About a week ago, I received an email from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages asking the members if they felt that the ads for the Rosetta Stone foreign language learning software were threatening the jobs of foreign language teachers. I went to the You Tube links they embedded in the following text:

What if aggressive advertising is the reason districts and parents are asking, “Do we really need foreign language teachers?” Is this the classroom learning experience that will replace teachers? Can technology and online speaking labs replace teacher interaction? We need to answer the question, “Can online learning and voice recognition really be just as good as a language teacher?”

I went to the videos and watched the Rosetta Stone ads and the critique of the product. I see where many language teachers are coming from. They are afraid for their jobs and they don’t believe that software can replace them. But they should be waking up to the reality that technology is already changing the way we learn and that using technology in the classroom IS a good idea. It’s not an issue of teacher or technology. We have to combine the two. If teachers use technology well in the classroom, their students may learn more, may be more satisfied with their classes and the teachers may have a better chance of getting a good approval rating and keeping his or her job.

Unfortunately, due to budget cuts in a school district in New Jersey, two foreign language teachers (who only taught once a week in each elementary school class for just 30 minutes) were replaced by Rosetta Stone, as reported by Fox News. Brett Lovejoy, Executive Director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages spoke to Fox News reporter Julie Banderas about the New Jersey situation. The article states, “Lovejoy goes so far as to say that if it is between no language instruction or a computer program, the choice should be no instruction”.

I do not agree. The kids can start learning whatever language it is with Rosetta Stone and then their parents can find other resources (Sesame Street clips on You Tube in other languages, videos from the library, etc) to supplement the education. When they get to middle school, they can go to class with a real teacher. Obviously, it’s better to have both a teacher AND the software, but it one has to choose between the two, abandoning the pursuit of language learning all together is very wrong.

Technology helps education!

School districts need to see how technology can be used in classes and for homework assignments. I speak seven languages and I did not gain my fluency because of the many language classes I took. I learned to wax on in various tongues because I used music and the media way before Ipods and You Tube ever existed. No one told me to listen to the radio in Portuguese, but I did it on my own. No one told me I could learn to speak Portuguese that way, I figured it out on my own. Now if a teacher had guided me back in middle school and high school, when I was learning French, to supplement my classroom lessons and homework with some computer program or media, I probably would have learned to speak better French and Spanish earlier than I did.

It’s not just for foreign languages that school administrators need to consider the role of technology. If there’s a software program that kids can use at home and at school to help learn math or chemistry, please bring it on. I was bored out of my mind in chemistry class. A song for the periodic table? Please, someone create one and put it on You Tube for all chemistry teachers to impart to their pupils.

Innovation is not the death of teaching. If teachers learn how to use technology in the classroom, they can potentially become better instructors as they won’t have to do all the work themselves. While some students are working on the computer program, the teacher can sit with a small group of students and help them with pronunciation, role plays, conversation and other exercises which require personal contact.

I care about the quality of instruction and how much and how well students learn. If that’s going to ruffle some teachers’ feathers, so be it. But discounting technology is not an option. I don’t yet know the quality of Rosetta Stone so I can’t vouch for it. But it’s better than no instruction at all. That’s for sure.