Buyer's guide to foreign language software

ICT has revolutionised how schools teach modern foreign languages. Rob Pavis takes you through the best software and online services for MFL teachers

Rob Pavis
3 Oct 2012

When the National Grid for Learning was launched in 1998 as the Government’s new initiative in use of ICT in schools, millions of pounds were pumped into the project to equip schools with internet infrastructure, accessibility and computer hardware. As teachers stared blankly at all this new technology in their classrooms, the question was asked: “What do we do with it?”

The limitations soon became apparent. Modern foreign language (MFL) teachers were expected to become IT-literate overnight, and there was an immediate need for a bank of software for them to use. To compound matters further, the Government followed up with an agenda to embed ICT across the curriculum, and teachers were required to demonstrate use of ICT in their subject. While MFL teachers and students alike would naturally embrace any focus on “information” and “communication”, what was less clear in 1998 was how technology was going to play a part.

Millions of pounds have since been spent on interactive whiteboards and other equipment, but the real key to raising attainment levels is in how such hardware is used, and how effective the accompanying software is.

Teachers can go a long way using presentation software – not just Microsoft PowerPoint, but the free, fun and highly interactive Prezi. Prezi is more than capable of holding the attention of a class, even if all that motion might trigger travel-sickness for a few unfortunates.

Smart’s Notebook software, for use with smartboards, can also be useful, as lesson sequences can be planned in advance, with templates for all the usual embedded media, games and activities, and the ability to amend and adapt in real time in response to learners’ needs.

Wida the mark

While presentation software can greatly enhance classroom teaching, it takes something more specific to enhance learning. One early application was Wida, which specialised in English as a foreign language and is still going strong today. This allows teachers to create basic cloze exercises and similar simple text-manipulation exercises such as gap fills, multiple choice and so on in any language, not just English, provided the language uses the Roman alphabet. These texts can be opened by learners, completed and then submitted for automated marking and scoring.

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