Even 20 years ago, learning a language was a completely different business than it is today. You were dependent on a textbook, grammar exercises took a good chunk of your language lessons, and conversation practice with a native entailed travelling to a country where your target language was spoken. These days, you can get your grammar sorted out on an app, get listening practice done on the way to work with the help of an online radio and still be on time for your Skype lesson.
By now, so much of language learning has moved over to the Internet (along with the rest of our everyday lives), that it’s fair to ask: Are online lessons the future?
What made online lessons possible
What we really have to thank for making online lessons more available than ever, is the creation of various video calling options that are available today. The idea of “videotelephony” is by no means new – the concept itself sprang up on the 1870s, although the tech didn’t catch up for another half a century. Even then, it remained expensive and unpractical basically up until the 21st century when the Internet first started becoming available for the masses.
It didn’t take long for teachers and students to grasp the possibilities these developments provided for practicing foreign languages. Today, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Facetime provide a convenient way of organising lessons without ever having to leave your house, often at a cheaper price than you would pay for a private teacher in your hometown.
Some obstacles remain
Despite these benefits, online lessons still face some obstacles. Much of the world outside of Europe and North-America still does not have access to a reliable Internet service, for example. For those who do, so much of life already involves staring at a computer screen that the idea of spending additional time learning a language online, devoid of real human interaction, seems more off-putting than convenient. Additionally, you might miss out on the culture behind the language. The list goes on.
However, this is the present, and we are looking at the future.
Young people are moving online
Nonetheless, the future for online lessons seems bright. Internet use is expanding in Asia and Africa, and the younger generation is more tech-savvy than ever. In the US, 99% of people under 30 use the World Wide Web, a third more than the older demographics. And the following generations seem to be spending more time online than disconnected. As people become more accustomed to spending most of their lives behind a computer, some obstacles for online lessons are disappearing. Even today, it’s easy to find a teacher who can teach you at your pace and at a convenient time, taking advantage of all the great language learning resources the Internet has to offer.
It’s easy to imagine online lessons becoming the norm over the next decades. Could there really be anything that would stop this development?
Other technologies are emerging
It would seem the only thing that could stop online lessons becoming the way of the future would be that they become obsolete before. While language learners and teachers are becoming accustomed to the new reality of online lessons, others are looking even farther ahead.
Artificial Intelligence is already helping children learn maths and is being incorporated into language teaching as well. The first AI-powered technologies are already here: Duolingo uses it in its chatbots, with others following suit. With the advancements in the field, it’s no longer difficult to imagine AI becoming the leading provider of language teaching in the not-too-distant future.
Or, we might take a look at the emerging opportunities virtual reality offers. As with artificial intelligence, the technology is just getting started. But several new startups have already seen the potential VR offers as a tool for total immersion language learning.
Conclusion – Online lessons have a bright future unless other technologies take over
The general trends seem to point to people becoming more accustomed to taking online lessons, as the general population becomes more tech-savvy and connected. The convenience and ability to have affordable lessons with private teachers means that traditional language lessons are probably on the way out. Whether they are the future of language learning mostly depends on if other technologies come along, making them obsolete.
Author bio: Despite training as a lawyer, Liisi finds herself much happier in the world of languages. Having been an on-and-off language learner for the better part of her life, she’s now helping others find private language teachers with Teacher Finder.