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Friday, February 28, 2014

Digital Humanities & Foreign Language Learning

Through exploring different forms of digital humanities, including multi-media, online archives, as well as existing web tools like Google Earth and Twitter, instructors and scholars of foreign languages not only facilitate collective and immersive language learning, but also broaden and deepen students’ exposure and knowledge of foreign culture. Advancing technology plays an increasingly important role in foreign language learning as many innovative scholars develop projects integrating digital technology in foreign language classrooms. Below are some of the digital humanities projects in foreign languages currently taking place in research universities.

These projects  break the traditional geographical and cultural boundaries in learning a foreign language. The interactive, systematic, and innovative features of digital humanities have been proven to advance language learning both in and outside of the classroom. Therefore, it is essential for language instructors to reflect on how best to incorporate digital humanities in language learning, and determine what extent digital learning complements and even replaces traditional ways of teaching.

Image of students looking at a computer
http://berlinersehen.mit.edu/users/sign_in


Berliner Sehen           
Berliner sehen, developed in Hyperstudio at MIT, is for German Studies. Berliner sehen features live-recorded video and historical documents of social, cultural and political life of Berlin. The documentary consists of an extensive collection of conversations with Berlin residents, and of substantive texts, images, historical audio and video. The hypermedia format of Berliner sehen encourages students to fully understand different social and cultural contexts in which day-to-day conversation with Berliners took place. The project aims to use innovative hypertext web applications to support language and culture education.


  • The video consists of natural conversations with Berlin residents from different social backgrounds. The authentic conversations in German acquaint students with diverse perspectives of social life in Berlin.
  • With the extensive archives of texts, images and historical audio and video, students are encouraged to form a diverse and comprehensive understanding of key cultural elements. 


ArabiCorpus
When acquiring a new vocabulary in a new foreign language, language learners often feel puzzled about how to use a word/phrase in various contexts. Oftentimes, the direct translation from one’s native language would result in awkwardness and inaccuracy. ArabiCorpus, a collection of 30 million Arabic words, is a highly regarded tool for both Arabic learners and researchers at Brigham Young University. Learn more about the project:


  • Researchers can search an Arabic word or phrase in ArabiCorpus by entering a string of letters or characters. They can also learn about the phenomenon of the language.
  • Since the corpus contains language that was spoken or written by native speakers, students are able to see how a particular word/phrase is used in actual contexts.
  • Instructors can identify the frequency of words used in certain contexts, and put these frequently used words as priority when teach students.


Todd Hughes and Steven Wentz from the Vanderbilt Center for Second Language Studies are using Google Earth and Wikipedia in their classroom projects.


Google Earth


  • On exploring geographical conditions in detail on Google Earth, students can discuss the current weather conditions in a targeted foreign language.
  • Students can zoom in and view photos, videos, and virtual paths with spoken directions that others have uploaded.
  • Google Earth stimulates students’ spontaneous participation in discussion.
  • Teachers and learners are able to share the information with others who wish to use Google Earth in their classrooms.


Wikipedia provides an informative and collaborative platform for language learners. In Wentz’s project, students used wiki as a self-developed collaborative tool, from which they not only advanced their writing skills, but also shared their works with classmates.


  • For students at basic levels of fluency, they used the Wiki to enhance reading and writing skills. They also drew information from the Wiki to prepare for round table discussions of four social themes (e.g., religion in France)
  • Students at advanced level used wiki to examine sophisticated literary themes
  • When students shared their individual wiki projects with each other, they excelled on their language learning as opposed to traditional, private term papers.


Vivian Finch, a Phd candidate at Vanderbilt University, uses Twitter, a popular social networking and micro-blogging service, in her introductory German class. Finch envisioned fully utilizing Twitter’s interactive function to engage students in communicating with her and each other in a virtual German learning community.


  • Students worked together to write a Twitter short story based on readings they encountered in the classroom
  • Stories can be easily categorized and collected by using a class/story hashtag
  • Challenges: Because Twitter is a time-sensitive medium, collective digital storytelling on Twitter requires complicated monitoring over timing, characters, direction and duration of a story.