The pedagogical foundations of ZenGengo

Anyone who has ever tried to learn a foreign language knows that it is not easy. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of determination.

Experts estimate that in order to reach a basic level of fluency in a foreign language, at least 480 hours of study are required. This time can increase significantly if the language being learned is not closely related to the mother tongue of the learner.

Teaching foreign languages also comes with challenges.

These challenges have been exacerbated by the radically changing face of education, which now takes place in a range of different contexts, including face-to-face, online, and hybrid learning environments.

ZenGengo’s mission is two-fold:

1. To allow language teachers to quickly and easily create effective and engaging language learning activities for their students

2. To allow language learners to engage with the target language using all four skills both inside and outside of the classroom

So far, so good. But does it actually work?

ZenGengo’s ten technologically innovative activities are based on the sound pedagogical principles of the most widely accepted theories of language teaching and learning.

A lot of input. At the right level.

The comprehensible input hypothesis posits that language learners need a lot of input at the right level of difficulty in order to increase their language proficiency. ZenGengo achieves this by allowing teachers to expose learners to a wide range of written and spoken language.

In addition, ZenGengo allows teachers to easily switch modalities. Written texts can easily be converted to spoken texts with our powerful and naturalistic text-to-speech engine. Of course, teachers can also use their own voices as models of the target language.
Output is important too.

While some may argue that all you need to learn a language is input, most experts also recognize the importance of output. That is, you need to speak and write a lot of words in the target language in order to master speaking and writing in the target language!

ZenGengo is one of the only platforms we know of that actively promotes all four language skills, including speaking.

ZenGengo’s Speaking Drill activity type gives students controlled practice with read-aloud and listen-and-repeat exercises that improve their confidence and fluency.

Meanwhile, the audio and video recording assignment types allow students to speak freely on any topic, and improve their ability to produce coherent and connected monologues.

Don’t forget vocabulary.

It would be the understatement of the century to say that vocabulary is important if you want to learn a language. Most language learners are intimately familiar with the frustration of being unable to recall quite the right word for a certain situation, or the delight of completely nailing a concept with the right choice of vocabulary.

ZenGengo has two assignment types that focus on vocabulary: Vocab Test and Text-to-Test. In the former, students match words to definitions and images in a powerful paired-associate paradigm that has stood the test of time for learning almost anything, including word meanings.

In the latter, students read words and check definitions in context, and thereby learn how words are actually used in actual written and spoken texts.

Both of these techniques are important and effective in learning foreign language vocabulary.

Of course, there is much more to learning a language. It is absolutely vital to communicate with other speakers of the language you are learning, and engage in negotiation of meaning in order to develop communicative strategies and competencies.

For this reason, ZenGengo does not purport to completely replace the language teacher or the language classroom!

Rather, it is intended to be a powerful and convenient supplementary tool for teachers and learners of languages. It is designed to increase teachers' convenience and control, and create more opportunities for learners to engage with the language in a variety of contexts.

Furthermore, ZenGengo is actually designed and developed by language teachers who understand the struggles of learning and teaching languages.

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