Author: Peter RL Smith
The use of technology for language learning has come a long way since the invention of the phonograph by Thomas Edison in 1877.
The intervening years have seen a wide variety of technologies for recording and storing sound, such as open reel tape, cassette tape, mini-disc, CD, mp3, hard-discs, cellphones and now the ‘cloud’.
Meanwhile educational theorists have propounded a variety of methodologies for teaching and learning a new language.
Whatever the learning method, frequent listening, speaking, reading and writing practice are generally regarded as the essential corner-stones of linguistic competence.
‘Practice makes perfect’ is a good rule of thumb, and a language laboratory provides the ideal structure to make this happen.
Modern cloud-based language labs provide a cost-effective virtual environment which students and teachers can use together on a daily basis wherever they may be.
There is no longer any need to install dedicated hardware or software. Users can work on their own devices or use regular computers already installed in schools and libraries.
This universal accessibility has not only supported distance and classroom learning. It has also brought with it entirely new possibilities for collaboration between students and their peers in other geographical locations.
We are now seeing the first hints of what the future might bring. Language labs which will let students learn socially, in collaboration and competition with their peers, and to learn on the move when and where it suits them.
The traditional idea of the language lab as a fixed room full of students with headphones is rapidly fading. Today's hardware is typically laptops, tablets and phones. The future lies in the sophistication, ease of use, and flexibility offered by the latest language lab software designs.