Integrating Foreign Language and Tech-based Resources 

I.  Definition of Training Piece

A.  Purpose for Instructor

A familiar scenario: Your Chair is asking you to produce a series of computer-based lesson plans and activities for a committee presentation the following week. Or your language program has the opportunity to obtain a $250,000 grant for a computer lab, but the proposal is contingent upon showing how you would weave national or state standards into your computer-based lessons. Or perhaps simply you have pushed to acquire computers for your program, and now that they’re in, the reality of finding time to identify appropriate materials, as well as where to fit computer-based activities into your curriculum, becomes a concrete issue.

There is no doubt that the Internet brings an enormous wealth of resources and experiences to both students’ and teachers’ fingertips, but it can do so at a high cost in terms of both researching appropriate materials and planning their integration. The purpose of this module is to introduce teachers to some resources and techniques that facilitate the identification and integration of internet-based materials for language teaching and learning purposes. Most importantly however, we hope that by the end of this basic introduction, readers will be motivated to develop further connections with colleagues and organizations involved in these efforts. For with the complexity, vastness, and geometric growth of the Internet, this is the only way to truly build and maintain one’s "workable" knowledge within the field.

B.  Material Covered

The content of this module is a compilation of knowledge and experience gained by teachers who have used, developed and integrated computer-based resources into their language curriculum. It provides the opportunity for newly entering technology adopters to build upon these experiences, rather than forge the path solo. Through such collaboration, and by demonstrating some effective techniques for reducing the time and effort involved in integrating computer-based resources, we hope to build upon the ever-growing community of language educators who are working together to make the Internet an effective tool for language teaching and learning.

II.  Foundation

A.  Definition of Concept & Theory

Unlike in the past where "how" (grammar) and "what" (vocabulary) were the focus of language study, "communication" is the organizing principal today. The National Foreign Language Standards [under "Publications" at:] weave "knowing how, when and why to say what to whom" into an integrated goal for language learners. This is a profound difference, and perhaps only truly supportable as an ultimate goal now that teachers and learners have "the world at their fingertips" in the form of Internet resources. The tapestry of information that students need to be familiar with to truly communicate in meaningful and appropriate ways was previously constructed for the language learner in the form of "authentic" materials (i.e. videos, dialogues, menus, itineraries, etc.).

The role of technology

With the advent of the Internet, "authentic" maintains its original meaning: students have access to materials created by and for native speakers functioning in their own cultural setting. Learners now have the opportunity to glimpse directly into the lifestyles, interests and concerns of the people whose language they are studying, and in many cases, to even interact directly with them. For example:

Internet-delivered newspapers from around the world bring daily news– and different perspectives to current issues– to language learners, facilitating comparisons, and helping students understand the multiple ways of viewing the world.

Advertisements on web sites directed at people of other language backgrounds provide a peak into cultural differences.

Chat rooms, listservs and discussion sessions around topics such as music, film, books, art, literature, etc. provide students with connections to new international communities.

Thus technology, in the form of the Internet, provides a connecting weft in the tapestry of language learning.

Technology's Role in the Tapestry of Language Learning

B.  Summary of Relevant Research

Anecdotal observations characterized early "research" into the effectiveness of technology in language learning: computing was new; students were curious and captivated and therefore found to spend more time on certain tasks. In the early computing environment (pre-Internet days), students could go to software programs in the lab outside of class, which freed up critical and limited class time for more teacher facilitation of communicative activities. Another approach often implemented within class time was pairing or grouping students to work around a single computer and task– a cooperative approach that emphasized student interactions over individualized learning. In these ways, computing was deemed useful and effective in that it–if for no other reason (and there were others)– provided expanded learning opportunities.

More rigorous research has since been focused on questions such as: Does electronic glossing advance student comprehension of written text?; What are the results of multimedia glossing?; Are email or chat sessions effective approaches for developing writing skills? (And the underlying question: Are chats more a written or oral expression? ) ; and What are the advantages of teacher-prompted electronic writing (with such programs as Common Space, Daedalus, etc.)? Many more tools, resources, and approaches to using these are currently available to us now, and the research has only recently begun to address these. More importantly, for our purposes here, though, is this: The Internet continues to provide learning experiences and opportunities beyond what any individual teacher or group of instructors can alone provide to their students.

