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Net Languages: Time to Digitalise… No Excuses Now

by Fiona Thomas

I’m sure that many readers will have heard of the name Net Languages by now. Something to do with online language courses? Some sort of connection to International House? Whether Net Languages rings any bells or not, now is the time to find out more about what Net Languages is and how International House schools can take advantage of what it does.

So, let’s begin with a little background about what Net Languages is. Net Languages is an online language school which was originally set up by a group of people based at International House Barcelona back in 1998. The company designs, writes and programs online language courses as well as selling and tutoring them. Since the company was set up, thousands of students, from all around the world, have experienced and continue to enjoy the materials Net Languages has on offer.

This experience means that Net Languages is now at the forefront of online materials production. One of the many advantages of working with online materials is that they can be continually updated in line with changes in technology and our ongoing experience of how people learn online. Net Languages is constantly evolving as an online language school and this means that teachers and students have access to materials which will never become obsolete.

As you probably know, through an agreement with the IH World Organisation, IH schools can now use whatever NL material they want on their computer network on school premises at no cost to the school.

So, how can you and your school incorporate the Net Languages materials into your classes?
Let’s look at various options:

Using Net Languages material to complement standard courses

If you are teaching in a face-to-face environment, you will probably be following some type of course book syllabus. You will undoubtedly be complementing the course book with additional material from vocabulary or grammar practice books, or articles from the internet or press and you are probably producing your own material as well.

With the new agreement that International House World Organisation has with Net Languages, you can now also draw on the enormous bank of Net Languages materials to provide you with quality and fun online interactive exercises to complement and supplement what you are doing in the classroom on school premises.

Net Languages offers a series of “Practice courses” which are ideal for this end. Currently available are:

Vocabulary Practice
Grammar Practice
Listening Practice
Pronunciation Practice

Each course is available at three levels: Basic (A1 to A2 on the Common European Framework), Intermediate (B1 to to B1+ CEF) and Advanced (B2 to C1 CEF). And all the material in each level is clearly indexed to help teachers and students easily find relevant material both in terms of level and content.

So, let’s imagine that you are helping B1-level students to improve their English in the lexical area of clothes and are working on dialogues in a clothes shop. Ideally you would look at the index pages of the Listening Practice and Vocabulary Practice at Intermediate level to see what relevant materials are available. And you would find:

Listening Practice (Intermediate)

  • Buying clothes
    Describing things – clothes

Vocabulary Practice (Intermediate)
Types of clothes (jeans, trainers, suit)
Describing clothes (tight, baggy, striped)
Clothes verbs (wear, carry, get dressed)

All you need to do is incorporate this material into your class by using interactive whiteboards or taking your group of students to the computer lab for part of the class.

Our online course material for Kids and Teens is also ideal for complementing standard coursework in the same way. The Net Languages English for Kids material is divided up into 2 courses designed for Kids of between 8 and 11 years old. The courses aim primarily at consolidating and recycling language areas previously encountered in the classroom but can also be used to present language. They are designed for both individual and group work, and are clearly indexed according to topic, lexical area and grammatical structure which make it easy to find relevant material. Each course contains ten theme-based modules, and if you were to use a complete module, it would correspond to approximately one hour of study time.

The course content has been designed to complement thematic and linguistic areas typically covered in published course books and in the Movers Cambridge ESOL YL exam for this level and age group. Two characters – brother and sister Danny and Tessa – and their family feature throughout the material and so provide cohesion and help to enhance a sense of familiarity. The content is fun and is ideal for this age group. It’s full of songs, chants, games and stories.

Our English for Teens courses are designed for learners between 12 and 14 years old who have a pre-intermediate knowledge of English (A2 to B1of the Common European Framework). Using a variety of entertaining and stimulating activities – including stories, animations, videos and games – the 10 modules in each course target a range of themes and focus on vocabulary extension and grammar practice. The English for Teens courses are ideal as a complement to classwork for students working together in pairs or small groups.

In this course four characters – Olympia, Skater Kate, Newton and Brandon – appear throughout the modules and add an element of humour to the material. We have divided each module up into 15 automatically marked tasks, these include matching, ordering, text completion, word searches, pelmanisms, crosswords, mazes and more. They are all enhanced with visuals, audio and also animations or video. And to round off the module there is a quiz in which learners can revise and consolidate what they have learned.

The 15 tasks are grouped into four sections, each of which deals with a topic or situation related to the broad theme of the module. Most sections have at least one major reading or listening text, which might be an article, a recorded conversation, a video or an animation, plus some work on language related to the text(s). New language is first met in an authentic context before being presented formally and practised.

Once again, the menu page of each module allows teachers and learners to choose the order in which they do sections and indeed which sections they want to use which means that the material can easily be integrated into lessons.

