PROVO A computer-assisted learning system used to teach foreign languages to missionaries is evolving to improve interaction between teacher and student.
For the past five years the, Missionary Training Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on the Brigham Young University campus, has been using a computer system dubbed Technology Assisted Language Learning program, or TALL, said Elaine Lindsay, a BYU linguistics masters student. She recently conducted a study on how LDS missionaries were responding to the system.
Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese and Russian are all taught with TALL.
New computer strategies include helping teachers work with the missionaries by keeping track of where individual missionaries are in their language learning skills and the time involved, she said.
Each missionary works with about four teachers at a time. A teacher can set a goal with the missionary, which is e-mailed to him or her as a reminder.
Other teachers can track how the missionary is doing in relation to that goal until it is reached or determined to be unrealistic.
"The computer keeps track of who needs practice," she said.
New interfaces, including the computer screen appearance, are also being developed to combat boredom, she said.
In her recent study, Lindsay found that boredom was a chief complaint among the slower language students when working with the computer.
Asking open-ended questions, she found that chief concerns among missionaries included being pushed into the languages too quickly and that many missionaries wanted to take more time practicing grammar.
She also found that computer bugs and lack of lab space were also concerns.
The lack of control that students have over the program is one of the contributors to boredom. That lack of control often requires missionaries to spend time repeating material they have already mastered.
Lindsay also studied the difference between fast and slow learners. Faster learners had more background in foreign languages, did better in high school and perceived the task of learning a foreign language more positively. They wanted more feedback from teachers, the study also found.
Lindsay also found that while many missionaries experienced boredom while working with the computer, it was more pronounced with slower learners.
She said the software should be designed to treat fast and slow learners differently. Slow learners need more learning strategies and more practice and review.
The MTC presently offers tutors for slow learners and gives fast learners extra activities.
Lindsay also determined that a missionary's perception about his language progress is a key factor in success.
"He has to feel like he's learning," she said.