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FAQs: Online Second Language Acquisition

FAQs document (pdf)

Listed below are answers to some of the most common questions we’ve been asked about our online SLA course.

Who is this course for?

This course meets the needs of four groups of participants: (1) Most are pre-field individuals who are planning to learn one or more new languages in order to live in another culture and work or minister cross-culturally. Most often they learning these new languages while on the field, but some may be planning to take language courses before leaving North America. (2) Some take this course after arrival in their overseas location, frequently before or near the beginning of their language study. (3) A third group includes those who have been on the field for a year or longer but have not been as successful as they need to be in learning their new language. (4) We may have a few individuals who are in cross-cultural ministry in North America or are exploring possibilities for cross-cultural service.

Can I learn as much in the online course as I would in a traditional course?

Since we moved to the online format, we have found that students learn more—and for some, much more—in each of the three major components than in our previous on-campus course. There are several reasons for this. For each of the foundations sessions, students have applications questions that require them to apply the insights gained in that lesson to themselves as learners or to their target language and/or learning situation, and they receive individual feedback on every response. For the phonetics sessions, we quickly found that 15-20 minutes of daily individual tutoring focused on the learner’s specific needs is more valuable than 50 minutes of small-group work. In addition, each student can progress through the lessons at his/her own pace. For the language-learning techniques sessions, each learner works with a language helper for about ten hours—far more one-on-one time than in our previous on-campus SLA course. For most students, an added bonus has been the fact that the language helper is a native speaker of the student’s target language.

Aren't most online courses just a lot of reading and then more reading?

That’s true for many online courses, but we can assure you that this is not a reading course that happens to be online. In fact, it has no more reading than was in our previous on-campus SLA course, which is only a few pages of practical readings for each day.

Can you describe a typical day?

In the three-week version of the course, you spend about six to eight hours each day, Monday through Friday, on your course work. Some people spend more time on the course, and a few spend less time. (For the six-week course, each day's work is spread over two days.) Most work is asynchronous—that is, you schedule your own work time. In addition, there are one or sometimes two daily Skype meetings with an instructor and several assignments to submit each day for instructor feedback.

On a typical day, you work in three areas.

1. Foundations. The foundations sessions provide an overall framework for language and culture learning. These sessions are taught using narrated PowerPoint presentations, podcasts, short videos, and for most sessions, short practical readings. At the end of each session, you complete applications questions that ask you to apply insights gained to your future learning, and you receive instructor feedback on each assignment.

2. Phonetics. Our phonetics sessions help you develop the skills needed for learning the pronunciation system of your new language.

Each session has three stages:

  • a short video introduction to the lesson (8-12 minutes), which allows you to hear and produce the new sounds, become acquainted with the new symbols, and receive advice about how to proceed with the lesson

  • approximately one hour of phonetics drills, done individually, using mp3 sound files

  • an individual Skype meeting with an instructor, in which your perception and production of target sounds are evaluated and personalized help is offered (15 - 20 minutes each day, depending on individual needs)

In addition, each participant focuses on learning the sound system of his/her target language. This may include work with a native speaker of the language and/or work with mp3 files of pronunciation learning materials.

3. Language Learning Techniques (LLT). Our LLT sessions (a) introduce you to a variety of techniques and procedures that you will use in your on-field learning and (b) give you an opportunity to focus on your target language.

In addition to short readings and videos, you meet individually on Skype with an LLT instructor at least once each week and submit assignments for feedback. This LLT work includes approximately ten hours with a language helper, either live or via Skype. We encourage you to find a helper who speaks your target language, but it is not essential to work with a speaker of the language you intend to learn, because the main goal is learner training—i.e., learning how to work effectively with a helper. If necessary, we can assist you in finding a helper.

What course materials are used?

We provide a number of resources to use in the course and to draw upon in your on-field learning. These include (a) our 225-page ICCT Second Language Acquisition Handbook, (b) a collection of about 2,000 pages of resources for second language learners (CD-ROM or download), (c) more than 75 language learning techniques, (d) more than 200 pages of phonetics exercises and accompanying sound files, (e) information about your target language, and (f) for your target language, pronunciation exercises and/or other target language materials.

What is the length of the course?

Three weeks for full-time study (6 to 8 hours per day), or six weeks for half-time study (3 to 4 hours per day).

When can I register for the course?

We will accept registrations until we have reached our maximum capacity, but we suggest registration no later than three weeks before the course begins. Click here for a registration form.

How many hours per day/week are required for the course work?

For the three-week course, most participants spend at least six hours per day on the course, and some spend as many as eight hours per day. In addition, there may be some work over the weekends. For the six-week version, learners spend about three to four hours per day.

Who are the instructors for the course?

Currently all instructors are those who have taught in our on-campus SLA course or in similar courses.

How much does the course cost?

For current costs, click on Dates and Costs in the left sidebar.

What are the advantages of taking the ICCT online course vs. a traditional pre-field SLA course elsewhere?

