I was originally opposed to the concept of language labs.
I thought they were impersonal, outdated and not as effective as having actual face-to-face instruction time. I thought of the language labs I knew as an early ESL teacher and even as a student myself—I didn’t realize there was any other way.
But since exploring language labs and learning more about how to use them, I’ve realized that they can be effective and versatile, and best of all, they enable students to learn in a way that’s comfortable for them.
While I don’t feel English language labs should be any ESL educator’s only teaching tool, I’ve warmed up to them as very effective resources for your arsenal. If you haven’t been making proper use of your school’s language lab, read further to find out why they can catapult your students to the next level.
What Are the Benefits of Modern Language Labs?
When you think of language labs, do you automatically think of a room filled with outdated technology?
These days, language labs aren’t the stockpiles of cassette tapes, CD players and microphones that some of us experienced a decade ago. Now they’re computer rooms that are powered by state-of-the-art software designed to give students a unique and customizable learning experience—otherwise known as technology integration.
Here are some of the ways language labs can aid the learning process:
- They give shy and self-conscious students a chance to practice their English in privacy.
- Students are more likely to pay attention when working with a program that’s communicating directly to them.
- The learning content can be adjusted to suit each student’s individual needs.
- Students’ listening and speaking skills can be tested more efficiently.
But there are also specific benefits to the student-centered learning environment that language labs create. Let’s take a look at some of those more closely:
Language Labs Are Great for Boosting Speaking Skills
Language lab sessions give students the chance to take their conversational skills to the next level in a semi-natural environment.
Students can enjoy speaking practice that is more realistic than scripted roleplaying or textbook exercises, without the pressure of real-life English conversation where all the attention is on them. Since technology has come a long way over the recent years, much of the newer language learning software can even assess students’ pronunciation and help them develop natural English-speaking accents.
Students Are Placed in the Driver’s Seat
One of the primary reasons why I became a proponent for English language lab sessions was because they let students take control of their own educations. Students are able to choose what they want to study and learn at their own pace.
As the teacher, you’re always an arm’s reach away to give additional support to learners who’re struggling with certain topics.
I find that most students appreciate the opportunity to research on their own, and language labs give them the opportunity to do that. Students can make use of online dictionaries to help them as they play and replay video and audio clips.
8 Super Effective Ways to Use English Language Labs to the Fullest
1. Conduct Guided Study Sessions
You can use your time in the ESL language lab to conduct guided study sessions. Instead of giving your class access to study whatever they want, you give them specific scenarios or problems to solve and assess them on their performance.
The average language lab program comes with a number of different activities for speaking, listening, reading, writing and grammar, so finding topics to quiz your students on is easy.
I find that guided study sessions work much better in language labs than in the traditional classroom setting. This is because language labs enable you as the teacher to exercise some control over the course content, while also giving students more power to research and make use of various internet resources to help them along the way.
A student in the classroom may have a bilingual dictionary as a resource during a guided study session, whereas students in the language lab can scour the internet for assistance solving whatever English problems you give them. Not only does this get them reading and thinking in English, but you’ll also be helping to boost their research and critical thinking skills in the process.
2. Find the Best Language Lab Software
Teaching lessons in an English language lab gives you the opportunity to come up with a number of creative ways to teach your students. Since everyone in the class has access to a computer, you can bring various programs or websites into your lesson with ease.
So, what are some quality English language lab resources?
- FluentU: Check out FluentU’s assignments and resources that transform authentic English content into language learning experiences.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Another bonus is that FluentU’s content is fresh and up to date, meaning you don’t have to worry about trying to explain obscure pop culture references from material more than a decade old.
From your perspective, you’ll love that student progress tracking is incorporated right into FluentU. You can also design your own curriculum, assign homework and communicate with students all from the FluentU platform.
- Mythware: Mythware’s language lab software has a great one-size-fits-all design that challenges students’ reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.
The program is easy to use and is great for keeping track of students’ progress. Students can engage in one-on-one audio, audio/video and text chats with the teacher and fellow students, as well as work in groups to solve various activities. You can also check out their YouTube channel to learn helpful ways to teach with Mythware in your classroom.
- Robotel: If you want a program that’s easy to use and comes with a number of interesting built-in exercises, self-study and group work interfaces, as well as full teacher control, Robotel’s SmartClass program is perfect for you.
