The Death of a Language Lab

As language labs it had seen better days. Battered and worn, were there ghosts of old students haunting the cubicles? Complaining that they spent too much time in the Lab or not enough, like students will. We’ll never know. The lab had a good life once. It had been useful, it had been used and the proof was all the scratches and dents on the machinery. Could anything else have been done. Couldn’t it have been up dated, you know Language Lab Version 3.4 or something like that ? No language labs have changed. There are no more little cubicles, they were like cages for the students, I guess. No the future language lab is a multimedia thingy, with lots of lights and flashes and beeps and bumps. That’s today. Nothing could be done. There are no machines in the school that can read the material stored in the reels of tape. There is no way to transcribe all those lessons stored in the cabinets. Gone. That is the problem with machine read objects. (I am sure someone somewhere is calling them MROs) Once the machine is outmoded there is little you can do except trash it or find a museum for it.

Look at the waste. The picture of the cabinet gives you a good idea of the number of lessons relegated to the dust bin of history. Each drawer contained at least one hundred lessons, one hundred ! When there was two or more reels in the drawer it meant even more than that. Even if we could save the lessons by putting them on the web, copy to cds or put on the server at the school we would be running against copyright laws (that is of course if the companies that own the rights still exist). In order to save the lessons we would probably have to pay for the privilege.

Check out this tape reel. I grew up with this technology. I remember camping in my parent’s backyard. My friends and I set up a tent and inside was a portable tape recorder from Japan. It was a marvel because it was little. When I say little it was relative but not little like today’s walkmans. It used four D sized batteries. But I will never forget the sound of the Doors playing « Light My Fire » inside that tent behind the house. I remember the fun we had playing with that tape recorder : making a collection of sound effects, later writing a sort of radio play and using those sound effects. It was oh, so funny and unsophisticated. Yes look at this lonely reel, once the symbol of Japanese technology. You may not agree but it was where the Japanese began. When I think of the content that has gone, it is staggering one hundred lessons a shelf. One good thing about a book or magazine is that it doesn’t need a machine to read it, just you and I and perhaps an electric light. When you hear all the hoopla about cd-roms or whatever else is on the horizon just remember this lowly language lab and all the people who created those lessons.

I never listened to the lessons on those reels. I don’t know what they contained. I can tell you the lessons were in English, Spanish, and German, but nothing more. The machines weren’t working when I first came to the school and by looking at the tapes I could tell you what they contained. It is funny but I have looked at several cd-roms that the Ecole des Mines is considering buying, has bought or has borrowed with the intention of buying and I can tell you that the content of the lessons seems bare. I wonder what was in those hundred lessons a drawer...All the lab is now here: C