The Future of Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

Computerising and intellectualising action-based approach for university language courses

Snejina Sonina, University of Toronto Scarborough (Canada)


In this paper, I will analyse my experience in restructuring beginner French courses at the University of Toronto, initiated with dual objectives in mind: the practical goal of increasing enrollment caps and the intellectual aim of assisting students in their language learning by combining a technology-enhanced, action-based approach with a solid foundation in linguistic theory. Contemporary higher-education language classrooms tend to privilege action-based approaches, which can offer students quick wins through practical phrase repetition—but often leave them without the intellectual/structural framework that will allow them to develop language skills independently. Our experimental approach of the past three years has combined the two—so far, to great success: in the summer of 2022, most of the students who took an exit-level test (Evalang) exceeded our expectations and achieved CEFR levels A2+-B1 after completing only twelve weeks of classes using our e-platform. This platform features 1,000 e-exercises—all accompanied by recordings and supplemented with assignments, testing materials, video clips, and video lectures. In my presentation, I will focus on the innovative features of these exercises and assignments, and especially on the key element of the system—those aspects of linguistics that help our adult learners master pronunciation, memorize vocabulary, and understand the structural and historic reasons behind grammar rules. For pronunciation, these aspects are accentuation patterns, the International Phonetic Alphabet, or pictographic representations of articulation that illustrate phonetic features without overusing linguistic terminology; for vocabulary they are semantic fields & mind mapping, etymological doublets, cognates & false friends. Once students gain some understanding of a topic through lectures, other activities lead students through a process that enhances and solidifies their learning, what we might describe as understanding—experimenting—practicing—mastering. Importantly, every step offers significant action, or active practice, but all of it is rooted in solid knowledge of linguistics. This method represents a middle path in the dichotomy of practical and intellectual approaches. The focal linguistic knowledge allows students to acquire, remember, and utilize the practical characteristics of the language faster and with a higher level of accuracy compared to approaches lacking linguistic explanations. Our university students, intelligent adults who need and want to use their rational abilities, gave highly positive evaluations of the approach, and two more professors have already adopted it. Conference feedback from international peers will help enhance the project and offer the package to wider audiences.


Fast-track beginner French



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