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Online Language Learning Resources and Six/Seven Proposed US-UK Collaborative Initiatives from Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Ok, time for my second post of the day; before you read it, please be aware that my blog posting may be light for a while as I go back to working on my huge book project to extend Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” book to education. Then again, I may start posting excerpts from the upcoming book since I do not yet have a publisher.

As indicated in my previous blog post, online language learning remains hot! And I mean sizzling hot! Just see the list of online language learning resources one of my research teams has compiled using our Wiki-RIKI site in Wikispaces in the past few months. Here is the linkto tons of Online Language Learning Resources:

There are so many resources, that they must be categorized and evaluated:
1. Free language exchange communities with instructional content (e.g., Livemocha, italki, Babbel, Soziety, Kantalk, ECpod, and many more; see above link!),
2. Free language exchange communities without instructional content (e.g., FriendsAbroad, Mixxer, Chinswing)
3. Free Self-Paced language learning web sites (e.g., Mango Languages, from the NY Times, and lessons from the BBC)
4. Free Community-based Translation services (e.g., Cucumis, Mixxer again)
5. Podcast-based systems (e.g., Chinesepod, Englishpod, Spanishpod, Notes in Spanish)
6. Other resources: (e.g., Webheads)

So, it is clear that there are many ways to learn a language online. I am admittedly not an expert on learning languages online (hec, I do not even know my native language (i.e., English) that well…those of you sending me subtle (as well as not so subtle) emails of my blog post typos can attest to that). What I am interested in is emerging technologies for learning and opening up the world of learning to everyone on this little planet. I think that the above listed tools are a key part of reaching such a goal. At the Website noted above, my team has also listed potential areas for research, potential journals for publishing such research, related L2 acquisition theories that can ground such research, etc. There is a wealth of resources! Explore them!

Within just a few weeks of working in this area, the attention grew. As an example, read my previous post and all the article links and interviews within it. As another example, my team recently talked to consultants working with the Gates Foundation. These folks are searching for English language learning solutions at the community college level; in particular, online or technology-supported solutions. There is a dire need for supporting recent immigrants and others with English language deficiencies and needs. Do we recognize it at the federal level here in the U.S.? Not from what I can tell but this is not the area of my expertise. Over on the other side of the big pond they apparently do have political leadership and funding in this area (or will likely have funding, anyhow). In fact, UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown wrote a piece, "Enlarging the Anglosphere," in the Wall Street Journal yesterday (April 16, 2008) which outlined areas wherein he seeks greater ties with the United States. See (same article--2 options):

Not sure why the Wall State Journal posted the same article twice but I list them both above in case one link comes down or becomes nonfunctional.

Here are the six key initiatives Prime Minister Brown outlined:
1. Fostering greater university student exchanges between the US and the UK (I just saw the bill for my son to go study in Seville, Spain in the fall and I agree with Mr. Brown that greater government support would be wonderful);
2. Greater cooperation on enterprise and fostering entrepreneurship of young people and the exchange of ideas among young business leaders;
3. Joint initiatives or consorted efforts by charities and foundations across the two nations;
4. Collaboration between the US and UK and other international partners on cancer research;
5. Cooperation on research and development related to global warming; and
6. Fostering ways for young people to do volunteer work and service in each other’s countries.

Wow. This is a highly bold plan. The prime minister hopes that these initiatives will bring the people of the UK and US together as “Winston Churchill met President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the deck of the H.M.S. Prince of Wales in 1941.” But unlike our current administration, he recognizes and values the Web 2.0 and social networking possibilities. As evidence, Brown notes that these six items “reflect today's more connected society, in which thousands of people who communicate across multimedia channels will now be able to visit, meet face to face, and gain knowledge and understanding that will benefit them, and both our countries.” Ah, online collaboration, interaction, and exchange. He gets it!

