Cristina Pérez Muñoz is a communication and language training specialist at Fontys University in the Netherlands. She obtained a BA in Spanish and a BA in English at the University of Salamanca as well as a MSc in Education. She has worked as a language trainer in Spain, the UK, Romania and the Netherlands, in diverse learning environments, including secondary schools, university lecturing and business training. Cristina loves traveling and learning the languages spoken in the places she visits or lives in.
In my experience as a Spanish language teacher, one of the most time-consuming and arduous tasks has been correcting homework at the very beginning of each lesson. On one hand, students must do homework to practice what they learned in class and ensure it sticks in their minds. This is how the input students get becomes something they can produce on their own, aka output, in a short amount of time.
On the other hand, correcting homework often takes up too much valuable class time that could be better invested in actually practicing real conversation skills. This is a dilemma that many language teachers face: Should they ask students to do homework or not? Does it actually add value to the learning process? And, most importantly, is it really worth the hassle?
A few years ago I started hearing about the flipped classroom methodology and I was intrigued by its application and potential implications for language teaching. The flipped classroom method requires students to independently learn the theory at home, which leaves far more class time to practice the skills that they need to acquire in a structured and supportive environment. With the flipped classroom method, students first gain exposure to a new concept or idea before their class and can then focus on the processing part of learning (synthesizing, analyzing, problem-solving) with their teacher and peers. It may sound too good to be true, but it is a new way of teaching enabled by widespread internet access and powerful digital learning tools. The flipped classroom methodology empowers teachers to make better use of class time and improve learning outcomes. With these points in mind, I began to imagine a language learning tool that would allow me to try this in my own classes.
This is where I came to Babbel. I had been using the app to learn Dutch since I moved to the Netherlands. After using Babbel for a few months, I realized it could be an effective tool for a flipped classroom.
I wanted to see what impact the flipped classroom methodology could have in the language learning process and test for myself whether it could help me use my precious lesson time more effectively. For this reason, I contacted Babbel to start a partnership with Fontys University, where I currently teach beginner-level Spanish. Now, some of my groups use Babbel as a supplementary tool for learning Spanish.
It works quite simply in practice: I pick one topic and my students complete Babbel lessons connected to this theme (such as greetings or ordering food and drinks) at home. Then, in class, we do activities where they can practice what they have learned on their own. And, of course, if there are any questions connected to theory, I give additional explanations in class and provide examples to help them master these new concepts. If our next class will cover the topic of telling time, for example, I ask students to complete three Babbel classes from the Beginner’s Course: ¿A qué hora nos encontramos? 1, 2 and review. This way, students cover the theoretical content at home and, in class, we do speaking activities, games and role plays where they practice what they have learned independently.
The results couldn’t be any better. Learning speed has increased and my students feel more comfortable talking in class. It’s unclear if this improvement is due to how Babbel enables them to build up a large lexicon of vocabulary on their own, or whether learning new structures and vocabulary in different contexts helps them transfer what they’ve studied and apply it later on in class. One thing is certain: reading and listening comprehension, speaking skills and overall confidence in speaking has clearly improved.
Some of my fellow educators may think that language teaching software poses a threat and that language apps may one day supplant classroom teaching. I couldn’t disagree more. As a teacher, I believe in embracing technology for what it does well — in this case, providing learners with relevant material and increasing the amount of time they spend engaging with and practicing their Spanish. This means I use more of my class time to do what I do best. Thanks to Babbel, my classes are more efficient, students learn faster, and all of us are satisfied with the blended learning this tool affords us.