A mobile-based learning tool to improve language skills
Mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, e-readers, etc.) have come to be used as tools for mobile learning. Several studies support the integration of such technological devices with learning, particularly with language learning. In this paper, we wish to present an Android app designed for the teaching and learning of Portuguese as a foreign language. We aim to promote new experiences in the field of mobile learning, based on the concept of Social Learning (Mondahl & Razmerita, 2014).
Mobile devices in the language classroom
Research on language learning using mobile devices such as mobile phones or Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) has increased exponentially in the last decade. Most of this research showed that students have positive perceptions about the use of their own mobile phone as a learning tool. Connected seamlessly to the Internet via wireless access, these mobile technologies open up a range of possibilities for teaching and learning languages (both native and foreign). Mobile phones or smartphones are being used to enable the development not only of lexical skills (Lu, 2008; Moura & Carvalho, 2013) and grammar (Wang & Smith, 2013), but also of speaking and listening skills (Lys, 2013) in formal and informal contexts. Students have only tapped into the educational potential of mobile phones, and it appears that the technology is not a barrier for them. In fact, learners nowadays are carrying new literacies and digital technology (Web 2.0 environments, iPods, mobile communication, etc.) into schools. Mobile phones now have GPS, texting, voice, and multimedia capabilities which can be used to improve language learning performance (Bloch, 2008; DuBravac, 2012; Moura, 2010; Moura & Carvalho, 2011; Sykes & Reinhardt, 2013, among others). The possibilities that Web 2.0 and mobile technologies offer the language teacher are countless, with new applications and services being launched every day. Applications such as Duolingo, Babbel, Mosalingua, Memrise, Voxy and Busuu are available for download from the App Store or Google Play. These apps provide a stress-free work environment for learners and help them to be more responsible for their learning process. As for informal language learning through social interactions, there are several websites that use social networks like Babbel (www.babbel.com), LiveMocha (www.livemocha.com) or Palabea (www.palabea.net). These e-learning platforms allow students to hone practical skills and conversational fluency via videoconference. Verbling for example offers immersive language learning through Google+ Hangouts. Italki or Mixxer connect people online to practice speaking skills together via Skype. As mentioned by Eaton (2013), Duolingo has come up with an innovative “way to combine social media-based language learning with crowdsourced efforts [in order] to translate the Web” (n.p.). All these platforms offer increasingly powerful applications (like multimedia and social networking) which make language learning practice resemble real-life communication. It is generally believed that language learning can be most effective when language practice occurs in real and meaningful conversations (with other learners who share the same interests) instead of isolated linguistic settings. Some of the relevant concepts found in the literature on mobile learning (‘social interactionism’, ‘social constructivism’ or ‘connectivism’) call our attention to the role of social interaction in language learning (Lisbôa, Coutinho, & Bottentuit Júnior, 2013; Verga & Kotz, 2013).
Mobile learning and language development
Our world today is obsessed with doing everything quickly, learning included. Self-study is obviously important in language learning. From my experience, as little as one hour a week of self-study can boost a student's progress immensely. Yet the majority of my students have chosen to study online due to time restrictions, and in their first lesson, they make it quite clear they have no time for homework. So, how do I motivate my busy students to find the time?
As the use of mobile technology is increasing, why not offer students the possibility to study anytime, anyplace and at their own convenience through their mobile devices? I get my students started with small, realistic homework activities. I request that my students spend just five or ten minutes a day on English. I introduce them to some of the amazing apps available and encourage them to learn in a mobile way. And it works.
Five free apps for learning English on the go
There are hundreds of mobile phone apps available and it's possible to find free options suited to students on a budget. Here are my top five free apps that students can use for extra practice:
British Council apps offer a huge choice for smart phones. You can look at the options on their webpage and download the apps on Google Play, Apple's App Store or using a QR code. I particularly like 'Johnny Grammar's Word Challenge' - it's a fun way to improve grammar.