So, why I am including all this in a blog post related to online language learning? Well, after detailing these six initiatives, he adds one more with the following statement though it is NOT labeled as #7: “In the last half-century the English language has become not only the language of Shakespeare and Twain, of J.K. Rowling and Cormac McCarthy, but of science, commerce, diplomacy, the Internet and travel.”
Ok, this is getting interesting. He adds that, “So, finally, I propose that together Britain and America strive to make the international language that happens to be our own far more freely available across the world. I am today asking the British Council to develop a new initiative with private-sector and NGO partners in America, to offer anyone in any part of the world help to learn English.”
That is a somewhat stunning way to end his Wall Street article. He situates his opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal right in the heart of the online language learning movement. In addition, he used the word “free,” and, in effect, could be perceived as pushing his agenda into the open educational resource (OER) movement. In his words, the learning of English should be “freely available across the world.” I guess he just needs to visit sites like Livemocha, Englishpod, Mixxer, and FriendsAbroad and witness the millions of people learning English and hundreds of other languages online today. And then he might stop over at MERLOT, Connexions, Careo, and Jorum and explore the free online resources that are now available for any discipline or content area. Perhaps he already has been there. Perhaps he is learning one of them now.

If interested, Mr. Brown also appeared on Good Morning America as part of a three day tour of the U.S. Some of this is covered by an article, “Special relationship will grow stronger, says Brown,” published yesterday in the Guardian (a UK newspaper). See:

Now some will immediately say that this is Western imperialism all over again. That is certainly a point of view that can be taken here. I prefer a learning-related view. We all need opportunities to learn in order to work, live, grow, and feel good about ourselves in the twenty-first century. If learning English is a key part of success and self-satisfaction in this world, then help in learning English is a step forward. If what is needed to succeed or feel personally empowered is learning to speak Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Spanish, or Canadian (eh?), then that is possible too and we should push for new initiatives there.

Let’s not immediately highlight the perceived negatives in what Gordon Brown stated yesterday. Knee-jerk idea squelching and negativism typically do not help in the progress of humankind. Insightful criticism along with exciting counter measures are always welcome, and, in the long run, will lead to better solutions than what will be initially proposed. But to brush aside the possibilities based on the problems of the past, does not allow for the human race to nurture and support the learning of all learners housed here at the present time. Let’s see where his ideas go first. This is just an initial call to collaborate and exchange ideas more. The tools for doing have definitely accelerated since our last president left office at the turn of this century. It is now time to take advantage of them. Which candidate do you think has the awareness and leadership skills to do so? As is apparent, I think it is highly significant news that Prime Minister Brown has proposed innovative collaborative and cooperative efforts between the US and UK and all of Europe and the rest of the world that can improve research, education, philanthropy, science, business, and technology. Web 2.0 technologies will undoubtedly be a key part of those collaborative efforts. Mr. Brown sure seems hopeful. Perhaps our next president will be too.

Ok, Bonk is moving on to politics now. Not really. It is simply an interesting topic since the Indiana primary is May 6th and this state has become a battleground for the Democratic Party. I saw Bill Clinton speak in Bloomington two weeks ago on the IU campus at Assembly Hall. I saw him speak at an e-learning conference three weeks after 911 at the LA Convention Center. Once again, he gave a marvelous talk to an audience of perhaps 7,000 people, despite showing up 2-3 hours late. He is not the only one showing up here. My son, Alex, saw Barack Obama in downtown Bloomington last Friday coming out of our best pub—Nick’s English Hut. Ok, I wonder to myself, Obama at an English pub? Surely, he and Brown would have an immediate place they could meet to discuss world politics right here in little ol’ Bloomy. If not here in Bloomington, then I know a few places in London, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Coventry, and Leicester they might meet up in and have a pint or two. Now, that would be newsworthy! Clank!
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  posted by Curt Bonk @ 2:57 PM  
  • At 7:43 PM, Blogger MW (My Wish) said…

    I was recently invited to participate in an "online gaming for learning English" project. I think it can be interesting if I can do this as a side job (part-time research). My heart is telling me to leave this full time profession which has taken a huge toll on my personal happiness (in Taiwan, anyway).

    Well I mean to say that I agree that there are ample opportunities for online language learning design.

  • At 7:40 PM, Blogger Curt Bonk said…

    Let's hope that you find a position quickly that matches your interests!!!! It is your wish I know! Keep dreaming that wish Lori.

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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Click here for information about my recent book, The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

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