HOW TO CREATE ONLINE PRACTICE OPPORTUNITIES FOR ADULT SECOND LANGUAGE LEARNERS? NEDBOX, AN ONLINE PLATFORM FOR PRACTISING DUTCH LANGUAGE SKILLS
Scientific research clearly states that you only learn a language after long and repeated practice and that a lot of practice in a variety of contexts is needed (Robinson, 2001; Ellis, 2002; Dekeyser, 2007). In reality, however, adult immigrants trying to master the language of their new country often lack opportunities to practise their language skills outside their regular second language (SLA) courses. Consequently, they may fail to develop the language proficiency they need to integrate and fully participate in their new society. Lack of societal participation, in turn, may limit their opportunities to further practice and develop their SLA skills. In order to break that vicious circle, practice opportunities should be created outside the classroom. The use of ICT offers great potential in this respect by providing learners with the opportunity to practise autonomously, related to learning goals they determine themselves.
In response to the above findings, a widely accessible and learner-oriented online platform was developed with the support of the European Integration Fund. NedBox.be wants to offer a wide group of learners of Dutch as a second language (DSL) a fun, non-academic way of practising their Dutch language skills during their leisure time. In our contribution we will exemplify what our main assumptions were while developing the platform and we will demonstrate the unicity of the platform in the field of ICT and technology enhanced language learning.
One of our main assumptions and challenges was to make NedBox accessible and attractive for a wide audience of adult learners in their free time: high-educated as well as low-educated learners, with and without computer skills, and with various interests and needs. Another main assumption and challenge was to incorporate some of the main characteristics of a powerful task-based language learning environment (Van den Branden, Van Gorp, Verhelst, 2007), such as supportive feedback and authentic interaction, into the digital environment. We will show how both challenges were met by choosing for a diversified corpus of topical, appealing and authentic news items as the starting point of a range of functional, real-life tasks from which learners can choose following their own interests, needs and level of proficiency. We will further demonstrate the unicity of the platform by a range of features the learners can control themselves, such as subtitles, hints, help and support options including captions, glosses, visual aid…... To ensure that the learners can interact with fellow users of the platform, but also with native speakers, the possibilities of social media are explored by means of a lively Facebook community on which, for instance, written products can be posted and results of polls can be consulted.
Finally, we will give the users of the platform a voice by presenting the major results of the user research conducted with 276 participants. We will briefly look ahead to the user research that will be conducted in 2016 and that will focus on low-educated learners and learners with low digital literacy skills in order to gain greater insight if and under which conditions ICT and technology enhanced language learning can be a lever or an extra threshold for this group of learners.