Finding and Organizing Authentic Content for Students

One of the great early benefits for language learning  was the availability of authentic content.  At first students could find newspapers from abroad, then radio, then other kinds of multimedia, and finally even connect and interact with people via blogs, social networks, and Skype.  The challenge is no longer availability, but rather finding and organizing the content so that’s accessible and of interest to the students.

Pageflakes is an rss reader that allows you do this very elegantly.  For those unfamiliar with rss readers, it’s bascially a way to pull in content from various sources to create a person portal page.  I set up a series of these pages (flakes) for the intermediate German classes.  Each page is for a specific city and this works well since the textbook is also organized by focusing on one of these cities for each chapter.  What’s nice about the portal is that this information unlike the text is dynamic.  Students living in these places blog about their day in the location, video clips from the city are shown as are newspaper articles and so on.  You can check it out here:

Of course, if students wish to add content, that can also be added to the portal.  I know professors have structured their courses at Dickinson before as a virtual or imaginary semester abroad with students doing everything from finding apartments to taking classes.  This would provide students with real time content to create these stories and give them life.

Social Networks and Language Learning

Akiko Meguro combined the social networking site Mixi ( and the Mixxer ( to make communication with native speakers an integral part of her course.  She uses the Mixxer to organize bi-weekly language exchanges via Skype for her students, then she has her students reconnect with their partners using the journal function in Mixi, the Japanese version of Facebook.  This encourages the students to continue to meet with their partner outside of class and introduces them to an entire social network within the target culture as well.  Many of our students continue to use Mixi after the course and once they’ve graduated.  We had one language partner visit the class from Japan this year and we regularly hear of our students reconnecting with their language partners once they study abroad their junior year.

This video will give you an idea about the Skype portion.  These are her slides about Mixi.  Obviously Mixi is only for Japanese, but we can set up a similar interaction using the Mixxer and/or other localized social networks.

It’s a great way to introduce culture and prepare them for a study abroad experience.  If you’re interested in doing something similar, please stop down and see me in Bosler.

UCLA’s Language Material’s Project

UCLA announced the publishing of the “Language Material’s Project”.  It’s a very well organized database of resources for language teachers of less commonly taught languages.

These searchable repositories aren’t as necessary as they once were with the rise of very large, public and international web 2.0 sites of links, pictures, news, video, etc.  These crowdsourced sites tend to be much larger than academic repositories and are easily searchable by language via tags.  For example, one can search Flickr or YouTube by keyword in a given language and find thousands of videos.

That being said, I think this project has some strengths that will appeal to language teachers.  The organization by material type and language makes it easy to find quality resources on the topics common to beginning and intermediate texts.  For Arabic they’ve also categorized the items by country of as standard Arabic.

If you’re looking for something specific, you’re probably still better off going to a more general site for authentic materials.  On the other hand, if you’re starting your syllabus for next semester, it’s well worth the time to peruse the materials they’ve collected in the language.  Odds are quite good you’ll find something (menu, brochure, simple online game) that can add to a class activity.

Univision comes to YouTube

YouTube is looking to compete with other rising sites such as Hulu for the internet TV market.   They took a big step today by signing a deal with Univision.

Wired on Univision and YouTube

There’s certainly no shortage of video on the web, and it may not be long before we begin questioning the need for satellite progamming altogether.  In addition to having the videos available on any computer, they also become archived and searchable.

Twinity, 3D Berlin

Twinity is pushing their 3D version of Berlin, and they’re taking advantage of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  They’re holding lectures, classes, and have recreated the wall in it’s original location.  It is interesting to see the location of the wall in modern day Berlin.  The world is still primarily populated by German speakers, so it shouldn’t be hard to start a conversation.

Kindle Goes International

The Kindle is now being sold in other countries.  Unfortunately, only English books are available.  Too bad, once books are available in other languages along with the corresponding built-in dictionary, it could be a real aid to the students in their first year of literature classes.  If their readings are old enough to be in the public domain, it would save them some money in the long run as well.

Amazon announcment

Twitter Trends in other Languages

This is fun and found via Mundaysa’s Twitter account. For those not familiar with Twitter, it’s a microblogging service.  Still doesn’t make the sense?  Imagine text chatting the world.  As it’s gained in popularity, it’s appeared in the regular news media quite frequently.  One of the many uses people have found for Twitter is to search the “tweets” for keywords to find trends.  As an example, one of the most famous trend/keyword so far has been #IranElections

Twirus now provides a service that lets you search these trends based on language.  So far, they only have the major western European langauges, but it’s a start.  Do a search for Uni Bremen in German.  It’s a nice snippet of daily life for our students.