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2019-20 Elske v.P. Smith Distinguished Lecture [video]

Robert Godwin-Jones, Ph.D., professor in the School of World Studies, presents "Language Learning Today: Where is Technology Leading Us?"

The Elske v.P. Smith Distinguished Lecturer recognizes an outstanding professor in the College of Humanities and Sciences and was established in honor of retired faculty member and former dean, Elske v.P. Smith, Ph.D. The annual lecture is intended to welcome faculty, staff, students, the community and friends. The lecture is free and open to all.

This year's lecturer was Robert Godwin-Jones, Ph.D., professor in the School of World Studies, and faculty member at VCU since 1979. The format for the lecture was webinar and it was held on Friday, October 30 at 11:00 a.m.


As has been the case in all fields, language learning in recent years has made rich use of technology. The extensive set of culturally and linguistically authentic materials online provides valuable learning materials (streaming media, readings of all kinds). Even more important has been the access to target language speakers and communities (social media/affinity groups, class exchanges). In recent years, the pace of innovation in technology devices and services has accelerated. The fast pace of development in artificial intelligence, massive collections of speech data and the power/ubiquity of online devices appear to be ushering in a future in which human communication, mediated through smart tools and mobile devices, is made transparently comprehensible, no matter the languages spoken. That is enabled through sophisticated translation apps, portable/wearable speech translators, and intelligent language bots/assistants now available. The constant improvement in quality, the range of languages supported and the convenience of use of these language tools may call into question the practical need to learn a second language. I will be arguing in my talk that learning another language is still needed today, in fact, more than ever. Language is a social act and therefore language learning brings learners into contact with cultural Others, with different values, beliefs and behaviors. That provides an opportunity for learners to reflect on their own identities and to develop intercultural sensitivity. While modern technology provides important enablers of learning, the human role in that process is critical. The presence of a teacher adds a crucial element to the learning process–mentoring, motivating, modeling. The talk is based on my recent article advocating for the "porous classroom" as an expanded model of blended language learning, a hybrid learning environment open to local and remote communities, and seeking to combine technology resources, a supportive teaching presence and an explicit focus on cross-cultural understanding and social justice.

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