05/09/2014 10:25 am ET Updated Jul 08, 2014

New Trends in Language Teaching

Language education is always evolving based on new techniques, and research plays a vital role in that process.

People have a tendency to think of education as a static institution that never changes. I see all the controversy about "Common Core" in the USA these days and -- the virtues or lack thereof of the curriculum aside -- much of the fuss seems centered on the shock parents experience when they realise that school has changed since they were kids!

School always changes, though, at every level. It has to. Take language education -- a subject near and dear to every translation services professional's heart. It's been steadily evolving for decades as educators try to figure out the best way to overcome the barriers some people experience when trying to learn a language. Most education gurus or officials recognize the immense value of a workforce and population that can speak a second language, and as such language education is always changing.

One of the key concepts in language training in the modern day is the concept of research. This is an amazingly powerful but simple idea that seems like someone should have thought of it long ago.

Research means just that: Studying what's actually going on in classrooms and comparing techniques to results. In other words, experts actually observe or record classroom activity and then track student progress, including how much they go on to speak their second language, if they do at all, after the class ends. This sort of formal work is essential to cutting through anecdotal claims of teachers that their approach works, and of identifying portions of curriculums that are less or more effective than others.

It can involve direct observation or the recording of classroom activities (with consent, of course) as well as interviews with students at various stages, as well as input from the teachers themselves.

So what does research typically look for? There are several interesting data points that are typically looked into:

Teacher Influence. Unsurprisingly, the speech patterns and verbal tics of the teacher can have a tremendous influence over the speech patterns developed by their students -- but this is rarely taken into account when immersion programs are considered.

From a language translation point of view, it seems obvious -- when you learn by listening, you will of course learn what you hear. As a result, instructors have come to learn they must go into "teacher mode" when in an immersive class environment.

Patterns of Participation. In an immersive classroom, there will always be students who jump in feet-first and others that hang back and refuse to fully participate due to shyness or uncertainty. Studying these patterns -- and the effect they have on fluency later in life -- is vital towards our understanding of language education now and in the future.

A lot of work goes into a language class -- or any education endeavor. We're always working to make language learning more effective for future generations.