CALLing all Brains! (2016)

call and brain 2016Are you interested in the role digital technology can play in second language learning? Do you want to find out more about the intersection of neuroscience and language acquisition?  If so, join us at the JALTCALL2016 Conference!

JALTCALL2016 will be held at Tamagawa University (Tokyo, Japan) from June 3rd to 5th. This year we are having a joint conference with the recently-formed BRAIN SIG (neuroscience). The theme is “CALL and the BRAIN” and we are planning to host a wide range of presentations and workshops on these topics.

Our keynote speaker this year will be Mark Pegrum (University of Western Australia),  a key researcher in the field of digital literacies, and the author of Mobile Learning: Languages, Literacies and Cultures. 



There will also be a virtual presentation by our plenary speaker, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa (FLACSO, Quito, Ecuador), leading researcher in the neuroscience of learning, and author of 
Making Classrooms Better and Mind, Brain, and Education Science.

The call for proposals is open so if you have something to share, please make a submission. The deadline is February   15th, 2016. For more information about submissions and the conference itself, please go to

Hope to see you there!


Tech for Teach

A Very Merry Minecraft Christmas [with Grandma]

Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 2.59.14 PM

My son has an infatuation with Minecraft and watching Minecraft videos on YouTube. Some may find it strange that a parent let their child spend so much time watching YouTube videos, but they have been an important supplemental source of authentic English for our children.

Trying to raise bilingual children in Japan is challenging, so we try and find authentic sources of English wherever we can. However, we are careful to make sure they are watching safe Youtube channels. A great Minecraft related channel for kids is Joseph Garrett‘s channel featuring an orange cat named Stampy.


Minecraft is a sandbox game, meaning players have a lot of control over the environment. In Minecraft, players and can freely build structures and make up their own games. It provides a lot of room for creativity. Think Legos, but digital.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.46.30 PM

The First Person View (FPV) aspect of Minecraft, inspired me to try and connect students telecollaboratively using Minecraft as a virtual classroom. I thought that at the very least, learners from different countries could collaboratively build structures using English as their lingua franca. In fact, I spent nearly 6 months in preparation to teach such a course using a modification to the software created for teachers called MinecraftEdu.

Not only does MinecraftEdu offer great LMS style features, there is also a thriving community of educators surrounding it who share the worlds they create. There are over 100 worlds free to use in the MinecraftEdu world library. There are also a number of great mods available through MinecraftEdu which add interesting features such as support for teaching computer programming (computercraftedu), and quantum physics (qcraft).

Unfortunately my university’s computer center refused to open what is commonly referred to as the Minecraft Port (port 25565) through their server firewall, listing some very generic “security” concerns. This sent my research to simmer indefinitely on the back burner.

Recently, however, I have been using a private server to host minecraft interaction between my 7-year-old son here in Japan, and his friends in the United States. Collaborating with other parents, we use Skype (video off) as our Voice over IP to engage our children in telecollaborative Minecraft play.


My son also plays Minecraft with his grandmother in the United States. Yes, that’s right, I said grandmother! Another grandson (U.S. based) had already installed Minecraft on her computer at home, and so it wasn’t too difficult to set up an account so she could try it out. She is highly motivated to figure it out, so that she can interact with her grandchildren in Japan. As Christmas approached this year, and grandma was feeling particularly detached from her grandchildren, we organized a special 2-hour Minecraft play session.

My son is not the only one who can play. His 4-year-old sister also interacts with grandma using the keyboard and mouse to move her avatar through a virtual world. Here they are playing hide-and-seek.

As you can see in the video, they are using English to communicate. Playing Minecraft telecollaboratively has increased our children’s pool of English speaking play partners, helped them keep in touch with friends who have moved away, and even allowed them to spend time over the holidays with grandma.

unnamed The kids have a lot of fun keeping in touch with family overseas using Minecraft. It’s become so much a thing in our house that we plan on making some customized “skins” for our Minecraft avatars so that they better represent grandma and the grandkids during their digital play. My son is happy with a zombie avatar, but for grandma, we may need something special.

More Articles on Minecraft in Education


Rosetta Stone: Not Quite There Yet

Recently I downloaded the Rosetta Stone app for Android in great anticipation. I think the Rosetta Stone concept is fantastic (putting an immersion type approach to language learning into a CALL environment), and having a mobile version of the Rosetta Stone system just makes sense in today’s mobile world. However, all that glitters is not gold and to my great disappointment I found this to be the case with Rosetta Stone’s current offering.

At first glance, the mobile app seems to be all that it claims. Rosetta Stone on a mobile. However after a bit of testing, I found certain key functions did not promote language learning as expected.

For my first test, I excitedly dove right in to a relatively new language for me, Arabic. I opened the Arabic language learning option and found the typical (to anyone familiar with Rosetta Stone) beginners course. It starts by teaching the target language’s words for boy, girl, man, and woman. The Rosetta Stone system first provides pictures and pronunciation teaching the target language, and then a picture matching exercise where the learner matches the correct picture to the audio spoken, followed by a pronunciation practice stage. It was in the pronunciation practice stage that things began to go awry.

At first it seemed I was an expert in Arabic pronunciation… perhaps even a little too much of an expert… My hackles of suspicion rose. So, I tried an experiment; I purposely began pronouncing differently from what I was being taught.

RosettaStoneAdAt first I made slight changes, then gradually larger and larger mispronunciations. It seemed I could not go wrong! It was virtually impossible for me to mispronounce a word unless it was entirely off in syllable count. Then I tried purposely pronouncing the Arabic word for girl, when I was prompted for boy, and vice versa. To my great chagrin, I was rewarded with approval for my completely and contextually wrong pronunciation. This, with only my first two Arabic words!

Because of my determination to solve the riddle (for I was sure it was a riddle), I proceeded to test other languages which I was already familiar with. I tried the course in Japanese (which I have a fairly strong command of), and my native language of English (American form). Again, I was met with similar results. It was nearly impossible to mispronounce words.

Then I had an idea; perhaps there was a setting I was unaware of.  So, I searched the apps menu to find the culprit setting. I was somewhat relieved when I discovered a setting for accuracy relating to pronunciation checking. It was preset to easy. Though I am not sure that entirely wrong pronunciation constitutes “easy,”  I adjusted the setting to the highest difficulty level and tried again. Much to my disappointment, there was little if any change to the programs operation. I finally retired the app.

It seems to me that from a programming perspective simply making a call to Android’s build in speech-to-text feature, would enable the Rosetta Stone app to function better than it does now.  When simply using the phones built in speech-to-text software, I have to pronounce things very clearly to get it to recognize my intended phrase. In fact, here is a very simple Android app which attempts to teach pronunciation doing just that.

RSad2So what was the programming decision, or perhaps marketing decision, which brought about the offering currently available?  And what is the purpose of a piece of software that fools someone into thinking they are learning a language, when in fact they are learning to speak gibberish? Well, that will have to remain the domain of our imagination. But, whatever Rosetta Stone’s reason’s are, one thing seems clear. Our jobs as language teachers are still secure.