Good communication skills are indispensable for the success of any professional. If one wants to reach out to people, he or she has to speak their language. The English language, in particular, has become essential in the lives of young people who aspire to advance their careers anywhere in the world. English language learning has therefore become a must for any Indian student today.
Language learning is not the same as learning any other subject. It is not confined to writing an examination and getting a degree or award. The four skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking have to be practiced. Being able to communicate well is the most important factor when seeking a placement in a company or institution. Communication involves one's ability to listen carefully so as to grasp the meaning and to respond in turn with apt words and clarity of pronunciation.
The language laboratory plays an important role in the language learning process. This article discusses the various features of the language laboratory. As it is a technological aid for learning, it has a number of advanced facilities that can help a student to learn a language with proficiency to communicate. It has become inevitable in today's context but, at the same time, it poses certain challenges. This article attempts to highlight the significance of the language laboratory and its challenges imposed on the learner and the teacher.
The Need for a Language Laboratory
It is required of any learner to have a good command of the language for communication purposes, with clarity and accuracy being vital for effective and efficient communication. What helps one to acquire such proficiency in a language is the process and the method of learning that language.
The curriculum of the present educational system in India does not have a laboratory session for arts subjects. Only those who study science subjects have practical work, which is undertaken in a laboratory. Hence, a laboratory for language learning is something new to Indian students, whereas it is very common in Western countries to train children in the laboratory to enrich their language learning experiences.
Scientific advancements have produced a number of innovative products to assist the learning process. Innovative products such as digital multimedia control, wireless headsets and microphones, the interactive response pad, etc. are very useful for students learning languages for communication. These interactive tools are designed to enhance not only language teaching but also class room grading and distance learning.
The language laboratory is very useful for assessing students' speech. It provides students with the technical tools to get the best samples of pronunciation of the language. The electronic devices used in the laboratory will stimulate the eyes and ears of the learner to acquire the language quickly and easily. The laboratory's collection is designed to assist learners in the acquisition and maintenance of aural comprehension, oral and written proficiency, and cultural awareness. The language laboratory offers broadcasting, television programmes, web-assisted materials and videotaped off-air recordings in the target language. In short, a learner can get the experience of having interaction with native speakers through the laboratory. Hence, the language laboratory has become the need of the hour in any language learning process for communication.
Kinds of Language Laboratory
The language laboratory assists educators in delivering foreign language instruction, and has been through many developmental stages over the years.
Four kinds of laboratories are being focused on here:
This is the primitive form of the language laboratory. The conventional lab has a tape recorder and a few audiocassettes of the target language to teach the learners. The teacher plays the tape and the learners listen to it and learn the pronunciation. As it is used in a normal classroom setup, it is prone to distractions and this type of laboratory is no longer common.
Lingua Phone Laboratory
This is again a conventional type of lab, with a little modernization. Learners are given a headset to listen to the audiocassettes being played. Here distractions are minimized and a certain amount of clarity in listening is possible.
There is also a modernized lingua phone laboratory available today, which uses an electronic device that has two functions. It works as a cassette player with all the features of a normal cassette player on the left side, and as a repeater on the right side that helps one to record one's voice and play it back for comparison.
Computer Assisted Language Laboratory (CALL)
CALL uses the computer to teach language. The language course materials are already fed into the computer and are displayed according to the features available in the system. Nowadays, there are also laboratories with computers with a connection to the Internet. These are called Web Assisted Language Laboratories (WALL). The development of CALL has been gradual, and this development has been categorized into three distinct phases: Behavioristic CALL, Communicative CALL and Integrative CALL (Barson & Debski, 1996). Though the development of CALL has been gradual, its acceptance has come slowly and unevenly.
Multimedia Hi-Tech Language Laboratory
There is a lot of software available on the market that can be used in the multimedia language laboratory, for example:
Histudio MHi Tech
The Significance and Relevance of the Language Laboratory
The significance of the language laboratory has been much felt in the domain of communication. We live in a multilingual and multicultural world, which is being shrunk to the size of a village by the advancement of science and technology. The language laboratory exists to help one to use technology effectively to communicate. It is not merely for learning a single language, but can be used for teaching a number of languages efficiently. To acquire a sensibility for the sounds and rhythm of a language, one has to hear the best samples of a spoken language (Richards, 2001). This is precisely the function of the language laboratory. Some highlights of the language laboratory are given below:
- It is a tool designed for teaching any language.
- It helps one to learn pronunciation, accent, stress and all other aspects of the phonetics of a language.
- Effective communicative training programmes for the general public, private and corporate sectors, junior and senior level officers can be given through the lab.
- Web-content creation, the setting up of in-house news magazines, corporate publicity and identity, and teaching materials can be generated through the language laboratory.
- General documentation, software documentation and all forms of technical documentation can be done.
- Experts can utilize the laboratory for creating and editing scientific and technical materials for teaching language.
- The language laboratory enables one to conduct courses for various groups of people like students, faculties, businesspeople, etc.
- Short-term and long-term coaching classes for international examinations like IELTS, TOEFL and other competitive examinations can be organized.
9. Online courses and paperless examinations can be conducted through the language laboratory.
As the ability to communicate effectively has become the prerequisite for anyone who ventures into a new profession, the need for developing such a skill is a much-felt phenomenon today. Both governmental and private institutions focus their attention on students developing their communicative skills. As technology has entered into every aspect of human life, it has extended its advanced products into the field of communication. So everyone strives to get the best on the market.
It is a fact that most students who do not find a placement after completion of their technical studies are very much dependent on their ability to express themselves and their knowledge efficiently. While emphasizing the importance of employment-oriented education, Dr. Thiruvasagam, the Vice-Chancellor of Bharathiar University, Coimbatore, explained that "personality development and communication skills are equally important for students in finding respectable jobs in addition to their academic records" (The Hindu, 25/09/06). He also urged all the principals of affiliated colleges to have a language laboratory on the campus and to motivate management to appoint a trained instructor specifically for the laboratories.
The Anna University in Chennai has circulated a note to all its affiliated colleges to set up language laboratories on their premises to enable students to develop their communicative skills. The vice-chancellor of Bharathiar University has requested the board of studies for English to reduce the conventional teaching of English prose and poetry, and has allocated 50% of the teaching time for communicative English (The Hindu, 11/09/06). Almost all technical colleges in the Coimbatore region have already opened language laboratories. Though the cost of the installation of a language laboratory is very high, institutions have invested in them for their students' benefit.
The language laboratory is a very helpful tool for practicing and assessing one's speech in any language. It provides a facility which allows the student to listen to model pronunciation, repeat and record the same, listen to their performance and compare with the model, and do self-assessment. Since the language laboratory gives every learner of any language freedom to learn at their own pace, it is flexible and does not necessarily require a teacher all the time. At the same time, it is possible for teachers to provide assistance individually and collectively. The language laboratory allows every participant his or her privacy to speak and listen.