Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A (Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D.
Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V. (P.G) College, Roorkee, India
Good communication skills are indispensable for the success of any professional. If one wants to reach out to people, he has to speak their language. The English language, in particular, has become essential in the lives of young people who aspire to advance their careers anywhere in the world. English language learning has therefore become a must for any Indian student today.
Language learning is quite different from learning any other subject. It is not limited to writing an examination paper and getting marks or award. The four skills: listening, speaking, reading, writing have to be put into practice since having the ability to communicate well is the central purpose in learning any language. Communication entails the student’s capability to listen attentively to the exact meaning and to respond with appropriate words and with clear pronunciation.
There are several components necessary to master a language. It is not just about being able to read and understand certain words. It also entails mastery of the spoken language. There are language learners who learn how to read and write fast. However, if they are asked to talk, they could barely pronounce the words right. This is true especially in learning the English language. This is the reason why language laboratories are essential.
In the current digital age, we are all connected regardless of the geographic distance. Advancement in technology has metaphorically brought the world into our living room in the form of TV or internet which allow us to watch events happening in other countries or talk to friends and family living in another continents via internet. As a result, we are exposed to different languages, cultures and traditions of people from all over the world. As we live in multilingual and multicultural world, language lab can greatly help students to learn language of their choice, as it will allow students to learn at their own pace. They can record and assess their performance to make sure that they are paying attention to all aspects of phonetics.
The language lab provides access to native-speakers via audio-video aids so that they learn correctly. Given large number of students pursue higher studies outside their home country; language lab would help them in studying the language of the country where they are planning to pursue their higher education.. As strong communication skills are essential in almost all of the professional careers, language lab can help in acquiring this important skill.
The language laboratory is an audio or audio-visual installation used as an aid in modern language teaching. They can be found, amongst other places, in schools, universities and academies.
According to American Heritage Dictionary , language laboratory is: “A room designed for learning foreign languages and equipped with tape recorders, videocassette recorders, or computers connected to monitoring devices enabling the instructor to listen and speak to the students individually or as a group”.
Actually language laboratories are environments designed to enhance foreign language learners’ skills. Generally equipped with analog and digital hardware, and software (tape recorders, videocassette recorders, or computers), they provide practices in listening comprehension, speaking (listen and repeat), with the goal to reinforce the grammar, vocabulary and functions (grammatical structures) presented in class.
Characteristics of a good Language Laboratory
There are different features of language lab, which make the students to have interactive session. Few are summarized here.
Attention : Attention on subject is increased resulting in better retention of the concepts. As the language lab allows the student to listen to the program stimulus individually, each individual student’s attention is focused on the program material being studied, ultimately increasing the attention span of the student and teaching the student to listen and analyze the content of the lesson.
Acoustics: It provides equal opportunity to all the students to hear the instructor irrespective of place where they are seated. There will be less miscommunication because of direct nature of the sound transmission. The language lab provides all students no matter where they are seated in the room with equal opportunity to hear the instructor and to be heard by the instructor. None of the lesson material is misheard due to the direct nature of the sound transmission Each student can listen to the lesson material at a level set by themselves for their own comfort.
Building Student Experience: Students can build on their existing experiences and gain further knowledge of computers while learning in the computer language lab. Practicing with systems, software and new applications enhances exportable skills. The more experience students have with computer technology, the more successful they will be in the “real world”.
Developing Listening skills : Listening skills are an essential element in becoming linguistically fluent. The language lab helps students develop good listening skills and aids the process of communication.. Furthermore, it develops the listening and communication skills, since they hear correct pronunciation through their headphones.
Excitement: Students become excited when using learning lab systems. The student’s attention is heightened and the boredom of repetitive learning is lifted. Learner will show more enthusiasm and excitement in learning lesson because of learning lab system.
Efficiency: The teacher can monitor individual students (and talk to them) much more efficiently than in a regular classroom. Usually in a regular classroom all other students stop speaking when the teacher communicates with an individual student. In a lab they will continue working without interruption.