A "for instance": language teachers, native or not, can only provide for their students perspectives of the cultures that they happen to be familiar with. Thus a Spanish teacher from Peru may have a different "twist" on "Hispanic culture" than one from Spain, for example. Likewise, a French-speaking African’s cultural experiences may not include those of French Polynesia or Caribbean francophone countries. The Internet can bring all of these experiences to the language learner. Thus, practically speaking, research is not necessarily required to prove to us the underlying value of the Internet to language learning and teaching (although valuable in indicating to us the effectiveness of particular approaches to its use).

III.  Benefits

A.  Instructor

The Internet doesn’t simply enable a teacher to provide a greater variety of materials and experiences to his or her students, but it also facilitates the teacher’s own professional development and connections within this particular community of practice. That is, the Internet is foremost a "connecting agent." It not only connects teachers and students to "the world," but it also connects teachers to teachers and others to an extent that no previous technology ever imagined. Thus, a teacher at a college in Maine can create a language activity this morning, and another teacher in Utah can assign it to her students for homework tonight. Or that individual mentioned above who needs standards-integrated lessons for the grant proposal might adopt lessons already created with such a purpose in mind (For example, TrackStar track #24452 "Spanish Foods"). But of course, they can only do this if they know how and where these resources are shared and are committed to supporting the ongoing development of this sharing capacity.

B.  Student

The Internet brings the sights, sounds, interests, foods, perspectives and other aspects of a target language and culture to the student in a way that can only be surpassed by an immersion program (which also integrates Internet materials) or travel abroad itself. Through the Internet, students can create travel itineraries including train schedules and fares and find hours of operation and cost of entry to museums and other places of interest. They can select and "purchase" items from catalogs to furnish an apartment they’ve found online. The Internet can provide students with the opportunity to connect their own existing interests within target countries (such as finding the best surfing beaches in Costa Rica, or following the progress of a particular soccer team in Germany) or to find new interests from among previously unknown options.

The Internet also creates logistical advantages, extending meaningful language learning to outside the classroom– to places and times most convenient and conducive for individual student learning. Student-teacher and student-student communication can be augmented through email, listservs and online discussion sessions.

In short, the Internet also serves students as a "connecting agent" as it brings to them the world of the target language as well as additional linkages to their language learning community.

IV.  Implementation

A.  Exploration Exercises for Instructor

We already know that one of the drawbacks of the Internet is its very vastness– how does one travel its roads to find useful materials without making that journey an endless trek? The first answer is not to assume you have to trail blaze with every effort. There is a wealth of web-based materials, templates, and adaptable activities that others have already created. The benefit to you in starting with these is twofold: you have practical models with which to start, and you begin to build your network of connections with others who are also interested in effectively integrating these resources.

One resource that I frequently recommend are the Surf’s Up books. These are handy compendiums of web-based activities with accompanying handouts available in three languages: French, German and Spanish. The trick with these and any other pre-designed activity is to look at them with an eye to adapt to your needs. Thus a creative Japanese instructor can potentially get almost as much benefit from looking at the German examples as a Spanish teacher can from looking at the Spanish edition.

Let’s step through how this adaptation process may happen. We’ll start by pretending we have the Spanish Surf’s Up book in our hands. Let’s take a look at Activity 20 "El Horóscopo" (The Horoscope). The stated goal of this activity is that, "students will practice vocabulary concerning the calendar (months, dates, etc.) including the astrological calendar (signs of the zodiac). They will also read authentic Spanish texts that contain many adjectives and references to human qualities" (p.91). The accompanying handout asks students to indicate their birthday and provides graphic representations for the Zodiac symbols with lines for identifying them with the appropriate Spanish word. One of the web sites listed for this activity– Ciudad Futura – provides current horoscopes for each sign.

B.  Questions for Integration

Start by asking yourself, "How might an activity like this work in my class?" A German instructor, for example, might begin a search for a similar site in German (How to do this.). Or a Chinese teacher might translate this activity into one based on the Chinese horoscope (interestingly, there is a link to the Chinese horoscope from this very site– but it is also in Spanish!) What else could you do with this topic? Is the level appropriate for your students? If not, how might you work it down (or up) to fit?

