The language laboratory is an audio-visual system used as an aid in modern language teaching. It was first setup in France, at the University of Grenoble in 1908 and has since been a scientifically proven methodology for acquiring proficiency in foreign languages at schools, universities and institutions of learning. From the 1950s up until the 1990s, they were analogue and primarily, audio tape-based systems using reel to reel or (latterly) cassettes.
Today, these are IT-enabled or software-driven and state-of-the-art computerized systems that run on a network of multimedia PCs, fully-controlled and monitored by a teacher at all times. This gives the process of acquiring fluency in a foreign language a much-needed impetus through its intractability, modularity and user-centric approach that not only makes the learning process enjoyable for the learners but also makes it 100% effective from a teacher's perspective as it perfectly complements everyday classroom sessions, seamlessly.
The right process of acquiring proficiency in a language is the way we learn our mother tongue. This occurs through the four fundamental steps of Listening, Speaking, Reading and then finally, Writing or the LSRW language learning technique.
Our process of listening begins while still in the mother's womb continuing through our birthday and early formative years where our brain is hammered with constant sounds and usages of our native tongue.
This most important first-step to acquiring proficiency in a foreign language is continuously possible through a language lab where we are listening to native speaker(s), unlike in a typical classroom setting where the listening process is minimal and the teacher is a non-native speaker of the language.
We begin to speak our native language slowly but flawlessly, right from approximately 12 months of age and our vocabulary grows in leaps and bounds in tandem with our biological growth. Once again, this occurs without any formal training as we mentally train ourselves to mimic the speakers around us.
In the same manner, after repeatedly listening to native sounds and intonations over the headphones with microphones in a language lab setting, the students start to mimic them and they can compare themselves to the native speaker in absolute privacy, without fearing ridicule or comments from peers or teachers, when doing it and so will gain confidence to converse in that language quickly.
We begin to read, usually at school, which is good. But in a classroom setting, instead of beginning to read in a foreign language after repeated listening and speaking attempts, we often start reading blindlyaping the teacher, a non-native speaker and also without phonetic help to help with the pronunciations, when we start to read.
Unlike in a classroom, the language lab facilitates role play and reading exercises with dictionaries and phonetic help for the student. This helps the students a great deal when they compare themselves to native speakers in reading effortlessly with zero non-native speaker influence.
This is again something we start doing usually when we start school, where especially when being taught a foreign language we are first taught to write the alphabets of that language, then read it out aloud after listening to the non-native teacher reading and explaining the language – that is, almost a reversal of the LSRW methodology which is the fundamental steppingstone to acquiring foreign language skills.
When using the modern language lab to attain proficiency in a foreign language, the process of learning is in the proven LSRW methodology and this gives students an added edge in improving their writing skills phenomenally, especially when guided by a mentor who is assigning appropriate levels of learning material as they progress through their lessons.
In a typical classroom of say, 40 students, the comprehension levels of students vary drastically, especially in language classes, depending on the students' social background and upbringing. For instance, a student who has done his/her early schooling overseas where English was the native language may not require as much help as a student who learned the language in a rural primary school setting but is in the same high school classroom.
Students are often shy and inhibited in a typical classroom setting and hesitate to ask for clarifications from the teacher or even express himself/herself accurately. The language lab opens up a whole new world for the student where the sessions are interestingly absorbing while permitting them to learn at their own rate.
Presumably, institutional managements are always working towards bettering the capabilities of their wards. Very often, managements seem to have spent substantially on expensive hardware without the appropriate software to make them effective tools for learning. Almost all institutions have an audio-video lab and some also have the so-called Smart Class. But in reality, how effective are they in helping your students pass out not only as better human beings but also as pillars of our communities and the society