39 Screen break

1:29:16 Asynchronous papers (see below for recorded presentations)

1:49:35 The integration of culture and language in MFL teaching. The case of “Year in a Language” (French) at the University of Kent – Lauranne Lefrançois and Clara Díaz Bayón, University of Kent

2:15:59 Integration of cultural knowledge in assessment patterns – Maggie Awadalla and Ru Su, University of Kent

2:38:51 Q&A, discussion and final remarks

(Timings are relative to the online recording of the forum)

Learning technologies and the online learning environment in the language class

Dr Pauline Souleau, University of St Andrews

Academia’s relationship to the Digital has rapidly changed in these past eighteen months, for better or for worse. This paper will present two technology-enhanced projects in the making for the teaching and learning of modern languages which have stemmed from our revaluation of the Digital in time of COVID and of Brexit: “Zoom-Pals” and a modular multimedia database.

“Zoom-pals” is a digital exchange programme between the University of St Andrews and Sorbonne Université that encourages students of French at St Andrews and students of English at the Sorbonne to meet weekly during term-time via online platforms to practice language production and to consolidate their cultural knowledge. The multimedia database is a depository of audio-visual and written materials in French which allows students to browse various sources of French (press, podcasts, movies, series, performances etc.) in an adaptable and accessible way. The exploration of these projects will allow for an overview of existing learning platforms (ThingLink, Exhibbit), some of which open source (Scalar, Recogito).

This paper will also lead to a discussion on bespoke programming software and what to do when there is an idea but no existing system to support it, and on the benefits and shortcomings of technology, with regards to digital literacy and accessibility for students and staff in this fast changing and demanding environment. Ultimately, it will show that while the rapid technological turn of these past few months has not always been beneficial for teaching, learning, and overall wellbeing, the Digital – if thought carefully and removed from its association with the words ‘crisis’ and/or ‘pandemic’ – can and should support, complement, enrich more traditional means of learning and teaching and suit a diverse cohort of students.

Maria Guarnieri, University of Leicester

The recent health emergency has provided us with the space to reconceptualise and redesign language teaching and learning on UG language programmes.

Existing literature indicates that teaching presence is clearly associated with student perceptions of learning, satisfaction, and connectedness. The visibility of the teacher in the online learning environment is generally measured in terms of design and organisation, facilitation, and direct instruction. In addition, sharing clear communication guidelines can support learners’ development of their own ‘social presence’, which corresponds to a higher degree of peer interaction and student-teacher interaction, ultimately promoting a sense of community belonging.

I will illustrate how this approach has been applied to a first-year undergraduate online module in Beginners ‘Italian at the University of Leicester during the last academic year, and how this experience can and must pave the way to new beginnings in the flexible delivery of language courses at UG level.

Marisa Ghirlandi, University of Kent

This paper presents an overview of the platforms that allow language teachers to employ Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) in class. In particular, this study focuses on the current lack of a comprehensive platform through which learners can work on all their language skills (speaking, writing, reading and listening) at once. As a consequence, different platforms and apps need to be employed by language teachers to ensure an holistic approach to language learning.

However, this process can become complicated and overwhelming for a number of reasons. Hence, this paper analyzes the literature about MALL and the results of Questionnaire 1 and 2, administered to 29 Italian high school EFL teachers and 100 Italian ex high school EFL students. The questionnaires were administered during the COVID19 pandemic and interpreted in light of the data concerning the use of mobile technologies by Italian families during and after the lockdown (Auditel-Censis report 2020). Drawing on these data, this paper will:

1) analyze the use of the available platforms to maximize the benefits of MALL;

2) propose Englify, a mobile application designed for teaching and learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in the first two years of high school as a viable alternative.

The integration of culture and language in MFL teaching

Lauranne Lefrançois and Clara Díaz Bayón, University of Kent

The integration of culture in the language learning process may sometimes be overlooked in favour of a more grammatical and technical approach to foreign language learning. This project aims at presenting an integrated method of foreign language teaching articulated around cultural aspects, by exploring and emphasizing the idea that learning a language is learning culture. The study focuses on how to work on linguistic accuracy whilst building on knowledge of a foreign culture.

The study explores a blended project of language and culture learning using one of the most beneficial settings to learn a language: an artificial international exchange program. This remote cultural immersion makes a significant impact to reach students’ full potential while keeping students engaged thanks to a more hands-on approach. This presentation shows a real case of study in the brand-new programme of “Year in a Language” French module at the University of Kent.

The paper will discuss how we incorporated cultural productions in our curricula (Arabic and Mandarin respectively) within the University of Kent’s Language Centre, to develop and further students’ language skills. It will do so by looking at integration of cultural knowledge in assessment patterns, as we will present some of our most successful best practice methods and strategies aimed to improve students’ language attainment and enhance their learning experiences. The paper will also detail how we embedded cultural knowledge in assessments to avoid potential plagiarism.

The paper will also draw upon our experience in developing assignments that aim to enhance student’s research skills and encourage them to reflect on their findings.

