Language training in Wikiversity

Part of the Humanities is the learning and teaching of languages. Any language. It is easy to realise that in order to teach a language you have to know both about the language that is known and about the language that is to be taught.

As both can be any language it looks as an unsolvable puzzle. It is and it is not. The point it not to see how big a problem it is, the point is that you start somewhere and apply some sensible principles on it. It is sensible to collaborate on the basis of what is already there; both on content and technology. Given that this is Wikiversity the Mediawiki software and its projects are a key component. Wiktionary and particular Ultimate Wiktionary will provide us with lexicological content. The University of Bamberg is working on software based on this content and the UW structure, this software will be created as extensions of the Mediawiki software (Ultimate wiktionary and language exercises).

Key in this software will be that the language will be "lemma" based or, the combination of both expression and meaning of a word. This will allow for many of the exercises to be truly language independent as both the target and the learner language are known as translations to the lemma. The consequence is that the software is to be language agnostic, it may need to know about both languages in order to generate the type of language that are likely to be problematic when certain abstracts in languages clash between the two languages.

When exercises are executed by a student, they will have to be targeted to the student at his level of competence. This means that is essential to have information on the student (there is also a need to assess the current level of competence) It also means that as data is collected on the students, there is also room to analyse the effectiveness of the trainingmaterial. It is therefore important to realise that using this material in a structured manner implies that data on the student will be gathered. It is therefore also relevant to realise that Universities and other learning institutions may use this material and that in order to get credits, the institution will have to be given explicit access so that data may be gathered about their students. It is therefore that from the start it must be understood that there may be a user agreement between an organisation and a student outside of the Wikimedia Foundation.

One really relevant thing in learning a language is the pronunciation. Pronunciation needs to be excericised and there are teachers or accredited native speakers who can do the necessary exercises with students using skype. It is not only listen/repeat but also presentations about a subject where students and a teacher use a "conference call".

There are implications to the usage of Ultimate Wiktionary when it is to be used as a credible resource for language training. Particular importance needs to be given to the existence of pronunciations, illustrations, secondary reading material and secondary training material. There may be a need for implementing technology like "frequency counts" and collocations. The consequence is that UW will need attention in addition to what the initial implementation of UW will bring.

It will be important to build a lot of data in UW to reach the tipping point to make the teaching of a particular language possible. When the first say 10.000 needed words are available in two languages that are needed for the initial training for one language, most of these words will also be needed for a third and a fourth language. This implies that the work needed to add languages that can make use of the training material will become increasingly less labourious. This is also true for advanced language material. Of particular importance will be material in Wikipedia that describes the cultural information that is essential for advanced language learning.

Obviously as people need to learn a language both teachers and students help themselves by building on the UW content. As the learning material is developed, the content will grow. It is also for this reason that it makes sense to have data on the student and learn what is effective for a student; the user of UW and the students and teachers need to be linked for this.

It is considered to be relevant to not only learn about the quality of students but also of the quality of teachers and institutions. When this is considered from the start, the fact that these things are considered should not be a suprise.


GerardM MartinMai