For many learners, there are a number of advantages to our online SLA course. They can be summarized as convenience, cost, and content.

  • Location: While most traditional SLA courses require you to leave home and travel to another location for two weeks or longer, you can take our online course without leaving home or you can take it from your overseas location. This can mean less disruption to your family routines. It also makes it easier if only one spouse is taking the SLA training.

  • Flexible study hours: Instead of fitting into a prearranged schedule that might not be convenient, you can do most of your work at any hour of the day or night. (Depending on the makeup of the class, we may have one hour each week when we meet together for a group Skype session.)

  • Cost: With no plane tickets to buy and no room-and-board expenses away from home, for most participants our three-week online course is considerably less expensive than two-week traditional (on-site) pre-field SLA courses.

  • Individualized assignments: With learning experiences that are tailored more to individual student needs than is possible in most classroom settings, participants are more fully engaged in each component of the course, and they can use their time more wisely when instruction is focused on individual needs rather than the broader needs of the class.

  • Focus on the target language: Most face-to-face courses give little, if any, attention to helping learners bridge the gap between the pre-field course and the on-field learning experience. Our online course gives learners daily opportunities to extend their more general learner training experiences to focus on their target languages.

  • Five years of free email support: ICCT gives five years of unlimited, free email support to all those who go through our SLA program. Our goal is to "be there" through each step of the on-field language and culture learning process. While this is very labor-intensive on our part, it has proved to be a tremendous help to those who need ongoing guidance and encouragement, and so we have come to see this as a very important part of our ministry. We are also available to missions administrators who are dealing with issues related to the language and culture learning of their missionaries.

What are the advantages of taking a traditional SLA course vs. this online course?

  • Fewer interruptions and distractions: If you need to leave home and other responsibilities in order to focus on your studies, a traditional on-site course may provide the break you need.

  • Computer equipment and basic computer skills are not needed: Most traditional courses do not require that you have a computer with daily access to high-speed Internet. In fact, most do not require you to do even basic tasks on a computer. If you are not comfortable using a computer, we strongly recommend that you not take our ICCT online course.

Who are the people who are the most likely to succeed in this online course?

Success depends on your being motivated to get the most from this course (vs. doing the work only to meet a requirement) and being sufficiently self-disciplined to manage your time wisely. It also depends upon your being free from other responsibilities that might keep you from your online work.

Who are the people who should not enroll in this online course?

Because success in this course depends on being able to do the required work each day, we have turned down a number of applicants. This is usually because they have too many other major time commitments, but any of the following can be reasons for postponing enrollment in this class or taking a pre-field SLA class offered elsewhere:

  • lack of time each day for the online work

  • lack of consistent access to a computer and high-speed Internet

  • lack of basic computer skills (e.g., cutting and pasting, saving files, sending emails and attachments, downloading files from the Internet, printing documents, using a search engine, using Skype)

  • lack of a quiet place to work, free from interruptions and other distractions

How do I know if I’m a good candidate for taking this online course?

Please see the pdf questionnaire "Is this online SLA course right for me?"

How can I make the most of my online learning experience?

  • Make sure that you have the right equipment before the course begins and that you know how to do basic tasks on the computer.

  • Download and install all required software before the course begins and make sure it is working properly.

  • Find an optimal study environment, a quiet place to do your work where you will be relatively free from interruptions and distractions.

  • Balance other time commitments. If you already have a full schedule, you will need to free up time for the course or postpone taking it until you have sufficient time. You should consider this course to be a full-time job for three weeks.

  • Manage your time wisely. We suggest that you reserve a block of time each day, but not at the end of the day when you’re tired, and not when you will be distracted by other people or responsibilities.

  • Ask questions as they come up. At least one instructor will be almost constantly online during the three weeks, and he/she will be there to help you with whatever questions or problems you have.

  • Turn in assignments on time; don’t get behind because it will be difficult to catch up.

What have previous online students said?

Please see the comments from our online students.

Are there any assignments to do before the course begins?

Yes, you are required to have all software installed (it’s free) and working properly before the course begins. This includes doing some short activities to make sure you are ready to go on the first day of class, learning to use Audacity to make audio recordings, and gathering some information about your target language and target learning situation. You will also have a short get-acquainted session with your instructor via Skype.

Which software programs will I use?

For most of our online work we use Moodle. Other programs are Audacity, Skype, and Microsoft Word. You will be able to access Moodle a week before the course begins, provided you have completed the pre-course assignments.

How can I learn more about the course?

For a 15-minute video tour, visit this site:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/5704625/OnlineSLA/TourSLA/TourSLA.html To view this video, you will need a Flash player such as VLC Media Player (available free on their website).

We encourage you to email ICCT with additional questions.


The Institute for Cross-Cultural Training (ICCT) is a department of
the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois
Phone: 630-752-7950 • Fax: 630-752-7125

CONTACT ICCT: ICCT@wheaton.edu