Published: March 30, 2010

Learning a new language is no easy task. And Jin Chen, an instructor in the Department of Asian Languages, is more than familiar with what it takes. First and foremost, talking in a language class is really important. Learning to speak Chinese requires certain logic in order to demonstrate coherence. Jin explains that she tests her students frequently to make sure they are on the right track.

Recently, she began using Audacity, a voice recording software program, to give her students speaking assignments through CULearn. Every other Friday she uploads four recordings that she has made, along with an associated set of questions that the students are required to answer. In addition, she gives a speaking assignment that requires students to record their own speaking based on patterns she gives them to follow. Students upload their voice recordings on CULearn where Jin then listens to them to provide students with feedback. This takes students about 50 minutes to complete.

Before using Audacity, Jin gave one-on-one tests in person. However, without a teaching assistant, this is quite time consuming. Jin explained that Audacity has allowed her to continue testing at the frequency she wants. And so far, most students have delivered very good speeches in their recordings. She has found that many students enjoy being able to talk on their own time. Jin recalled that in face-to-face testing some students would get intimidated, impacting the quality of their speaking.

Though Jin is pleased with the use of Audacity, there are potential technical problems she has avoided with a few tips and tricks. First, file size is an issue to consider. Student’s can post a file to CULearn that is up to 10 minutes long. However, it is important to convert the Audacity file to MP3 before you upload, which significantly reduces the file size.

To get started off on the right foot, Jin recommends instructors spend the first class day showing students how to download the software and upload a file. It took her about 20 minutes to show her students all of the steps in class. This will help to reduce the number of problems later in the semester. Jin also ensures things go smoothly by giving her students specific instructions of what they should do in case of technical problems.

Tools like Audacity are simple to use and can help language instructors “scale up” their class by providing more opportunities for practice outside of class. If you are interested in examples of language exercises, see the ALTEC website for a list of exercises available in eleven different languages.

--Written by Amanda Porter, ASSETT Assistant Director