‘Digital era’ is the moniker given to the fast-paced, tech-hungry milieu in which the human race finds itself at the moment. It began towards the end of the 20th century, by about 1970, and is very much running full steam ahead. As with all avenues of human enterprise, the learning of English is influenced radically by this tech revolution.
First created in 1960, software programs for language learning acquired popularity swiftly. A further improvement on these was the artificial intelligence programmes and computer games designed for language learning, in 1976 and 1988 respectively. These technological innovations mainly targeted receptive skills, i.e., listening and reading via audio and video lessons. These are highly user-friendly and widely popular.
There are entire websites devoted to English teaching and learning, and they are highly popular with adult English learners. There are also websites that cater to children. They provide free content that are of interest to children, which often include English language teaching and learning. The content includes English language lessons divided into stages, with activities designed for each stage. For a parent looking for language learning material on the web, such websites are a godsend.
Language learning apps such as Duolingo are remarkable for their ease of use and creative methods of teaching. It is excellent for kids without a long attention span, since one needs to spend a mere 20 minutes a day to learn fluent English in a short time. There are also apps that builds one’s vocabulary, using spaced periodic recall techniques. Buuu is a language learning app that gives the learner opportunities to speak with native users of English. Babbel and Rosetta Stone are other apps that are very effective in English teaching, especially for non-native speakers of English.
Short stories? In the digital age? As surprising as it may sound, the effectiveness of short stories with simple plots and a limited number of characters for teaching a language is indisputable. This is especially true with children, as there is no child who dislikes a properly told story. This is one area of language learning where there is an endless demand for fairy tales and fables of the old, such as Aesop’s fables. These stories teach language in context, with the result that grammar and vocabulary are acquired by the learner indirectly rather than directly. This takes away the boredom and tediousness associated with direct learning of grammar and vocabulary. A bonus is the learning of values through such stories of course.
If there is a tried and tested recipe for English learning, that is reading. And what is the most popular mode of reading in the digital era? E-books of course. You would be surprised at the number of free e-books available out there that entertains and educates at the same time. In fact, as the world is moving into a paperless era, e-books are assuming great significance indeed. A wide variety of e-books are available on the web, and you can read any of them on the go. With iPad/tablets and e-readers like the Kindle, reading has become more interactive. They provide functions never before seen such as ‘click-to-define’. You can download whole texts at the touch of a button.
The unassuming word processor with its simple tools such as dictionary and thesaurus is an immense help to beginning learners of English, to correct their errors as they write and to find better words to express their ideas in a more apt way. The simple Microsoft Word is actually a godsend for many a student who are not so sure of their tenses and spelling.
With Skype and FaceTime becoming more and more popular, there is a booming industry out there made up of online English lessons that involves distance teaching and learning of English. A native speaker can teach English to anyone around the world, using these tools. Videoconferencing in particular allows teachers to interact with many learners at the same time. Moreover, apps such as CoffeeStrap and HelloTalk lets you talk to native speakers and learn from them, right from your phone.
Need we say more? English learning in the digital era is a multi-sensory and multi-media experience, and, most remarkable, it is available for anyone with access to basic information and communication technology. English language has never had it this good!