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What is a language lab? 

Modern Language Labs Defined

Modern language labs are based on the premise of using technology to accelerate the learning of a new language by getting students actively involved in the learning process through hands-on participation.

Because technology is advancing extremely rapidly, so too is the nature of today’s modern language labs.  Have a look at this short animated video for an overview of how modern language labs are used.

 SmartClass Language Laboratory Video

Modern language labs have evolved so dramatically from the original concept, that even the term “language lab” is often replaced by synonyms such as:

• Digital language lab
• Digital language lab software
• Language laboratory or language laboratories
• Foreign language lab or foreign languages lab
• World language lab or world languages lab
• Modern language lab or modern languages lab
• Language laboratory system or language lab system
• Language lab equipment or language laboratory equipment
• Multimedia language lab or multimedia language laboratory
• Language class management system
• Language learning center
• Language media center
• Multimedia learning center
• Virtual language lab

New technologies like laptops, tablets, smartphones, and WiFi networks, have revolutionized the way that modern language labs are implemented:  Many schools still use a dedicated room, but others use mobile language carts that can be wheeled from room to room, or BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) where students and teachers carry their own technology to class – or wherever else they may want to work. In short, modern language labs embrace the concept of:  Any-device l Any-place l Any-time


Anatomy of a Language Lab

Block diagram of Robotel SmartClass+ modern language labs


Modern language labs – whether they are foreign language labs, world language labs, or second language labs (ESL labs) – typically include the following components:

TEACHER STATION – Teachers use a school-supplied computer-based workstation to manage language lab activities. The “computer” might be a simple laptop but is often a desktop PC with a second monitor – used to display the language lab software console.

STUDENT STATIONS – Students can use any combination of school-supplied or personal:

• Desktop or laptop computers
• Tablets
• Smartphones
• Chromebooks

HEADSETS – Headsets help students focus on their own work by eliminating ambient room noises. Headsets also use noise-reducing directional microphones to ensure that students only record their own voices – and not those of neighboring students.

SERVER – A server is just a simple computer that hosts the language lab software and the database of multimedia assignments and student recordings and responses.  The server can be hosted locally at the school or it can be entirely cloud-based.

NETWORK – Modern language lab software systems typically use the school’s data network to support communication and interaction among all participants. Networks can be wired or wireless (WiFi).  Support for homework activities can also be extended across the Internet.

LANGUAGE LAB SOFTWARE – This is a software application that enables teachers and students to interact with one another. It includes a database of courses & classes and teacher & student participants, a library of multimedia lesson materials & assignments, and associated student responses & teacher feedback. This is the management system that integrates all of the component parts into a single learning platform.


Why use a Language Lab?

The ideal way to learn a new language is to hire a personal tutor who is both an expert in the target language and a master teacher. This is, however, impractical for most language students. In the majority of schools, language classes often have a single teacher who must work with 20 to 30 students (or more).

Studies* have shown that in such an environment, less than 25% of class time is allocated to speaking practice. This means that the average student speaks for less than 1 minute for every hour of class time.

Language labs boost student speaking time by a factor of at least 10X – which in turn has a huge impact on the amount of student speaking practice, and ultimately on student language proficiency.

The path to fluency is, “practice, practice, & practice”.

*Unterricht und Kompetenzerweb in Deutsch und Englisch
Deutsch Englisch Schülerleistungen International (DESI)

Beck (et al), März 2006


Modern Language Labs 

The following video clips (provided courtesy of our Czech dealer, AV Media) illustrate how teachers and students interact in a modern language lab environment:



For more general information about modern language laboratories, please download our whitepaper about Language Labs.