Can Foreign Languages be Learned Without Teachers?

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Foreign Language learning has been plagued with myths through time. We may remember packages offering learners the chance to become skilled during their sleep, or those claiming to be able to take students from no knowledge to proficiency within a month. Now, one popular myth has arisen, in our current circumstances, related to the use of technology: using apps or platforms is thought to guarantee fast and effective learning, even without the intervention of a teacher.

Demystifying the tech myth

As it has been mentioned in previous articles, language learning apps and platforms do have their advantages. They can help language learners throughout the process by reinforcing their accuracy and bridging the gaps in their knowledge. However, is this enough to master a foreign language or, at the very least, to guarantee somewhat successful communication in it?

The answer, in my view, is no. Platforms can help, but only through what I will call ‘quantifiable’ items. These include grammar and vocabulary exercises, or the assessment of language skills by means of close-ended questions. It may be easy for programmers to design algorithms that adapt to the learners’ progress and offer them more or less challenging follow-ups. In the end, these systems become predictable as they will always operate ‘reactively’ by comparing the student’s responses to what is considered correct or accurate.

There is more to language learning than right and wrong answers

What happens, then, to aspects such as content, cultural appropriateness, interaction, compensation strategies and similar? These, at least in our time, are harder to ‘quantify’ and their process is often related to interaction with others, where not everything is black or white, but there are countless shades of grey. If we consider language learning to be about communicating within a different linguistic and cultural community, then these aspects need to be included, and the presence of a teacher would be essential to obtain feedback on them and effectively monitor students’ progress. This is what makes a difference and can ultimately help learners to bridge the gap between receiving input and making use of it in real life: relying on a teacher can be seen as the necessary ‘dependence’ period that will prepare them to become autonomous users of the language.

In conclusion, there are no shortcuts to language learning, and teachers certainly have a key role to play in spite of all the technology that we have started using. Teachers are here to stay, indeed!

What do YOU think?

Is it possible to learn a foreign language without teacher support?

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