Appropriate use of time: The language lab makes most efficient use of time, improving the teacher/student time ratio and allowing the instructor to maximize the use of time in a given lesson. Efficient use of time and learning efficiency is much more than usual classroom learning.
Improve discipline: The instructor can improve the discipline of the class by privately conversing with individual students who are being objectionable. By utilizing a system of seat management, any equipment faults or acts of minor vandalism can be reported by the next student entering the booth. If not reported by the student, they become the target of the investigation when the next student enters the booth. Students have great difficulty talking to each other when wearing headsets.
Individualization: Labs provide the capability for dividing the class into several groups. These groups can be listening to different programs on varying subject matter and at different levels of interactivity. This set up fosters more interactive session between students and teacher.
Internet access: The new generation of multimedia systems allows the students to be connected to the World Wide Web and to be able to access information on a global basis.
Native speaker/ Different voice: The lab provides the students with a variety of model voices rather than just the voice of the teacher (who is often not a native speaker). All modern systems have a Model Voice feature allowing a native speaker to converse and be used as a model voice subject for the rest of the class.
Overcoming shyness: Lab systems tend to make students more anonymous. Language labs motivate students to talk freely and lose the shyness when talking in front of their friends.
Oral testing: Oral test features allow instructors to test students with a question or stimulus and only record the student’s answer. Instructors can then play back the recorded answers at a later time for grading, without having to listen to the questions.
Privacy: It also provides the privacy that encourages the shy students to speak without any hesitation. In addition instructor can speak to individual or group of students in privacy without interrupting rest of class. The headset/microphone provides students with a psychological privacy that promotes their speaking ability. It reduces the inhibitions felt in normal classroom situations.
Provide feedback: The instructor can easily generate records of attendance, grading and oral responses to true/false or multiple choice taped tests. An automated record keeping process can save much time. . The student’s progress can also be monitored regularly so that teacher can provide feedback based on individual pace and ability.
Record/Comparing: The students have the ability to record their own voices along with the master stimulus. Each student can be working interactively on different segments within the same program or be working with completely different program material.
Role playing exercises: Using the random pairing/random grouping feature that all advanced modern learning systems incorporate, instructors can generate a variety of exercises structured around role-playing. Students can be paired or grouped together in small numbers and hold conversational practice with each other.
Self-pacing: The students may work through the lesson material at a pace suited to their ability. The lab is for them a personal tutor. Thus allowing the classroom as student-centered approach. The students can access digitally stored programs, exercises and tests that can be completed at their own pace and at a time they decide is appropriate.
Teacher monitoring: Since the teacher is not concentrating on producing the next question or drill, he/she can concentrate more on the student responses. The instructor has more time to produce materials and oversee class activities due to the automatically, rather than manually, controlled instructor console features. Teacher can look after each student, which is not possible in case of the regular classroom. In a lab instructor can communicate with many students by pressing a mouse key in order to talk with students
Varity: The language lab provides variety from regular classroom situations. The teacher’s role is changed and the students are more active for longer periods of time. The use of visual stimulus coupled with selective audio materials increases the attention span of the students. The language lab brings variety in teaching learning process instead of boring verbal centered teaching.
The Basic aims of the language Laboratory
Many of you may have already used a language lab as a student or perhaps as a teacher however you will see that the language lab has changed for the better. The opportunities and learning potential that a new Language lab can offer is vast however you may be pleased to hear that some things stay the same.
The basic aims of the language lab are the same as they ever were and they are;
v To improve listening skills – classroom and individual with high quality audio
v To improve speaking skills – individual, paired, groups
v To present and demonstrate language skills – both screen and voice in seconds
v To monitor and guide students – discrete monitoring and intervention as required
v To Increase the number of students taking languages
v To attract more boys to study languages
v To significantly improve the Speaking Test results obtained
v To encourage peer-assessment and parental involvement
The general Layout of Language Laboratory
We live in a multilingual as well as in a multicultural world, which is getting smaller to the size of a village as a result of the expansion of science and technology. The language laboratory was established to help one to use technology efficiently to communicate. It has a considerable role in improving listening skill by obtaining a sensibility to the sounds and rhythm of a language
Wilson and Thayalan (2007) highlighted some of the features language laboratory are given below:
- A tool designed for teaching any language.