Finally, we will present our findings on how we linked the marking criteria to our task-based assignments to inspire our students in developing individual writing strategies and encouraging them to reflect upon their own writing and language acquisition skills.

Asynchronous papers

Livia Manzini, University of Birmingham

My contribution to the Modern Languages Teaching Forum aims at exploring the recent results of my doctoral research which concerns the role of pronunciation and intonation in teaching Italian as a foreign language. During the last academic year, I have explored the use of drama techniques in foreign language teaching, and I have devised materials which require students to perform pieces of creative drama in order to acquire and improve specific language skills. From the second half of the XX century, with the increasing predominance of the communicative approach, drama activities have been widely integrated in the foreign language classes. The great success of the communicative approach in foreign language teaching required the adoption of techniques which privileged the development of the communicative skills of the learners over their translation abilities (Piazzoli, 2011). As a consequence, many scholars (Slade, 1954; Way, 1967; Freire, 1970; Hethcote, 1984; O’Neiil, 1995) elaborated foreign language teaching methods based on the use of creative drama which can help students to prioritise the students’ spontaneity of expression and to valorise their freedom of expression over what they actually express, and to develop the students’ concentration, creativity, and sensibility. Drawing from the previous theorisation and application of drama techniques in the foreign language classroom, the aforementioned materials that I have created exploit drama techniques and other creative arts’ positive features in an appropriate way for the foreign language class. For instance, three are the main activities which have been used in class: 1. brief dialogues (‘loops’), which require students to perform them an indefinite number of times and using different emotional status while they practise different linguistic elements (grammatical rules, specific vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, etc.); 2. Scenes taken form films linked to the main topic of the curriculum; 3. Dialogues taken from literary texts which have already been introduced to students during plenaries.

The feedback I have received so far from students suggests that the creative drama activities allow them to practice skills which are not usually addressed in language courses, in a motivating, enjoyable and meaningful way.

Angelo M. Silvestri, Cardiff University

This paper will explore the combined use of thematic short stories and an example of Italian Modern Literature to improve students’ understanding of Language and culture for Year 2 post- beginners. In my lessons in the first semester, I introduced students to three short stories taken from Giovanni Guareschi and Luigi Pirandello focussing on the theme of Journey: physical, emotional and historical journey. I did that by reading and analysing the stories with them while at the same time making them aware of the differences which lie within the Italian language of different periods and places. Based on this work, in the second semester we read and analysed, Primo Levi’s Se questo è un uomo, and I helped students to familiarize themselves with the fundamental theme of the Holocaust Literature which implicitly introduced them to a completely new form (and use) of language: the language of the concentration camp and the prisoners.

I will offer examples taken from the short stories and some passages from the book in order show the linguistic and pedagogical progression students faced from semester one to semester two while at the same time offering an insight of the benefits (and of the difficulties) of employing literature in Language teaching, both in class and online. The short stories and the Modern Literature have indeed been selected to match the learning curve-Linguistic and Cultural- students need to follow during the two semesters.

Full presentation

Didactic proposal

Victor Gonzalez, University of Kent

The approaches to second language acquisition historically suggested are innumerable and so are those which have already been superseded. As a natural consequence, modern language didactics need to be a blend of diverse knowledge and wisdoms and should also include sociocultural content and equate it with linguistic one.

In this research we have discussed various aspects connected to intercultural competence in the study of Spanish as a foreign language. A competence that is obliged to overcome the grammatical-functional aspects of language to transform it into a mediator figure between different social and cultural realities. In addition, this study develops a comparative study concerning the introduction of this sociocultural content in one of the most complete collection of Spanish as foreign language manuals.

Therefore, the aim of this study was to shed light and contribute, to some extent, to teachers and students’ training and so it is concluded with an intercultural didactic proposal which deals with stereotypes as both a subject and a mean for knowledge and language acquisition. A proposal, based on Isabel Coixet’s documentary “Spain in a day”, which seeks to integrate the theoretical wisdom and, at the same time, lets us, language instructors, reflect about the intercultural work we can and have to implement.

Patricia Falagan Carbajo, University of Kent

This paper examines the use of music as a means to teach culture in the foreign language classroom. Over the years numerous researchers have argued that language and culture are two entities that are inextricably linked. Learning a language effectively requires knowing and understanding the culture of the target language, culture being defined as the beliefs and behaviours that shape a society.

This paper argues that one way to teach culture is through the use of cultural productions, in particular through the use of music. Its benefits include the fact that music is an authentic material, which provides learners with examples on how the target language is used in everyday life; its connection to emotions, and the fact that it gives learners a reason to continue practising the language outside the classroom.

There are numerous ways in which music can be included in the classroom, such as revising grammar, reviewing vocabulary, practising pronunciation and intonation, etc. Music can be used as a means to teach culture as well. Music contains both textual and cultural elements and it is an ideal reflection of a country’s culture. It is used to construct and discuss reality.

This paper shows one possible way to teach Hispanic culture through the use of three music genres linked to three countries. Spanish is a language spoken by many communities and countries, therefore making it a language of great linguistic and cultural variety. Through the use of three songs, students learn about some of the cultural differences present in a selection of Hispanic countries.