Course Feature

April 30, 2020

Linguistics Beyond the Classroom Walls

Like most of the population at SFU, Professor Trude Heift and her students had quite an interesting end to the Spring 2020 semester. However, the students of Linguistics 480 – Language Learning and Technology, a class highlighting the ways that language learning can move outside of the traditional classroom, were able to interact with the topics they had been discussing all semester on a much more personal level in the abrupt shift from in-class to online learning.

Throughout the semester, students in Linguistics 480 reviewed different language learning apps and discussed how those apps fit into the broader theoretical context of language learning. For their final projects, students were required to design a piece of technology, such as a mobile app or a video, and place that technology in its theoretical context for the rest of the class.

In addition to looking at language apps, Heift introduced the students to a variety of different technologies that are being used in language learning. Lecturer Heather Bliss was invited to show the class how ultrasound technology has been used at the University of British Columbia for indigenous language teaching. The students also got to see how Virtual Reality headsets can be used in language learning thanks to a visit from Dr. Anne Rimrott.

By giving the students new tools to look at the different contexts of language learning, Heift changed their perspectives on how technology can be incorporated into language learning.

“I had never thought about applications of technology like ultrasound and virtual reality for language learning before this class. Now whenever I hear about new technology I try to think about how it could be applied to language learning,” said one student when asked how this course changed their perspective of the use of technology in language learning.

With the shift to online learning in March 2020, Heift’s class was given the unique opportunity to put into practice the idea of learning outside the traditional classroom that they had been discussing all semester. The students were able to shift their discussions and final presentations online without too much difficulty. By spending an entire semester looking at learning beyond the classroom walls, the students were able to better evaluate how the shift to online learning affected them and even think about how online learning could be improved.

“With the background in language learning and technology it helped me understand the motivation behind some of the choices made in my classes to facilitate online learning,” said one student, “However, it also showed how some things benefit from face-to-face learning and made apparent some of the improvements that could be made with the technology as well.”

Heift’s class was featured earlier this year in a documentary produced by Fairchild TV, a Canadian Cantonese specialty channel. The documentary looked at the use of mobile applications in language learning. Both Heift and her students were interviewed for the documentary giving an in depth look at the way the class is run and how different pieces of technology are being used by the students themselves.

If you are interested in learning more about this course, the course outline can be found here. The next offering of Linguistics 480 – Language Learning and Technology will be in Spring 2021.


Linguistics 480 - Language Learning and Technology is an upper division topics course that looks at how technology can be used in second language acquisition.

This specific topic of Linguistics 480 will be offered again in Spring 2021.


What advice do the current students have for anyone thinking about taking this class in Spring 2021? 

  • "Think outside the box, start working on the project early, and re-examine what you think you know about second language acquisition and technology"
  • "I would tell future students of LING 480 - Language Learning and Technology that they would enjoy this class because you learn how to evaluate language learning technology and by doing so, you learn how to design and develop your own."
  • "The class is awesome. It gives you opportunity to learn about all the technologies available for language learning or even applications that can help language such as ultrasound for language revitalization."