- Effective communicative training programmes for the general public, private and corporate sectors, junior and senior level officers can be given through the lab.
- Efficient teaching programs of communication for the students.
- Experts are able to use the language laboratory for creating and editing technical resources for teaching language.
- General documentation, software documentation and all forms of technical documentation can be done.
- It helps students to be familiar with the different aspects of the language like pronunciation, accent, stress and all other aspects of the phonetics of a language.
- Online lessons and oral examinations can be carried out through the language laboratory .
- Web-content creation, the setting up of in-house news magazines, corporate publicity and identity, and teaching materials can be generated through the language laboratory.
Considering the above referred features the general lay-out must provide the following:
The layout of language laboratories formed from a teacher’s console and students’ booths. The teacher’s console has the managing functions and the student booth equipped with facilities that permit him/her to receive the recorded lessons and to listen to them. The focal features of a language lab are the following:
Evaluate :Students can listen to their pronunciation and do a review evaluation to measure their advancement as well as evaluate their language with that of the teacher.
Listen: Absorbing language skills faultlessly by listening to the normal pronunciation.
Monitor & Guide :The teacher can supervise each student separately without disturbing other students and direct him/her directly.
Record : Through a direct comparison of the learners’ voice with the teacher’s one, all ambiguous aspects of the spoken language can be picked up easily.
Respond : Repeating the lessons and having them evaluated by the teacher.
The Features of a Teacher’s Console
A console is the desk like part of an organ that contains the keyboard, stops, and a central control panel for a mechanical, electrical, or electronic system, in other words, a console is a keyboard or a panel for keys of an electronic or mechanical equipment.
Teacher’s console is a desk like part in the language laboratory which is endowed with a broadcasting system that is utilized to control the teacher and students’ talks, it makes the communication between the teacher and a precise student, individually possible with just a button blow, in addition to a headphone, and a microphone. In some laboratories the teacher’s console is provided with a computer which can be used for supervising students’ work and activities.
The teacher console acts as a control board enables the teacher to:
ü Enables the teacher to interact with students in private without disturbing others.
ü Encourage the students separately, as well.
ü Gives the role of the moderator of the group discussions.
ü Giving instructions to individual student with personalized attention
ü Listen to the student’s voice independently.
ü Permits the teacher to include a wide range of language learning materials and activities
ü Prevent actions at a selected student’s booth for giving instructions.
ü Provide options for listening to the native speakers
ü Supervise the activities of students while they practice the lessons.
Features of Student’s Booth (console)
Booths are small semi-private enclosed spaces where learners seat to receive and listen to the lesson directed by the teacher. In general, there are ten to twenty booths in a language laboratory. In a language laboratory each student has: earphone ,a microphone, a booth and a tape recorder. Students’ booths enables the student to:
v All the contemporary activities in the student console could be paused if the teacher tries to communicate with students, and could be sustained after teacher finishes the communication.
v Private Interaction would be possible because every students is connected to the teacher separately. Allows the students to speak and being corrected at the same time in the language lab’s time session
v Self-evaluating, a student could assess his/her pronunciation by recording his/her voice and comparing it with that of the natives (Language Lab Software).
v Students can listen, repeat and compare the repeated lessons any number of times using student console. Repeat the lesson determined by the teacher, record, and replay, can be part of a group discussion .Repeats what he hears in pauses. Ready to play back the recording of his own repetition in alternation with the native model
v Enables them to self – evaluate themselves.Listen to pre-recorded material spoken by native voices,Listen to the native speaker’s records and pronunciations.
