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Friday, September 24, 2010

Free trial to yabla

The Language Center has acquired a 60-day free trial of an internet-based video service called yabla. We should have enough licenses (Spanish = 2000, French = 1000, German = 500) to accommodate everyone (instructors and students) who wants to try it out. The product also exists for ESL, but we don't have a trial to use that.

The main pedagogical application would be listening comprehension, with some pertinence for culture, vocabulary enrichment and even reading. The site offers short, authentic videos with target-language transcription and English translation, both of which can be hidden at will. There's a built-in bilingual dictionary, a slow-play feature and even a fill-in-the-blank "game". If students click on words in the transcription, the site will create customized flashcards of those words for later review.

The videos are rated according to difficulty. Most seem to be in the 2 or 3 out of 5 range, hence accessible to ambitious second-year students. There is also an index by subject area: art/culture, documentary, environment, food, etc. In addition, the site has ready-made lessons for Spanish and French that focus on particular elements of grammar, vocabulary or even pronunciation: se impersonal, ‹h› aspiré, etc.

Using our free account unfortunately involves two steps the first time. First you have to request access. Go to the yabla page you want:

French http://french.yabla.com
German http://german.yabla.com
Spanish http://lomastv.com

Scroll to the bottom of the page and click Sign up for Students
Scroll down to MN and choose University of Minnesota
Click Continue to Sign-up » and complete the form.

After your request has been approved, you should be able to log in with your Email and Password. I'll try to keep on top of the approvals so that you don't have more than a day to wait for access, since the clock is ticking: our account expires November 23!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

From the Director, Fall 2010

Dan Soneson
As students repopulate our campus with the onset of a new semester, the Language Center continues to evolve to support the teaching and learning of languages at the University. As you walk through Jones Hall, you will notice quite a bit of activity and some significant changes this semester.

A New Classroom

In response to increasing class sizes we have remodeled Jones 15. We have replaced the rows of booths with a more open floor plan, placing tables along the perimeter of the room and two islands of tables in the center. We have effectively divided the space into quadrants. This way, we can accommodate up to 28 students simultaneously, working individually on brand new iMac computers, or convening either in small groups or four medium groups to work collaboratively on tasks. In addition to the new floor plan, we have also installed a new instructor desk that includes the standard equipment - iMac computer with MacDiLL software, video and audio players, as well as a document camera. In design, the remodeled classroom resembles our most popular classroom, Jones 30, with its open and accessible floor plan. Please come by to take a look and book your class in the new space. Let us know what you think!

TandemPlus / Multimedia Lab Coordinator

We also welcome a new staff member this semester. Kate Clements has joined us to serve as both the Coordinator for the Multimedia Lab (Jones 135) as well as the Coordinator for the TandemPlus program. Kate is no stranger to the technology available at the University and in the Language Center. While earning an MA in the ESL program here at the University, she served as the IT Fellow for the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. In addition to assisting individual instructors, she spearheaded the transition of Spanish language courses from WebCT Vista to the Moodle course management system. Since receiving her degree, she has taught in the Minnesota English Language Program, often meeting with her classes in the computer classrooms in Jones Hall. She has shared some of her experiences with technology by presenting several workshops in the Language Center's iTeach workshop series. Her involvement with the TandemPlus program includes participating as a student with a native Spanish speaker in the Face-to-Face program, as well as recommending her students in the MELP program to participate in order to develop their English conversational skills. We are delighted to have Kate with us. Please welcome her to the Language Center.

Testing Program Grant

Our Testing program has received funding as a part of the Title VI grant administered by the Institute for Global Studies to develop new Language Proficiency Tests. Overseen by Monica Frahm, the project is directed by Gabriela Sweet who brings many years of test development and administration to the task. Their group is in the process of developing test items for Italian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and a second exam in Spanish. Temporarily located in Jones 110F, they are working at a fever pitch to produce these materials by the middle of November.

CLA-OIT Support

The CLA IT Fellows program has also undergone changes this fall. While previously the program provided up to 20 graduate fellows who were assigned to specific departments to help instructors with technology issues, the program will now rely on 15 undergraduate students to perform work such as developing Moodle sites for courses and working with multimedia. Instructors will work directly with 5 graduate students to develop concepts, who will then pass on the construction responsibilities to the undergraduate students. All language departments and the Language Center will be served by one person now, and we are extremely fortunate that the program has hired Lindsey Lahr to be the contact person for our area. Lindsey has been the IT Fellow for the Language Center and the Department of Asian Languages and Literature for the past two years. She has been working in our Development Studio in Jones 127 and helping instructors to digitize a variety of media as well as to make and edit professional level audio recordings. She will now work through the CLA-OIT office. If you have a request for Lindsey, the best way to contact her is through the CLA Help Desk. You can send an email to help@cla.umn.edu or call 4-HELP.

As the relatively new Director of the Language Center I am delighted to be working here at the University of Minnesota with such a dedicated staff and with such excellent facilities and support. Our mission is to promote and support the teaching and learning of world languages. Technology is an excellent tool to accomplish this mission. Our state-of-the-art facilities and equipment provide both access to information as well as tools to help students complete interesting and engaging multimedia projects. Our staff is extremely knowledgable about the possibilities of technology and continues to explore a wide variety of emerging technological applications that connect students with authentic materials and cultures, and with speakers of the languages that students are learning. We support students and instructors with technology assistance, and we also serve as a place for exploring the nature of language and second language acquisition itself. I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities that the Language Center offers.

Wishing you all the best for a successful and productive fall semester,

Dan Soneson