What sets this program apart from other language lab software bundles is that it’s fully compatible with nearly any device, including Chromebooks and portable devices. This makes it great for smaller schools that want to implement a language lab but have a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy. Stop by Robotel’s YouTube channel and view some of their tutorials and exercise examples to learn more about this product.
- ReLANpro: ReLANpro’s language lab software is a powerful downloadable program that provides a number of audio, video and reading exercises to test your students’ skill levels. It’s easy to use and has an interface that’s quick to learn, so students shouldn’t have a hard time adjusting to it.
One of the biggest advantages that comes with this program is its cloud capabilities, allowing for access from outside the classroom. Pay a visit to ReLANpro’s YouTube channel to learn more about what unique services they provide.
3. Take Advantage of Recording Technology
One of the best ways for students to improve their pronunciation and speaking skills is simply to hear how they talk in English.
That’s where language labs come in. Unlike in the traditional classroom, in a lab can you have students record and listen to their own speech individually. That means they have the opportunity to hear and correct their own mistakes, and they’re also not on the spot with everyone listening to a recording of one person, but rather listening to themselves through their headphones.
As the educator you also have access to the recordings, which means you can guide their listening and learning. Record your students reading scripts or speaking naturally and then give feedback on their pronunciation, rhythm and stress patterns. If using a script, provide recorded samples of a native English speaker saying the same sentence for comparison.
4. Provide Content with a Range of Accents
One of the difficulties of teaching English is exposing students to the wide range of accents that exist in the Anglophone world. However, this is important to achieve, especially if your students are learning English for professional purposes where they’ll be encountering lots of different accents.
Language labs make it possible to quickly and efficiently introduce your students to American, English, Irish, Australian, Scottish and various other types of accents they’re likely to encounter out in the world. Try providing clips from movies, regional news or interviews with celebrities they might recognize from different English-speaking countries.
It’s also a good idea to try throwing in some accents from people speaking English as a second language, like native French, Italian or Chinese speakers talking in English. Again, this is useful for students who’ll be pursuing work in English, as well as those who intend to use English in an academic environment.
5. Use Visuals for Engaging Verb Lessons
Language labs are also great for stepping away from traditional drills and worksheets and getting your students more engaged in grammar.
Test your students’ grammar skills by creating a PowerPoint presentation filled with various pictures of people performing different actions. Then have them make sentences describing the pictures using different forms of past, present and future verbs. You’ll find that most students will really enjoy coming up with new and creative ways to describe pictures, so make them entertaining!
6. Turn Word Documents into an Interactive Reading Activity
This is a useful language lab activity that’ll not only boost your students’ reading skills but will also get them comfortable using basic technology and office software in English.
Evaluate your students’ reading skills by giving them a Word file to edit that’s filled with various formatting instructions covering font size, color, bolding, italics and other simple changes. Depending on your students’ proficiency level, you might also include grammatical or spelling errors in the text for them to edit using Word’s Track Changes feature.
I did this exercise with a group of adult students who didn’t only enjoy the English practice, but also appreciated that the activity helped them in a professional capacity through exploring software in English.
7. Assign Transcription Activities
Assess your students’ listening and writing skills by giving them English audio clips to transcribe in the lab.
The reason that I prefer to use transcribing activities in the ESL lab instead of in a classroom is because students tend to benefit from using headphones and controlling the pace of the exercise. Instead of you reading the same sentence over and over until your class is satisfied, each learner can simply repeat the audio clip as many times as they need.
You can then highlight any mistakes students made, and have them listen again and self-correct at your next language lab lesson.
8. Evaluate Your Students’ Abilities in Multiple Areas
Coming up with speaking and listening assessments in the classroom can be difficult, especially if they require students to be evaluated in a one-on-one setting. Using the ESL language lab enables you to evaluate your students more efficiently and effectively thanks to state-of-the-art software.
So don’t just focus on one of the activities mentioned above; be sure to switch up your language lab lesson plans frequently so that you’re targeting multiple skills.
The reason I enjoy using language labs is that they allow me to take a creative approach to teaching English while also providing students with a hands-on approach to learning. If you don’t have access to a language lab in your school, consider talking to your principal or head teacher to learn how to get one. With BYOD lab options available, starting one is more affordable than ever.