Duolingo is a wonderful app that has just won the 'Best education start-up award'. It's designed like a game and is pretty addictive. It's free, contains no adverts and is very effective.
Two min English is free, has no adverts and contains more than two hundred two-minute video lessons on a variety of topics e.g., social English, business English, travel English, common mistakes in English, idioms and phrases.
Game to learn English powowbox is a multi-level game. Once downloaded, it appears as English tracker. The first three levels are free. You have to spot the mistake - if you get it wrong, you receive a clear explanation. It's fun and easy to play.
Real English offers a variety of apps at different levels – business and conversation apps at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. The apps are free, but they contain adverts. Each app contains 20 lessons that focus on specific grammar/vocabulary areas. Each lesson is made up of five parts.
Being creative with mobile devices
Why not encourage your students to be creative and use the technology at their literal fingertips to prepare homework activities? I've chosen a few apps and looked at some of their educational possibilities:
Whatsapp is a mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages. Users can create groups, send each other unlimited images, video and audio media messages over an internet connection.
How about sending your students a short news article or podcast and asking them to send an audio response summarising it in their own words or giving their opinion?
Students could send photos with captions to illustrate different tenses. Alternatively they could describe daily habits or routines, or create a set of instructions.
Students could create a video or audio of themselves making a short business presentation or reviewing a movie/book or TV show.
Ipadio lets you record up to 60 minutes of high-quality audio. You can then add titles, descriptions, images, and geo-locate your recording before instantly uploading to your ipadio.com account or cross-post to your Twitter, Facebook or blog.
Set a research activity, get students to interview a number of people and record and edit their interview.
You could record your lesson and send it to students who were absent.
Create a revision podcast and send it to your students.
Students could create a short story or poem with photos and audio.
Closed Facebook groups can be a great way of communicating with your students. Students can share ideas, opinions and homework projects.
Post quizzes and grammar tips.
Get students to share book reviews.
Brainstorm ideas about different topics.
Have a different theme each week and get students to share songs, pictures and quotations connected to the theme.
Generally create a place for students to interact with you and with each other outside the classroom.
To conclude, by supplying our students with easily accessible tools for studying 'on the go', we are enabling them to incorporate self-study into their busy lives, accelerating their progress and guaranteeing better results. To think about strategies for language learning through mobile devices is becoming more effective and easy given the popularity of these devices among students. Whereas there are teachers who accept challenges and are willing to incorporate this type of technology in the classroom, others are more reluctant and resist changes in their educational practices (Lancha, 2010). To improve mobile learning effectiveness, teachers need to be adequately prepared to implement technology in their teaching and learning practice. When we propose a learning environment supported by emerging digital technologies, we intend to reinforce the adoption of these technologies in order to form a wide community of teachers who share experiences and digital material. In fact, while updating their knowledge, users of this platform will certainly rethink pedagogies and focus on teaching methods that extend the classroom beyond the traditional learning environments (Wang & Smith, 2013). Our aim is to foster the standardisation across the online teaching network, encouraging teachers to actively work together to enrich the quality of the pedagogical strategies and contents presently available for teaching. It is really important that the teacher may, without advanced technical knowledge, design and publish visually attractive materials that are appropriate to the profile and age of the students. More than offering intuitive and friendly tools for design Chapter 16 198 and publication of digital contents, the major advantage of this project is that all materials and developers will be evaluated with several criteria in order to encourage teamwork and creativity among the teaching community. This step is crucial to provide an optimal learning process for students and to help them find the adequate course according to their needs.
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Bloch, J. (2008). Technology in the L2 composition classroom. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Lu, M. (2008). Effectiveness of vocabulary learning via mobile phone. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 24(6), 515-525. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365- 2729.2008.00289.
199 Lys, F. (2013). The development of advanced learner oral proficiency using IPADS. Language Learning and Technology, 17(3), 94-116.
Mondahl, M., & Razmerita, L. (2014). Social media, collaboration and social learning – a case-study of foreign language learning. The Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 12(4), 339-352