v Students can look for the help of teacher by sending him a call using the call teacher facility. Permits to recite simultaneously and receive correction in the laboratory period”. Transport or carry pre-recorded lessons from the teacher’s console
v Students can receive and listen to the determined lesson. Repeats what he hears in pauses. Ready to play back the recording of his own repetition in alternation with the native model
Procedure of the Use of Language Laboratories
A language laboratory can be utilized for teaching or learning through a teacher’s console. The functions of a teacher’s console are staying in control, reinforcing learning, teaching with software that is approachable, and ensuring the best learning results.
a. Staying in Control:
Staying in control includes various activities, like monitoring students’ work and activities; locking cursors and keyboards to focus attention on a given task; shutting down, logging off, or restarting student computer sets; etc.
b. Reinforcing Learning:
Teachers can use communication tools that are familiar for their students, such as text messaging or chatting. They can also communicate with them in an engaging way by creating more opportunities to interact in the target language. Learners can reinforce their language in various activities. They can revise pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, sentence structures, and conversations.
c. Teaching with Software that is approachable:
Approachable software is one with which teachers will be perfectly at ease in their teaching activities. It is used as the interfaces which are easy to use and activity-driven. No specialized Instructional technology skills are needed for this interface.
d. Ensuring the Best Learning Result:
The best learning result can be reinforced by the existence of language learning software. The language learning software gives learners access to resources for independent or supplemental learning and study. This unique learning-on-demand feature creates additional learning opportunities and reinforces classroom activities. It is possible to carry out tests, practice tests, and get results in individualized manners.
Steps for Improving Listening in the Language Laboratory
There are six stages that can improve students’ listening skills in the language laboratory:
a. Understanding the Setting: After the first listening, students should be able to understand the location of the recording. Thinking about the setting encourages students to go on to guess about the contents of what the speakers are intending to say or will say.
b. Pre-teaching Unfamiliar Words: Teachers may choose to introduce the setting before the students listen. This provides an opportunity to introduce and explain the sort of language that might be heard in that setting. This language is listed on the board and students listen and mark what they actually hear.
c. Focusing on Listening: the teacher should line up a number of Listening tasks before the students listen so it gives them a reason for listening and focus their attention on.
d. Comprehending: Each student has a different level of comprehension from another student. The teacher gives students a number of questions equally to groups of students after listening, students share their answers for comprehension.
e. Analyzing: After students have understood the general idea and some important details of a recording, they can analyze it in more details and examine the way in which the speakers have expressed their ideas.
f. Giving Graded Listening Tasks: Teachers often teach listening by ranking comprehension from understanding generally to identifying specific information. They can also grade the listening tasks from easy to more difficult by the forms of the questions. They use and evaluate them based on the kind of production by the learners in the form of writing or speaking.
Model of the Language Laboratory Lesson Suggested by Dwyer, T. P
In his book Teaching and Learning Dwyer(2010) stated: Lessons in the laboratory must be planned in such a way that the overall objective of the lesson is to bring about a transfer of any mechanical skill taught in the laboratory to a functional context reflecting the way the student has to use that skill outside the classroom in real life.
According to him the model lesson proposed can be drawn up in this way:
a. Input: teacher’s demonstration of the skill to be learnt in a communicative situation (done away from the laboratory booths).
b. Practice: modeling practice of the specific skill(listening in our case), Self- practice by the students, following a given model, Performance monitored by the teacher (done in the laboratory booths)
c. Application: students’ demonstration in a communicative situation of the skill learnt (listening in our case), open dialogues, group work, role play. The teacher acts as adviser, offering encouragement.
Kinds of Language Laboratories
The language laboratory assists educators in delivering foreign language instruction, and has been through many developmental stages over the years.
Few kinds of laboratories are being focused on here
This is the earliest form of language laboratory developed. It makes use of a recorder and cassette tapes to help language learners. The tape usually contains texts or stories read aloud by a native language speaker. There are also listening and speaking exercises that follow in each chapter. . The teacher plays back the tape and the learners listen to it and learn the material
Here, the teacher’s console is located in front of the array of booths, Distribution switches enable the teacher to determine which students will hear which source.