Basing a syllabus around Net Languages material

What about designing a course syllabus around one of the Net Languages courses instead of a standard course book? Why not build an intensive course or summer course around an online course for a complete change of focus?

There are already some International House schools which use our English for Kids courses as the basis of their intensive summer courses for kids very successfully. One note of warning, the English for Kids courses are full of, dare I say it, irritatingly addictive songs and chants so be prepared to be driven crazy by children singing “living in a monster’s house” and reciting the pizza chant throughout the school day and night!

And what about for adults? The obvious material which springs to mind is our very complete General English course series. This course is broken down into 7 levels ranging from A1 to C1 (CEF). Each level contains between 120 and 150 hours of study material covering all aspects of learning a language from vocabulary, grammar and skills work to functional and situational language in the Takeaway English section.

In order for you to appreciate how well these courses work, I’d like to briefly explain the rationale behind the design of them. Each General English level is divided into 10 units and each unit is built around one topic, exploring it from a number of different angles. Once a topic was selected, the next process was to choose a text. A genre analysis of this text was undertaken, with a view to uncovering the language areas that were included, and which were important in this particular text type. These areas became the language areas that were concentrated on in the unit. Working in this way – at text level – allows the material to focus on features of discourse which only occur when one looks at language beyond the level of the sentence. Notional areas common to the texts and topics also feature prominently in the material.

Another major factor which influenced the final content of each unit was the final task. In the final writing stage of each unit (tutorial 2), students have the opportunity to work in a less controlled way – again at text level – using the language that has been covered in the unit to produce an extended piece of work. At the planning stage, the final task also influenced the language areas to be focussed on in each unit, as it is clearly important to equip students with the language they may need to complete this task successfully.

Other courses which work very successfully as the basis of a course are our English for Work modules. You could base an intensive Business English course around some of our English for Work modules. These are relatively short courses (each module contains around 20 hours study time) which aim at helping students to improve their performance in English in a specific area of work. There are 8 modules available at 2 levels (B1 and B2 CEF) which you can combine according to the needs of the students. So, for example for a group of students at level B2 who need to use English with English speaking clients, you could design a course around a combination of the following modules:

Negotiating and Selling
Making Presentations
Staffing and Training
Banking and Finance

Whatever Net Languages course you decide to use as the basis of your syllabus, you should also bear in mind that this could help you cater for your busier students who need more flexible options than regular classes on fixed days of the week. Consider designing a course in which the access to the Net Languages material is not restricted by specific days and times but merely by deadlines. Students could be set objectives for the face-to-face classes around the Net Languages material. Face-to-face classes for these courses would be reduced in frequency but the input the students would receive would not diminish as they would be expected to spend a certain number of hours a week on specific Net Languages material.

Of course you can just opt for making the material available to students in self-access centres in your schools.

The Net Languages material is designed to be accessed by students without the guidance of teachers. All the material in the different courses is clearly presented and indexed so that students can easily find their way through the material. Having said this, teachers and schools can play an important role in encouraging students to take advantage of these resources.

Consider the following:

Do your students know these resources exist?
Do they know how to access the resources?
How do they know which courses and materials are relevant to their level?

If you are going to use the Net Languages course material as self-access material, I would encourage you to timetable at least one hands-on session in the self-access centre with the Net Languages material for each class. If you show students what they can do and get them using the material, they are much more likely to use it again on their own. Of course, you can obviously do much more. Making available suggested pathways through the material for different levels and groups is a great way to facilitate the use of the material. If teachers make reference to the relevance of the Net Languages online material to their lessons, students will be encouraged to use these resources. You could also set some of the exercises for homework, you could suggest the use of some of the material for remedial work and you could use some of the material in mixed ability classes to keep fast finishers occupied.

There are of course other ways that the Net Languages material can be used beyond the three broad options outlined above. You could, for example, offer Net Languages courses to individual or company clients who cannot come to your school. You can also earn significant commission on all sales which will provide your school with a new and potentially unlimited income stream.

The important thing is for you to know that the Net Languages materials are available to you, your school and your students. Your younger students, the so-called “digital natives” will be comfortable using digital content on courses, and the older “digital immigrants” should enjoy and gain a lot of satisfaction from using online material in a non-threatening environment. Research recently carried out by the British Council suggests that today’s students expect digital content to be available to them as part of their courses or as self-access material. By providing access to the Net Languages material as complementary material to your class material, as the central part of a syllabus, in a self-access centre, (or even as an alternative to traditional classroom teaching) you are helping to satisfy students’ expectations and, in my opinion, will also be adding considerable value to your services and products.

Author’s Bio:
Fiona Thomas is currently Director of Education at Net Languages. Prior to working at Net Languages, she worked as Director of Studies for a language school in Barcelona and ran a subcentre for the upper main suite Cambridge exams.

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