Trends in language learning: What’s hot, what’s not

The world is changing quickly. Old ways of promoting language learning are not going to fly any more. Here’s what’s hot and what’s not, in language learning and education.

What’s out

Vague, hollow promises that can’t be proven. Students see right through vague promises that language learning will get them better jobs. Today’s job market requires more than knowledge of another language. Vague promises are down. Unless you can prove it, don’t claim it.

Authoritative “I know best because I’m your teacher” attitudes. In today’s world where technology is moving at the speed of light, young people are very aware that they know more than the “over-30s”, as we are affectionately known. Old, traditional, hierarchical attitudes are definitely out.

Saying that learning languages is easy. Because it’s really hard work. Students can see right through claims that language learning is easy, or that if they play an audio program in their car or on their iPod they’ll achieve fluency. They know that achieving competence takes dedication, time and effort. Lying to students when deep down they know better, is out.

Complaining and grumbling about cutbacks and lack of funding. Students don’t care that their teachers have a big pile of corrections on their desk. Or that they’re overworked and underpaid. Or that language programs are the underdog of the institution. Really, they just don’t care. Complaining about it makes us, their mentors, look stuffy and jaded. Face it, folks, grumbling is down.

What’s in


Clear, provable demonstrations of how learning a language can have a significant impact on our students. If vague promises from “authorities” are out, then irrefutable evidence from learners themselves is most definitely in. We’re not talking about general-knowledge building here. We’re talking about clear demonstrations of the impact language learning has on our students. Projects that challenge students to ask themselves how they themselves have grown and changed in positive ways are definitely in. Sharing the results of those projects in ways that demonstrate student learning through showcases, school days, and presentations to parents and community members are also up.

Using technology to demonstrate language learning and its impact. Take the projects mentioned above and show the results through technology and you’re very, very in. Demonstrations of work through portfolios, student-made videos, student blogs, Wikis, podcasts. All of it is in. We’re not talking about using technology for the sake of using technology. We’re talking about using technology to demonstrate students’ learning and show how they themselves reflect upon the impact language learning has had on them. And then sharing it with others through technology. Very, very in.

Proving the value of language learning through stories and speech. Public speaking and presentation skills are enjoying new levels of prestige in the Obama era. For the first time in years, there is a U.S. President who is wooing young people with his power to communicate verbally. Today, it’s cool to be articulate. Debate club is no longer for the nerds. Second language speech contests, debates, poetry readings, and story telling are hot, hot, hot.

Linking language learning to leadership and changing the world in amazingly positive ways. All around the world people are quietly learning other languages as a means not only to become self-empowered, but also to empower others.  They are choosing to learn another language in order to go to a country where they can make a difference, for however short a time. Housing projects. Clean water projects. Health-related projects. Projects that help children and families in the developing world. These are more common place today than they have ever been. Learning a language in order to reach out to others and make a difference in the world is “in”.

Showing funders the impact their investment has on our students, our communities and our world. If students are tired of hearing teachers grumble, funders – and that includes government or other funders – are definitely tired of it. Today savvy educators and program directors are saying, “We’re going to show you how your funding makes a difference.” Then you show them through all those provable demonstrations that were mentioned earlier. Then you say, “See the impact your contribution has made? Thank you.  Thank you for investing in our students and our future. Their future. Now let’s see what can accomplish with your continued support…” Seeing government and funders as partners and “investors in the future” is totally in.


Post update (July 124, 2010) – This post led to a full-fledged research report on these topics. Check it out:

Global Trends in Language Learning in the 21st Century


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

4 Responses to Trends in language learning: What’s hot, what’s not

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