Lingua Phone Laboratory
A lingua-phone laboratory is like conventional laboratory, with a little modernization . The students are given a headphones to listen to the audiocassettes that are played back. As regards to the conventional laboratory, the distractions in this laboratory are less so there is certain amount of clarity in listening There is also a modernized lingua phone laboratory available today, which uses an electronic device that works as a cassette player with all the features of a normal cassette player on the left side, and as a repeater on the right side that helps one to record one’s voice and replay it for comparison.
Computer Assisted Language Laboratory (CALL)
There are two brands of this laboratory: Computer Assisted Language Laboratory (CALL) and Web Assisted Language Laboratory (WALL).
The first one that is CALL uses the computer to teach language. Computer Assisted Language Laboratory. This is one of the most modern speech laboratories available today. The entire course module is already stored in the computer. The language course resources are already downloaded on the computer and are presented to students according to the features available in the system.
The development of CALL has been gradual, and this development has been categorized into three distinct phases: Behavioristic CALL, Communicative CALL and Integrative CALL . They can also practice different types of exercises to avoid boredom. Most of all, they can listen to different speakers when practicing the language. In fact, they can also learn grammar and other language skills with this modern laboratory. Though the development of CALL has been gradual, its acceptance has come slowly and unevenly.
Compared with CALL, WALL is almost the same as CALL with one difference that is, in WALL system, computers are connected to the internet. In WALL, the teacher as well as students can browse any resources from the internet during the teaching learning process. (Wilson, & Thayalan, 2007). There are many and different other kinds of language laboratories like The Dial Access Lab, Mobile Lab, Wireless Lab…etc.
This is basically a console on wheels with storage spaces for headsets. It is best used within a single building where it can be moved from one room to another.While the advantage of the mobile lab is that any classroom may be turned into a lab, the drawback is that the equipment is heavy and hampers free movement. It requires time and energy to set up.
The Dial Access Lab:
needs more spaces than the Conventional Lab. It also needs more technicians at any given time. It is basically a broadcast operation. Depending on the size of operation, any number of students can access a particular tape at any given time. Usually, a number of rooms are used to provide space for the different programs mounted; video and /or computer interface may be added again, depending on the size of the operation, The student needs a minimum of equipment, namely, an activated headset, a dial or touch-tone selector, and controls for a remote selector.
The wires connecting the sources to student headsets are replaced by radio transmission in a wireless laboratory. The console contains a small transmitter that serves this purpose. Monitoring and intercom are NOT possible with this lab. It combines well with the Mobile Lab, though the important functions of monitoring and intercom are forfeited.
Remote Controlled Lab
This arrangement enables students to control specific tape decks located elsewhere at remote locations. The actual equipment installation is similar to that of a conventional laboratory room. The electronics are relatively more complex, though. Here, the student can; start, stop, backtrack, and rewind at will, without actually including combinations e.g. Listen,Respond, and Record.
Both library operations are available. The student is freed from handling tapes. Maintenance problems are reduced as students cannot damage tape decks. Semi-automatic operation of the lab, without much supervision, is possible. Remote decks may be permanently loaded with the current tape enabling students to go to certain booths and immediately work in library mode.
Advantages of Language Lab
Using a language lab has many benefits:
Gets into deeper side of language -This application gets into deeper side of language rather than covering its outer layer, which are mostly seen in the year old teaching practices. The practical sessions provide the chance for understanding the clear concept regarding right pronunciation, different accent and other aspects of language learning too.
The language lab is available in many standards-The language lab is available in many standards which can be used for teaching the people in different sectors. The language lab does provide additional assistance like producing documents, editing, creating documents for teaching, students’ reference etc.
Language labs allow for diversity in the classroom-Language laboratories provide teacher attention to students, especially in the case of schools with different levels because as interactive courses, language labs are tailored to the individual needs of students.
