Read my lips: video conferencing is a great way to learn a language online.
It adds a live, face-to-face dynamic that is far more engaging than any stale video series you’ve been parroting. And it provides a visual, conversational context that trumps any audio-only app that similarly attempts to bring an “anywhere, anytime” convenience to learning. Video conferencing in language learning works because it is the best alternative to personal, in-person teaching methods. It’s a 21st-century approach to education that is built on technology so common it’s now available on your smartphone for free.
So, whether you’re an adult prepping for the trip of a lifetime to France, or a youngster expanding your understanding of the world by immersing yourself in another culture, video conference-based language learning is for you.
It is already becoming the teaching method of choice for a new generation of language teachers.
The Rise of Video Conferencing in Language Learning
The husband and wife team behind Seattle-based English-language education startup Lana weren’t satisfied with the video conferencing service behind their business, so they built a new one. Paul and Tina Neville found the English language labels on the buttons of both the Zoom and Skype platforms too confusing for novice speakers. To solve the problem, they partnered with the University of Washington’s Information School to build a more suitable platform and launched it with help from Amazon’s Solutions Architect.
The result is a more user-friendly experience for foreign language speakers and a more dynamic teaching platform. The duo added whiteboard interactivity to the video platform–a feature Zoom also offers–so they can share writing and reading space with students, and have expanded their business to include 20 employees and hundreds of students across Asia.
Lana is not the only English-language app to target Asian nations, but the novel way its founders bent video conferencing to better suit their needs is a prime example of how the now-commonplace technology is improving the online language learning industry.
Visual Language Learning
Lana represents the second generation of online language learning services. The first wave focused on user-paced apps and downloads that talked learners through the basics of a new language in a series of static lessons–an industry that is still worth around $3 billion annually in the U.S. alone.
The latest type of language teaching platform is focused on personalized, live lessons. Companies such as Learnissimo and Verbling are better described as networks of independent teachers than as libraries of canned listen-and-repeat lessons. These resource-heavy startups cater to adult learners pursuing a new language for employment and lifestyle reasons. Like Lana, they offer around-the-clock opportunities for students to engage with native language speakers from across the globe.
In line with the new gig economy, these sites allow learners to build their lessons around work and family commitments using commercial-grade webcams and video conferencing platforms to facilitate lessons in the home, the break room at the office, or on the go.
The most obvious upgrade from the static first-generation of learning tools is the ability for students to engage in free-flowing conversation and to see the connection between a teacher’s tone and inflection and their facial expressions. It also encourages the traditional teacher/student relationship to develop into a more complex mentor/protégé dynamic…as Verbling’s marketing attests in the video below.
We’ve previously discussed the rise in online mentoring opportunities that have accompanied video conferencing’s increasing popularity. This application of the technology certainly lifts the potential of digital language learning out of a classroom setting and into the wider world.
Business Benefits of Learning Languages Via Video Call
Video conferencing language learning stands ready to be a vehicle for the ambitions of digital job seekers all over the world. The most obvious candidates are those wishing to physically relocate to a new part of the world, but there are benefits for those who just want to do their traveling over the internet. Learning a language from native speakers in a personal face-to-face environment includes cultural as well as communication lessons. We’ve already seen the platform used to expand the cultural horizons of young students, but there’s little doubt the globalized economy will encourage those of working age to follow suit as well.
When the web is your marketplace, there’s potentially no limit to the location of your customers, partners, and future employers. Learning a language in person lets you pick up on the gestures, tones, and facial aspects of communicating effectively with another culture. At a time when the number of U.S. students learning a second language is declining, being at least bilingual offers an obvious skills advantage.
Getting a cultural and language education online is a way of maximizing what you can achieve from the digital global network. Having the ability to gain these contextual insights while learning a language when and where is most convenient lets you dedicate your professional life to getting ready to join that global community.