Thursday, 18 July 2013

Language Zen Online Learning for Families

Language Zen is a new personalized web-based language learning experience for adults and children. It currently has an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign running.

Language Zen has used popular media, such as TV programs and books, to determine the language that is actually in use today (rather than teaching archaic or overly formal vocabulary.)

It also adapts to individual users to make sure that the material presented is at the right level for them.

Languages aren't given the priority in schools that I would like to see. Getting a personal tutor is expensive and time consuming. I'd love to have access to a good quality language program that my kids could use to develop their language skills at home when it's convenient to us.

I put some questions to the Language Zen team about the applicability of their system for children.

Is Language Zen Appropriate for Children and Teens?

Older children and teenagers are particularly inclined to learn a new language from media, as they explore other cultures in the process of defining who they are. In Israel, for example,  it is a well-known phenomenon that many teenage girls gain partial fluency in Spanish from watching Latin American soap operas. Our program will support and build upon this tendency. By prioritizing typical, casual, relevant vocabulary, young people will know they are leaning words and phrases that people their age actually use." -Ofir Geller

"For younger children, we'll have specialized modules which are relevant to them. Rather than data-mining from general content (like the teenage/adult courses), these modules will teach words and phrases pulled from children's television and songs. We'll also feature children's songs to support them through our media integration features." -Micah Greenberg

On a personal note, as a teenager I was once laughed at because I had been taught the formal, anachronistic word for cup (similar to the English word chalice). That won't happen with Language Zen." -Micah Greenberg

How Does Language Zen Handle Inappropriate Words?  

As for objectionable content: the default of language Zen is to screen out 'inappropriate' words and meanings. For example, the word "m-----" means ****  and will not be shown unless you specifically ask for "R rated" material. The same goes with sentences or texts that children should not see without parental approval." -Ofir Geller

Are There Any Social Features that Parents Should Be Aware Of?

"Currently there are no social networking features planned. If future social networking features are introduced, they would rely on existing social network accounts (namely Facebook)." -Ofir Geller

This looks like an interesting approach. The idea of using popular songs is likely to engage the tween and teen crowd. We sometimes put my kids favorite videos on with a different language and subtitles, watching LEGO Star Wars in another language helps to at least familiarize them with the sounds of another language in a context that they know well.

The Language Zen team is starting with English to Spanish, with English to Mandarin next on the list.

The use of technology to develop new methods to teach languages and to deliver material has to be the way to go. I've looked into a few language learning programs for children and they felt very dated.

Contribute / Subscribe: Language Zen on Indiegogo

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