Or another way to phrase this question: How would you fit the task to the level using this same site? For example, even though this page is all in the target language, what could beginning students do with it? Perhaps they could identify cognates and glean meaning from a fairly familiar context. What could they add to descriptions about themselves using what they learn from this site? What might you have more advanced students do with this same resource?

Your task #1: Starting with one of the Surf’s Up lists (click first on your selected language and hen on "answer keys and URL updates"), spend some time investigating one or two of the topics that you find interesting. As you look at the associated web sites, think through the integration questions outlined above. Pick one topic and– browsing the Internet– find three web sites related to that topic that you want to introduce to your students.

Your task #2: Now you’re ready to create a topical lesson that integrates these three web pages. How will you approach it? What will you have your students do with these sites– read, summarize, extract, make connections, etc.? Let’s look at a student activity as an example.

Exercises for students

Here’s an example of an activity designed around the sports section of the online version of El Mercurio (daily newspaper) from Chile. The visual clues of the photos accompanying many of the articles assist the student both in making connections with the content as well as with the culture. With Chile residing in the opposite hemisphere from the U.S., comparisons between seasonal activities in the two locales are sometimes quite striking. Which sports are practiced in a given locale also provides the reader with some ideas about the weather and the geography of the region.

As you peruse this sample activity, think about the "substitutability" of the various parts. For example, any language newspaper can be substituted for this Spanish one. In terms of learning level, you may think about what beginning students might be able to glean. Can they look for cognates (both true and false) which you can follow up with in class? Might they create a frequency chart as a means to determine the popularity of various sports and compare these in class? Or perhaps create a list of the named athletes in each of the sports articles?

Student Exercise Example

Language: Spanish; Learning Level: Intermediate

Standards: 1.2– Students understand and interpret written language

3.1– Students reinforce and further their knowledge through other disciplines

3.2– Students acquire information and recognize distinctive viewpoints that are only available through the foreign language and its culture.

Performance goals: Students will demonstrate an understanding of sports that are popular in Chile and compare those to popular sports in their own region (and season).

URL: Click on "Deportes" on left side of screen

Preparation Phase: Build sports-related vocabulary in class. Prepare and distribute "survey" handout.

Execution Phase: Students complete activity individually in lab or at home. This activity could also be done in collaborative groups and/or as a presentation to other groups.

Expansion Phase: Students share and compare results of their handout "survey" in class. Which sports are seemingly more popular? What do the listed sports tell us about the geography of the region? The weather? What are the differences between sports in current season in Chile and those where you live?

Assessment procedures: For an intermediate class, assessment may consist of having students match sports headlines to corresponding pictures, creating news reports about these sports, or creating a comparative table of types and frequency of the season’s sporting activities in Chile and the U.S.

C.  Skill Connection

1.  Online Activities & Communities: In foreign language classrooms, community plays a big role, but community can also be established on line between students in an individual course or in multiple courses or between students across the country or the world. To explore resources for finding and building on-line communities, visit the Online Activities & Communities module.

2.  Integrating Technology: Technology integration is taking place in all disciplines, and there is a wealth of teaching ideas that have already been created that we can use if we are willing to adapt them to our own disciplines and purposes. Additional technology integration ideas can be found in the Integrating Technology module.

V. Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are the best resources for XXX language?

A: There are no "best" resources. What works for one teacher, approach and/or class may not be what another feels is effective. We see this all the time in our workshops– one teacher exclaiming the beauty of a particular drill activity while another rejects it outright as inappropriate for their approach. Only you can determine what’s best for your purposes, but developing and working with a network of teachers who share similar methodological approaches and pedagogical styles can assist you in finding and identifying a corps of materials right for you. Begin building that community for yourself! (See Making Connections under Helpful Resources below.)

Q: What one conference or meeting would you most recommend?

A: If your conference opportunities were limited, I would recommend you attend the meetings of your IALL regional group (see IALL below). This choice is not a matter of ranking one conference over another, but of giving you the opportunity to begin making local connections with people you can work with on a regular basis. ACTFL and IALL also have great sessions, workshops and connection-making opportunities in language teaching with technology; you can’t miss selecting with either of these conferences. Keep in mind, however, that the opportunity to attend an IALL conference only comes once every two (odd) years.