A language lab is practical-Language labs provide practice in an entertaining and interactive way to acquire the 4 main language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Students learn more comprehensively through a language lab.
Students learn much faster in the language lab-Language labs’ interactive courses help students learn much faster than in a regular classroom setting. The methodology of the classroom language network uses a progressive model to promote natural learning, where students learn the different concepts of language in an intuitive way.
The teacher takes on a more important role in the language lab- The structure of the language lab courses also facilitate the work teacher puts in when preparing lessons and allows them to prepare them in less time and with a greater volume of interactive resources.
Labs foster communication in the classroom-Language labs also encourage communication student-teacher as well as student-student with activities and exercises essential to oral communication and the understanding of the language.
Learning the language without a time constraint.-It gives different and rare experience for the user to hear the English Language distinctly and precisely. While using the language lab the students get the advantage of listening and learning the language without a time constraint.
Assess and improve the speech in English through the self help features.- This features include model pronunciation of words, also the students can use it in record and playback mode that counterpart the user in self assessment. The best part of the laboratory is that it gives the users the freedom to learn the language according to their convenience without an instructor.
Allows learners to pronounce certain words correctly- It allows learners to pronounce certain words correctly. Small details like accent, stress and blending of words can also be corrected. Kids and adults suffering from speech disorders can also use the laboratory to minimize the problems.
Auditory Oriented:- The direct sound transmission gives step by step guidance from the teacher to the heads of the students with crystal clear clarity. The Lab software is more attention enthralling for the students, where they are engaged with individual systems.
Comprehensive quickly: -The Lab increases the pace of comprehension as students coaching is purely based on the level of study. The Lab regulates the language through the different thoughts created in the mind of the students.
Effective learning, Focus Veracity- By using text, audio and video can easily be integrated with actuality in every day situations. The lab provides to learn the foreign language practice in a focused setting that eliminates the feelings of self-consciousness.
Have the self evaluation:
The students can do a periodical self evaluation to measure the progress as well as evaluate his/her language with that of the expert. The students can record their own voice and play back the recordings, interact with the each other and the teacher, and store the results. The automated learning environment removes one’s fear and creates a happy learning situation.
Listening skills are primary in becoming fluent.- Even Level II language labs (the simplest type of system) help develop listening skills, allowing the students to focus on the spoken word and therefore enhancing their ability to repeat and understand the spoken language.
Provide Individualistic Learning -The ability of each student to speak at the same time and yet be audibly isolated from each other allows efficient use of time and a higher degree of practice and learning.
Disadvantages of Language Laboratory
Although of the various advantages of the language laboratory, it has also a few disadvantages or let us say difficulties, which are related to the high cost, it needs skilled instructors, and it makes unsuccessful instruction in some cases.
- The language lab requires a high cost to be built in the university and to be kept on going. It is very expensive to set up the language lab and country like India there is no lab syllabus and usually language classes are conducted as theory.
- The language lab would not let the teaching-learning process be effective if there are some troubles with the technology of it. Worse even, it becomes useless when the electricity is off.
- The language laboratory needs an qualified teacher to be able to activate all the technology provided in it.
- Has to employ technicians who would keep the equipment in the language laboratory always in a high-quality conditions.
- As the teacher listens to students randomly the response can be unorganized and ineffective as there are many students to attend to.
- The teacher should be well trained in executing the language lab effectively. Given the nature of teaching, a language teacher may need an assistant in taking care of the technological part while teacher attends to the instructional components.
The language laboratory is a very helpful tool for practicing and assessing one’s speech in any language. It provides a facility which allows the student to listen to model pronunciation, repeat and record the same, listen to their performance and compare with the model, and do self-assessment. Since the language laboratory gives every learner of any language freedom to learn at their own pace, it is flexible and does not necessarily require a teacher all the time. At the same time, it is possible for teachers to provide assistance individually and collectively. The language laboratory allows every participant his or her privacy to speak and listen.
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“Colleges should have Language Laboratory on Campus”, The Hindu. Coimbatore: p.4., 25/9/06.