Sunday, 9 May 2010

How students use mobile phones to learn English...

I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that while I talk to my students a lot about mobile phones and how they can use them to learn English, I've never really actually asked them how they already use them to learn English. So, I've sent out a message to my students to ask them exactly this. I've only got a few responses so far, but I thought it might be worth sharing what they've told me so far. 

Student One: 

Yes, I use it for translate words that I do not know,especially, when Iam shopping or walking on a street.
Sometimes, I play games of words spelling ,but, I did not find that interesting. Also, I rarely do listen for BBC radio or read a newspaper.
My husband use his mobile to record his voice to to cheque his mistakes by listening for it
second time. Also, sometimes he record something that he thinks is useful for him. For example, importamt tips which his teacher give it to them in the class.

Student Two: 

Since my tiny mobile is not that much supporting web applications, I would be very happy if I can access my email when necessary but I would rather go with YES because of the load notes I have making recently . However, ESL materials are the ONLY contents in my iPod touch that including podcasts, audiobooks, & grammar applications.. etc which is very useful in short run as well as long run learning.

Student Three: 

I am one of those who are using their mobile phones to learn English, I read the news in BBC, I look for some word's meaning in the dictionary and recently,I've downloaded an English quizz app into my phone so I can test myself on and off...

It's clear that one of the most common uses of mobile phones is to look up vocabulary and this is certainly borne out by my students in my classes. Quite a few of them have smartphones and/or ipod touches and it's very common for them to use them as dictionaries to quickly check words that come up in class. 

Students are beginning to use their devices as dictaphones as well. I've noticed a couple of my students recording my lessons using their phones and normally it's the students who are concerned about improving their pronunciation. One of them told me that he likes to listen back to my voice and repeat certain words and phrases. 

One thing that struck me about student one was the comment 'I play games of words spelling ,but, I did not find that interesting'. This has definitely been my experience of a lot of the apps that are available for English language learning. I've tried them out and noticed that they are very traditional in their format (fill the gaps, multiple choice, anagrams etc) and while they are diverting for a few minutes, they don't really offer anything that students can't already find in a textbook or in class. 

Developers of apps haven't really worked out a way to design them so they take advantage of the way that phones can create (e.g. through the camera or the microphone) and the way that phones can connect and share (via the internet/SMS). In a previous post I talked about how different apps can be combined to form powerful learning tools and I think if such apps could be specifically developed for ESL learners then they would attract a lot more users. Even better if they can also include some kind of game element as well.

 When you look at things like Foursquare - location microblogging where you 'check in' to places/bars/cafes etc with your mobile phone and earn 'prizes' and status - you can see how they've taken a basic concept such as going out to places and made it a lot more interesting by adding a social networking/competitive element to it.  English Central is a good example of a site that takes advantage of these things to make engaging language content for students. I would love to see mobile developers do the same.  


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