Q: Are there workshops for teachers on this topic?

A: Yes, in fact, much of the content of this module comes from the "Foreign Languages: Teaching with Technology" workshop which is jointly sponsored by IALL and ACTFL with the support of Houghton Mifflin’s Faculty Development Programs. These organizations provide one and two-day workshops with pre-established curricula, as well as customized ("dedicated") workshops to meet specific needs of faculty and campus groups.To find out more about the variety of workshops that Houghton Mifflin supports including those in conjunction with IALL and ACTFL, visit For more information on ACTFL’s offerings, check out "Workshops" at their web site.

Q: What kinds of computers do you recommend?

A: I don’t, I can’t, and no one can without a collaborative discussion with key folks within your institution. And that’s not necessarily a political discussion, but because the best decision resides in balancing the idiosyncrasies of your particular circumstances. Even if there was one platform that was far superior to another, it wouldn’t necessarily be your best choice if, within your institution, you don’t have the folks to knowledgeably support it. Furthermore, we’re finally at the point where whatever decision you make will provide you with a wide range of accessible resources.

Q: What’s the best software for creating my own instructional web pages?

A: Here’s another case of "it’s all relevant." I always recommend to faculty that they find out what software is supported within their institution. Don’t start from scratch, but rather build from an existing base and take advantage of any support you may have on your campus. Has your school adopted a campus-wide instructional software system (like Blackboard or WebCT)? If so, you’ll want to start out by gaining facility with this first.

VI. Helpful Resources

Making Connections

IALL - International Association for Language Learning Technology

Get to know this organization, especially your local regional group. This is a great place to start networking with people near you, and both the IALL regional conferences (usually held twice a year) and national (held every 2 years) are packed full of useful, interesting sessions.

IALL’s listserv LLTI shares information relevant to language teachers. Note, however, that there are technical and managerial issues that are more relevant to folks with responsibilities over learning centers.

ACTFL - American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages

If you are a language teacher and aren’t a member, join now. ACTFL workshops, conferences, journal articles and announcements provide invaluable information and support to technology-using teachers.

CALICO - Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium

This organization focuses on the higher end of language and technology. If you’re just getting involved with teaching with computers, file this organization away for later reference.

FLTEACH - Foreign Language Teaching Forum

While it uses technology to connect language teachers, this very active list does not limit its focus to technology use in foreign language teaching. Lots of good info here.

Guides to the Internet

LeLoup, J. W. & Ponterio, R. (1995). Basic Internet Tools for Foreign Language Educators
A primer on basic tools such as email, listservs, etc., written by and for foreign language educators.
A bit outdated now (skip the "Gopher" section for example), but still useful.

Fidelman, Carolyn G. A Language Professional's Guide to the World Wide Web
From the basics of what the Internet is all about to navigating and authoring on the web. Clearly written and easily understandable basics directed at foreign language teachers.

Franz, Judi, Gehringer, Jay & Turner, Jesse. Educational Moos
Don’t really understand what a MOO is? Here’s the place to find out and to discover a variety of foreign language MOOs.

Johnson, Lewis. Reading Strategies For Web Activities
Applying effective reading strategies to web-delivered materials.

Some recommended sites
Teaching with the Web - A wealth of resources here from useful authentic sites and language-specific web lessons to teaching resources.

Quia - Provides templates for web-based games and quizzes which can be integrated with lessons.


Workshop Information to attend a workshop on this topic or bring one to your campus, visit this site or call Faculty Training at (800) 856-5727.


Questions for Integration

1. What are the greatest strengths/weaknesses of this resource?

2. Will it work in my instructional setting? If not as is, can I adapt it to work?

3. What specific learning goals would this resource help my students reach?

4. Where would this resource fit into my curriculum?

5. What would I and/or my learners need to know to do before using this resource?


One of the quickest ways to do this would be to use the language capabilities of Alta Vista ( Select "German" (instead of "any language") and type in "horoskop". By designating a specific language to be used and searching in that language, you end up with results in the target language. This strategy is critical when you are specifically looking for target-language sites. For example, if you search for "French recipes," you will more likely find these recipes written in English.