The primary argument for the usefulness of modern language labs: there’s no other classroom setting in which 20-some students can speak and converse at the same time. Also, without distracting other students, and the teacher can monitor, guide and coach them all students can speak individually.
All Students Can Speak at the Same Time
In a normal class of 24 students, 23 are idle when one student is speaking. Here every student can practise aloud simultaneously. Therefore, the lab is an ideal setting for speaking and conversation practice. Dr. Duncan Charters, Professor, Language Department in the LLTI forum expressed:
“I regularly pair students up in the classroom for conversation practice. But noticed that they are more excited about it when we do this in the lab. So I asked colleagues, who got the same reaction, to observe what was happening and survey the students.
There seems to be enough reason to try to incorporate this feature in any new lab arrangement, for at least the following “top 10” reasons.”
Change of Class Routine
It’s different, a change in the typical class pace and routine.
Focus on Verbal Tasks
A lot of face-to-face communication is non-verbal. When practicing the language in a lab situation, you can focus on the verbal task without other distractions.
Focus on Assignment
Students tend to stay on task more. Rather than lapsing into a native language or kidding with their friends when the teacher isn’t right next to them.
The teacher can monitor them at any time without their knowledge. They can intervene and correct without other students being aware of or disturbed. The teacher can spend more time with those in need without others noticing.
Less Intimidating Environment
Students seem much less intimidated knowing that other people aren’t watching them or eavesdropping and hearing their mistakes. So they tend to speak more freely. Students, especially middle-high school, can be very conscious of how they look and sound to their group peers in a group.
Excitement and Interest
It’s fun not knowing who your new partner is, so the practice of greeting questions happens naturally where it wouldn’t make sense in face-to-face classwork. It keeps the interest and anticipation high.
Little Distraction in Class
The constant “buzz” of everyone talking in a class situation makes it harder for students to focus on what their partner is saying and understand it. Especially when they are struggling to express themselves and respond to questions and statements. There’s little distraction with headsets, even less where there’s some isolation between positions.
Easy Contact with Everyone in the Class
By switching pairs, all students can talk to other students in the class without constantly moving themselves or their chairs around. They stay in touch with everyone in the class and can get information quickly from each one if doing a survey or checking on others’ reactions.
“Telephone Dialing” Improves Speaking on the Phone
One of the most challenging tasks in a foreign country is communicating on the phone. When one has had practice only with face-to-face communication. Students who have practiced this a lot in the lab find that situation more natural and familiar.
With the newer full-feature labs that have “telephone dialing” capability, the teacher can allow students to take control of their own communication when appropriate, so practice can become less teacher-directed when students have shown they have learned the material.” (Charters 2004)
Increased Time of Speaking Practice
The lab setting gives all the students in the class possibilities to speak at the same time and yet be audibly isolated from one another. Speaking simultaneously, rather than one at a time, vastly increases the time of students’ speaking practice. In a normal 50-minute long classroom session with 16 students, speaking one at a time gives each student an average 2 to 3 minutes to perform. Whereas the simultaneous practice in the lab allows the students to speak for 30 to 40 minutes, if necessary, thus substantially increasing the time of practice and learning.
Equal Opportunities for All to See and Hear
In the lab environment, all students have equal opportunities to hear the materials they study at a volume level they set according to their individual needs and listening comfort. Similarly, no matter where they are seated in the lab, they can all view the video materials conveniently on their PC screens, rather than gaze at what’s happening on a small TV screen in front of the room. This is especially distracting and inconvenient for the students sitting at the back of the classroom or short-sighted ones.
Emphasis on Individual Learning
Another very important benefit of the modern language lab is that it allows for the individualisation of learning processes. The students can listen to audio programmes or watch video clips at their pace. And as long as it takes for each of them to master the material under study.
In addition, the manipulation of a learning resource, i.e. digital audio or video files like instant playback, or access to a given part of the material, is a very fast and less tedious activity. Indeed, a digital environment does speed up the learning process as progressing with the materials is much faster as compared to analogue technologies i.e. fast forward, rewind, recap – all done in a split of a second.
Variety of Tasks for Groups or Pairs
In addition, the individualisation process can also take place on a pair or group level. The students can be divided into several pairs (random pairing being especially popular). Or groups and work with different programmes and different tasks. While the teacher can focus his attention on the individual student’s performance without interrupting the work of the pair/group. The teacher can review each pair’s/group’s recorded discussion or interaction at a later stage.
Comfort of Privacy
One cannot ignore a well-documented fact the lab creates a comfortable feeling of privacy which helps many students, especially the shy ones, lose their inhibitions when talking in front of other students. The lab setting with headsets encourages them to overcome shyness and speak without fear of embarrassment when they make mistakes.
It seems the modern language lab is effective if it meets the specific needs of its institution,
its students and faculty. The most important thing is to decide how it should be used and not how it should look like (Ledgerwood: 2003). If one needs capabilities of interconnectivity between students to set up and manage pair or group work, seamless integration of various features and the ability to control students’ work, then the modern language lab is an effective and powerful system to do so. In combination with everything that digital resources, computers, networks, and the Internet have to offer, the lab meets the needs of recent pedagogies and traditional audio communication functions (Jorth: 2005).
(In case you miss the first part of this blog series, you can check it here.)