This is the final article in a series of four articles written on the topic of how e-learning based language learning models compare to traditional teacher-based language learning models. The argument that I have put forth is that e-learning falls far short of being able to create a learning environment that is either stimulating or realistic. In my last article, I argued that teacher-based language learning models inject a necessary element of fear in the language learning process that essentially serves as a type of inoculation for the language learner in terms of preparing him for the unpredictable reality of communication in the real world.
“Hold on just a second,” you say, “I’ve had tons of teachers who were just awful whose lessons essentially could have been repackaged into the cure for insomnia!” I agree wholeheartedly. The truth is that great language instruction in the traditional learning sense is quite dependent on the ability of the teacher. Yes, we’ve all had many bad teachers who were quite forgettable but at the same time, if you’re like me, you can probably vividly remember the ones who were outstanding, the ones who inspired us. I sure can. They are quite clearly among the very small minority of collective teachers we’ve had.
The word “teacher” has unfortunately lost a lot of the esteem that it used to be held in years ago. Now it is just a title but it used to be a position of honor. In many places in the world, it still occupies a position of honor. Now, it is necessary to make a distinction when you say the word “teacher.” Just as there is good adaptation of technology and bad adaptation of technology, there are also good and bad teachers out there. In reality, poor quality teachers probably outnumber the good ones thirty or forty to one. It’s a bell curve and great teachers are definitely among the extreme outliers. Take technology for instance. How often do you see a technological adaptation that really wows? Look at what Apple has done with the iPod, iPhone, and most recently the iPad. Most of the competing products out there just don’t measure up to the appeal of using Apple’s three aforementioned products (although the gap has been closing with the iPhone I concede but that’s a natural response to having the bar for excellence raised). Predictably, those three products outsell competing products and brands by a wide margin. Teachers are no different. A good one is rare like a precious gem and we never forget them. We always look forward to their classes. Those are the types of teachers that I obsessively search for to work with Premiere English because when you find them, they are worth more than a thousand mediocre ones. They transform the process of language acquisition from one that would commonly be a boring routine into a magical linguistic journey.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that language is organic and alive. It is exchanged between living organisms. Language cannot simply be reduced to a body of words and grammar rules that can be analyzed by a computer and downloaded into a human. Language extends far beyond words as not all communication happens with words. Lots of communication happens with body language such as gestures and eye contact, in addition to non-linguistic sounds such as a simple sigh. How often do you hear people saying that they can interpret their spouses’ sounds? Language is also inseparable from its cultural context. It is its cultural marriage that gives it such a rich texture. The culture behind a language is what gives it its soul. And how is “culture” defined? It is defined as:
The sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.
Culture is linked to people and therefore, the soul of a language is by extension firmly rooted in the people who speak it. Without soul, language becomes nothing more than a functional tool to transfer information, much like a computer. As author David Abram so eloquently writes:
As technological civilization diminishes the biotic diversity of the earth, language itself is diminished.
Computer-based language learning programs run the risk of diminishing the rich connective power behind language by marginalizing its inalienable sacrosanct relationship to people and really, by extension, to life itself.
Language is simply way beyond the capacity of a computer to fully and dynamically express. That’s why it is best taught by those who speak it rather than by sterile software that feebly attempts to mimic it. Even more importantly, language is best taught by those rarefied individuals who were born to be teachers and have accumulated the experience needed to bring the wisdom, insight, curiosity, and creativity that leads to the type of consistently engaging learning environment that leaves indelible impressions on us that last a lifetime.