Say “bonjour” to watching hundreds of international films online, with hyperlinked subtitles that link to huge databases of information, and say “au revoir” to a teacher at the front of the classroom just asking you to “repeat after me.”
Ayamel is a new platform for a common process of language learning involving media. Instructors have used video to teach language for years, but with Ayamel they can now utilize technological capabilities more than ever before.
Ayamel was developed at Brigham Young University and is attracting interest from educators throughout the U.S. and around the world.
“Video provides a very powerful tool for language learners in that it provides access to authentic language in the engaging context of a story,” said Michael Bush, a BYU French and instructional psychology and technology associate professor. “Video can also provide additional important information that is often crucial to communication: those non-language cues such as tone of voice, facial expressions and gestures.”
You’re familiar with how subtitles work on television and movies. Well, imagine if those subtitles were clickable and hyperlinked to dictionaries and databases with millions of definitions and copious amounts of culturally-significant information. You can pause and rewatch certain parts of the movie. You can jump around within the movie seamlessly to find the uses of certain words and phrases. You can speed up or slow down the movie. The movies and subtitles are available in multiple languages. It’s a powerful resource to learn language.
“Students enjoy being able to easily access the aids to comprehension that the system provides,” Bush said. “They not only can see subtitles that represent what they hear, but they can also interact with the words to obtain definitions that help them better understand what they are hearing.”
Another major technological tool is on the back end of Ayamel — the analytics it provides for instructors. They can glean important insights about their students’ behavior. They can see how much time their students are spending on the platform, what parts of the videos they are watching, and rewatching, and what specific words the students are clicking on for more information.
Bush is quick to note that this is not a case of technology replacing a teacher. That's not the goal. If anything, Ayamel is a tool to help students learn outside of the classroom so that they can benefit most from instructors during in-class time. Plus, the analytics provide teachers with the ability to address the needs of individual students better.
BYU German professor Cindy Brewer has started using Ayamel extensively in classes on campus and as part of independent study courses.
“I am a huge fan,” Brewer said. “I will never go back. It makes it easy for students to parse the language themselves by clicking and using the dictionary. That is amazing. Students end up going through the film three or four times on their own. Then I can use class time to really practice the language and just use the film for structuring.”
Ayamel was developed by Bush and a team of BYU students in the BYU ARCLITE Lab. Bush has been using technology to enhance language learning for more than 30 years. With the rate of technological advancement over that span, what he was designing and planning in the 70s looks very different from what he’s doing now. Bush said it’s been amazing to see how things have changed over the years, doing things with Ayamel that he could never dream of even 10 years ago.
The Language Flagship, a part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Security Education Program (NSEP), funded the Ayamel project. Instructure, a Utah-based technology company that creates and encourages creation of tools and resources for improving education, has also recognized the strengths of the project. Along with a cash prize from Instructure, Ayamel was added to Instructure’s Canvas App Center, an open, cloud-native learning platform. More than six million teachers and learners use Canvas for its learning management system and its extensive offering of open online courses (MOOCs).