Lockdowns enforced by governments around the world trying to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus have meant that a lot of people were forced to spend more time at home. Many saw this time as an opportunity to take up a hobby, learn a new skill, or learn that foreign language they’ve always wanted to. In lieu of this, the online learning market experienced sudden and rapid growth.
Language learning, in particular, saw huge jumps in popularity, with some platforms reporting an incredible 300% increase in course activity. But the growth of language learning isn’t just because of COVID, there has also been a significant increase in demand from businesses for people with foreign-language skills. In recent years the dominance of English as the global business language of choice has been challenged by languages like Mandarin, Spanish and Arabic. One of the key pillars of language learning is proficiency testing. For learners, proficiency tests serve as markers of progress in their language learning journey. For businesses, language testing serves as a benchmark when interviewing for positions that require foreign language skills.
Language testing can be tricky, but since testing is so important for language learning, it is critical to get it right. Modern technology has played a big role in not only getting testing right to the ’T’, but it has also enhanced the whole experience. Here’s a look how:
1. HELLO INNOVATION!
People have been learning languages for thousands of years. Through the ages approaches to language learning have changed and many improvements have been made, but none so significant as computers.
Computers have given people the opportunity to access volumes of language learning resources unlike ever before. It also made distance learning possible, long before the ad-vent of the internet. Computers and technology have also had a huge impact on testing because it allows learners to be tested on a much wider range of speaking skills than previously possible through traditional language proficiency exams.
2. GOODBYE TRADITIONAL EXAMS
In the past language exams usually consisted of separate papers for the four skills that make up language proficiency, reading, writing, listening and speaking. This was a tedious and costly process for both learners and teachers since these tests had to be taken in-person and often on separate dates. This meant that papers had to be printed and shipped, venues had to be hired and exams supervised. What’s more, distance learners had to travel to the testing centre at their own expense. Technology has changed all of that.
Not only does the internet and computers allow learners to be tested remotely (with only an internet connection needed), it also gives teachers the ability to test all four skills at once. The result is a significant cost and time savings, as well as more thorough testing. After all, listening, reading, writing and speaking are skills rarely used in isolation.
3. QUICK EXAM RESULTS
Not only does technology make testing easier, but it also allows learners to get their results quicker, often instantly. No longer do learners have to wait for exams to be marked by teachers. Advances in language recognition algorithms and machine learning have made it possible to instantly evaluate written answers. Where results are not available immediately, candidates can be alerted via text, email or other online tools like mobile device applications. Results, whether instant or delayed, can also contain analysis and feedback to help candidates to see what they got wrong and where they can improve.
4. FEWER ERRORS & BIAS
Speaking of algorithms and machine learning, the technology has developed to such a degree that written and spoken exams can be graded with exceptional accuracy. However, the technology is not perfect, especially when it comes to heavy accents, and some human involvement may still be necessary, but since there are two ‘people’ evaluating the answers, errors have greatly been reduced. In addition, computers are also 100% unbiased, which means evaluation of answers is not influenced by outside factors.
5. EASY MONITORING
In the event that humans are involved in testing, technology makes monitoring tests a lot easier. Monitoring systems make it possible for invigilators to closely monitor examinees and their testing environments. This is especially important as tests are taken remotely in uncontrolled environments. Technology has been developed to spot irregularities in both examinees and their immediate environments and can flag suspicious behavior.
6. FLUENT EXPERIENCE
The influence of technology on language testing doesn’t just impact testing, it also creates a much more fluent learning experience. Tests can be run more often and on smaller or larger elements of a curriculum. Some language learning platforms allow learners to test themselves and gauge their command of the language, as well as their understanding of the course content.
Many more traditional language learning resources like books also offer mini-tests, but since the questions are set, taking the test more than once becomes less and less effective with each consecutive try. However, the vast number and variety of questions available on technology-based testing platforms ensure that the chances of question repetition are greatly reduced. This randomness requires learners to develop a more rounded language skillset, which is crucial for becoming fluent in language.
Language learning is hugely popular at the moment, and considering the business, career and self-improvement benefits of learning another language, it’s easy to see why. Testing is critical in the language learning journey, because it shows the learner’s language strengths and weaknesses, as well as how far they are on the journey towards fluency. Technology has made (and will continue to make) testing better and easier for both learners and teachers helping more people to become more fluent in more languages.