I recently came across The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ position statement on the use of technology in the language learning classroom.
“There is currently no definitive research to indicate that students will acquire a second language effectively through technology without interaction with and guidance from a qualified language teacher.” (emphasis mine)
There is no way that one can learn a language to fluency (and we can argue about the meaning of fluency endlessly) without interacting in the target language.
I lived in a small city in France for six months. My French was weak at best when I arrived. After six months, I was dreaming and thinking in French. I hadn’t hit a point where I could say I was fluent, but my French language skills were greatly improved.
Compare that to my time in Japan. I have been here two and a half years, but I live in a small town of about 15,000 people. Sparsely populated, I have no neighbors. Despite living in Japan, there’s no one for me to interact with in Japanese on a daily basis – water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink. Despite my attempts to study from a book, without daily interactions, my Japanese has gotten worse.
I was speaking with a few members of the English department at a private university in my prefecture, and they were making similar observations. They have a growing student body and they are trying to get technology into the hands of their students. But without native English speakers at their university for English language learners to interact with, the students are going to suffer (and to be clear, they mean having native English speaking students in addition to the English speaking instructors they already have).
I think there needs to be a combination of a solid, book-learning, classroom base from where students can start, and then immersive or near immersive situations for students to live in in order to cement what they have learned and solidify their skills.
One can make the argument that English is the de facto world language. EFL students will need more than a surface understanding of English in order to be successful. And that means having teachers in the classroom and immersive experiences in the target language augmented by the use of technology to improve learning – not technology to replace those pillars.