“Tell me more” – An effective language learning tool?

Yesterday in Andrew Wickham’s presentation on Blended learning I heard about “Tell me more” – an online language learning website that seems to have grown to have a lot of users. I got curious and decided to find out more today. Their homepage, www.tellmemore.com, said this was “the leading language company”, but of course they would say that themselves. Well, they seemed to have a lot of languages on offer – Spanish, French, German, ESL – English as a Second Language, Italian, Chinese etc. Some of the languages apparently needed a CD or a DVD to work properly in addition to the online services. Somehow, however, this looked rather old school to me; I had seen similar layouts even in the 90s, when the e-learning industry took off. At that time this kind of layout appeared on the CD-boxes on the shelves in the computer department of department stores. How could this be blended learning? As it seemed to me it was definitely e-learning, the exact kind of learning we heard yesterday was completely OUT and deemed useless with poor completion rates and results. Decided to have a closer look, went to Youtube and hoped there would be some kind of demonstration there, as I really didn’t want to register for a 7 day free trial until I knew more. There was at least one link there, one whose title seemed to be official and promotional as it was named “Tell Me More, language learning software Walk through Part 1”.

The young student here was obviously enrolled in a Beginner’s course in German. Interesting, I thought, as I am a German teacher as well. However, the whole experience was embarrassing to say the least. I don’t know if the poor student had a bad internet connection, or if the  page loads really are that slow. Speech recognition, yes, but that worked only once in ten, and even then I didn’t see the point. Boring task, no intellectual challenge, no structural build-up. The 90s software even beat this. I remember trying out a software CD in German language acquisition at the time with my own kids, then elementary school children. They were playing games with vocabulary, and each time they said a word with the correct pronunciation, they scored and got additional sound feedback with those cheery kinds of exclamations like “Yes, way to go!”, “Great!” etc. (I really hate those, they would put off anyone from continuing any game whatsoever). Sometimes the speech recognition feature worked, sometimes not – but as it was a game, the kids were still motivated to play and went on repeating the words until it worked, all a plus from a learning point of view, I think. There is no such incentive here. If something doesn’t work, the student just leaves the task and randomly and aimlessly (as it seems to me) opens another. No games, if you don’t count those ever present multiple choice tasks as games.

Back to the original question: where does the Blended learning come in here? I can’t see that it does, actually. Not in any sense that it couldn’t have been done so (better) with the 90s software. So, I’m sorry, but this experience of today’s so called blended learning software compared to yesterday’s doesn’t tally with what we learned in yesterday’s presentation:

Namnlöst-4aNamnlöst-5a

(And I would definitely leave out all speech recognition features from the “on-computer-phase” and do those elements in a traditional class setting.)

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