The best way to learn something is to experience it firsthand. The idea of having experiential education opportunities is one that has been emphasized countless times over the years and is now considered one of the most vital parts of the entire edifice of education. One of the main factors that promote the idea of experiential learning is the use of laboratories. Laboratories are special academic spaces in the form of rooms or even entire buildings where scientific experiments related to a researcher or simply students in their own area of interest can be conducted. This may be done with the intention of throwing light upon a particular subject or understanding the subject matter better. Therefore, there is no argument that laboratories are an essential element of an educational institution’s system - and this extends to all subjects. STEM subjects tend to have elaborate laboratory systems and related equipment in abundance with detailed lab manuals guiding students through what they have to do. However, there is also a lesser known yet very important laboratory that needs to be present in a school - a language laboratory, or language lab for short.
What is Language Lab?
A language lab is an educational space that is specifically designed for students to learn a language through audio, visual, or a mixture of both media. Even though it is extensively used to introduce students to or aid in the study of foreign languages, a language lab can also help students understand the application of the English language as well. It is in this respect that such labs are used in lower to middle-income countries where the students’ first language is not English. It is essentially a computer lab that is equipped with the necessary software required to teach students the particular language to be taught.
Components of a Language Lab
A language lab, as mentioned above, is typically modeled like a computer lab. The general layout of the room is such that it contains individual computer systems for each student, with each student provided with a computer system that is preloaded with the classes that need to be taken. Each student will also be given a headset with a microphone as well to improve the quality of the class and to give them a fully immersive experience. A language lab can be broadly classified into three major functional units as described below:
Cubicle or Hearing Booth
The hearing booth is the part of the language lab where the students are seated. Each student is generally provided with a soundproof compartment known as the cubicle. Each cubicle is connected to the instructor's booth which is known as the console. The cubicle is provided with all the necessary tools required for them to have a smooth and uninterrupted learning experience.
Console or Instructor’s Booth
The instructor’s booth, also known as the console, is (as the name suggests) the place where the instructor or teacher will be seated. It is from the console that the instructor or teacher provides them with the master tapes and monitors the equipment for two-way communication. Distribution switches will also be present in the console to direct the recorded programs for the learners. The console also contains monitoring switches that enable the instructor to listen to the learners, correct, advise and evaluate them; as well as intercom switches for active two-way communication between them and each individual learner.
The Control Room
The control room is where all the tapes and related course materials are stored. It may be stored in the form of a central server computer or in the form of hard drives, CDs, flash drives, and so on. All these are properly indexed and stored so that they are easily accessible at any time.
Benefits of Having a Language Lab in School
There are several benefits of conducting language lab classes in school, some of which are given below:
Better Focus on Lessons
In a traditional classroom, in the presence of all the students, the dynamics of the classroom are such that there is great scope for distraction. However, when it comes to a language lab, each individual student is given a system and a headset, which means that they can focus on the lesson effectively.
A Change in Environment
It is no secret that a change in the physical environment of a classroom can have a massive impact on the comprehensive ability of a student. Language labs are often in a different part of the school and hence physically changing their classroom and the mode of teaching (audio visual) can have a net positive impact on the way in which students comprehend their lessons.
Guide Students Individually
Not all students have the same learning ability, as different students prefer different learning styles. In a traditional classroom environment, the teacher may find it difficult to bring all the students up to speed on the lesson but in the case of a language lab lesson, the teacher or instructor is given the opportunity to guide each student individually, hence giving them the opportunity to teach them according to their preferred learning style.
Feels Less Intimidating to Students
Some students might feel insecure when learning a new language or even improving their English skills because they might feel like their peers might be judgemental towards them. This problem is easily overcome by language lab lessons because it provides students with privacy and a sense of privacy when learning, which makes them feel less intimidated and subsequently more confident.
Makes the Process of Learning Fun & Interesting
This is one of the most exciting parts of conducting language lab sessions in that the process of learning becomes interactive, as a result of which the entire learning process becomes fun and interesting. The students can follow the lessons through the audiovisual format and recite along with the class to bring in a sense of belonging in the classroom.
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So in short, language labs are quite useful in the sense that they allow students to engage with the class actively and hence feel more confident about their lessons. Learning languages, whether it is English or regional, is an essential part of a student’s academic life and it is essential that they have a holistic understanding and experience when learning as well.