Independent Study introduces teacher-led language courses

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BYU Independent Study has introduced new teacher-led language training courses available online.

These new online courses, which became available in October, will feature weekly, live instruction online, according to the Independent Study website. They also will provide opportunities for students to receive personal mentoring online using a microphone or webcam and to practice their new language skills with fellow students, mentors and instructors.

“Because of the nature of Independent Study courses, where the student is typically learning independently of direct instructor interaction, we are trying to increase instructor guidance and student-instructor relationships,” said Veldon Law, associate director of BYU Independent Study. “Learning a language is not easy, and it requires considerable speaking, listening and coaching on pronunciation, as well as writing and reading practice.”

New, teacher-led Independent Study courses allow students to interact directly with a professor online instead of through a traditional classroom setting. Photo by Ari Davis
New, teacher-led Independent Study courses allow students to interact directly with a professor online instead of through a traditional classroom setting. Photo by Ari Davis

While Law said an increase in enrollment would be a nice benefit, the main goal is to improve students’ competency with the language they are learning. So far, their method seems to be working with their initial groups of students.

“Students who have been involved with the new courses have, through course surveys, provided very positive feedback,” Law said. “Professors also indicate student competence and engagement is improved.”

Currently there are only upper-level German and beginning Arabic courses available with both live speaking and interactive elements. However, beginning Korean, Spanish, Chinese and German courses are also in the works that will feature live speaking elements as well.

Instructors for these courses come from university language courses. They include full-time faculty and part-time faculty selected by the department. According to Law, course TAs include students who are “highly skilled in the language they are supporting; some plan to teach the language upon graduation, some are native speakers, etc.”

“We want to create ways to provide engagement that will encourage authentic learning experiences,” Law said.

According to Shu-Pei Wang, associate professor of Asian and Near Eastern Languages, having the ability to interact with a Chinese speaker can be very important when learning the language. This is because the Chinese language utilizes different tones to differentiate between words that can otherwise be very similar.

“For beginners, they have great difficulty distinguishing differences between tones,” Wang said. “Feedback would be so important. It would help students to learn better and more accurately.”

Wang pointed out that just a small change in tone can completely change the meaning of a phrase.

“In Chinese the word we use for dumplings can mean something totally different if you just change the tones,” Wang said. “A small difference, and, ‘Do you want dumplings’ becomes, ‘Do you want to go to bed.'”

Speakers of English often use different tones as well, Wang pointed out.

“It is similar to English. For example, to someone that does not speak English, ‘snack’ and ‘snake’ would sound very similar,”¬†Wang said. “But, ‘Do you want a snack’ and, ‘Do you want a snake’ mean very different things.”

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