Helping students to approach language learning as a way of life, not a slot on the timetable

Mastering a language is not like learning any other Arts faculty subject: to learn a language is to immerse oneself in a way of experiencing and engaging with the world, not to assimilate a body of knowledge or even a methodology. Language and culture are the means through which we experience anything at all, not only (and not usually) a direct object of our experience.

For this reason, and because of the squeeze on contact hours, language teaching at university level poses unique challenges. We language teachers are jealous for the real estate of our students’ minds and attention, not just during the time we are with them but throughout the week. While we are not able, of course, fully to recreate an immersive language learning experience at university, we want to find as many ways as we can to help language learning to leak out of the lecture and tutorial in order to infiltrate all aspects of the students’ lives and be present with them throughout each day.

In preparation for welcoming the 2018 cohort of first year French Studies students at Monash I have begun developing an idea called “Franciser ta vie !” (Frenchify your life!) which seeks to make language learning a way of life for students, not merely a slot on the timetable. I want my students to be dedicated language learners, not merely people who happen to be learning a language. I want them to learn how to do the things they want to do in the language they are learning, rather than choosing between learning the language and doing what they want to do. I want the language to be a means to many ends for them, not just one end among many.

As a first step I have made a package to fit inside a Moodle unit page that very briefly introduces students to the importance of immersive language learning and then leads them through some simple simple “how to” tutorials which encourage them to let French break out of the university context and into the rest of their lives (with steps like changing the language of their laptop operating system and mobile phone to French, setting their browser homepage to a French site and finding French TV news to watch online). The package awards an appropriately tricolore-coloured rosette when all the steps have been completed.

I have uploaded a HTML5 version of “Franciser ta vie !” to this site so that you can see what the evolving content looks like at this draft stage. Just click on the image below and it will open the package in a new tab. The only difference between this and the original Moodle version is that the latter integrates with the Moodle gradebook and keeps a record of how many of the steps each student has taken, whereas this version does not record achievement.

For readers who want to know how it was put together, the package was produced in Adobe Captivate, with the talking cartoon character lip-synced in Adobe Character Animator and the video finished off in Adobe Premiere Pro (at Monash we have free access to Adobe Creative Cloud apps, if you hadn’t guessed already!)

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has ideas for how to develop this further.