Practical Teaching Ideas

Teach pronunciation with this 5-step smartphone approach

2014-02-21 12.30.02

How do you teach pronunciation in your language classroom?

At a TED event a couple of years ago I caught myself turning-off whenever one of the presenters had a strong accent. This experience kicked me into gear to start looking for ways I could more effectively teach pronunciation in my language classroom.

This post shares an approach to teaching minimal pairs (MP) which incorporates student’s smartphones. You can find a more detailed description of my work on this component here.

Before you get started, students will have to download the free apps, Pronunciation Power (ProPower) and  Dragon Dictation.

Step 1: Share a list of about 10 minimal pairs. (e.g., rot & lot)

Minimal Pairs demo

Continue reading “Teach pronunciation with this 5-step smartphone approach”

Tech for Teach

What dictionary apps are your students using?

casio-ex-word-xd-d9800we-japanese-english-electronic-dictionaryRemember these?

Not too long ago, my students were forking out more than $300 for an electronic dictionary. Similar to digital cameras, these things are being made redundant by the dictionary applications available on smartphones and tablets. What is more, most reader apps such as Kindle and iBooks have built-in dictionaries, which enables readers to search for definitions or translations with one screen tap.

In late January, my DMLL co-contributors and I surveyed 374 language students at five private universities in Tokyo to gauge student perceptions of digital mobile language learning. In our questionnaire, one item asked students to list the dictionary apps they use.

The top 5 responses were,

5. 語語NAVI (pronounced “Go Go Navi” and this site is in Japanese)

What surprised me about this app being in the list was that even though most of my students loathe to spend money on learning apps, some students are happily parting with  ¥200 ($2 US) for GoGo Navi.


I must note that I need to get clarification on how students are using this app for dictionary use, because I cannot find a dictionary or translation function inside my LINE app. The best information I can provide is that the LINE company is pushing users to download the NAVER dictionary app. This app is only available on Android devices right now.

3. Weiblo (site is in Japanese)

2. Google Translate

I thought it would be nice to share what students are using and start a conversation on whether teachers need to be encouraging students to use this ubiquitous learning tool more effectively. If the majority of students are using Google Translate in lieu of a dictionary, and Google Translate posts a response like I have in this image (i.e., the word mobile means “mobile phone”, a noun in Japanese or “moveable” as an adjective) is this enough information for your average language learner?

1. ALC / 英辞郎(Eijiro) (site is in Japanese)

Eijiro is powered by the famous company ALC and its creation is very different from most dictionaries on the market. Eijiro is a database of vocabulary that is created in a similar vein to a wiki. What is also unique about Eijiro is that examples of a word are weighted on the same level as definitions. As my second screen shot here demonstrates, a short scroll down the page reveals a long list of ways a word can be used. It has been argued that this component enables learners learners to get a better understanding of a word’s specific nuances, something which cannot be understood from my Google translate search posted above. Furthermore, the wiki-like construct of Eijiro means that a much larger corpus of words can be searched.

To conclude this post, I want to note that I have no intention of putting forward a prescription for what dictionary app language students should be using, nor do I want to debate whether teachers should allow their students to use dictionaries in class. I do hope however, that I was able to present the dictionary apps language students are using and ask whether teachers should take more of an interest in the dictionary apps our students are using.

Opinion, Practical Teaching Ideas, Tech for Teach, Your thoughts?

How about avoiding the app store?

I thought it would be good to step back from reviewing all the fantastic DMLL apps out there to highlight the applications our mobile devices come with straight out of the box. You know, apps like digital cameras, voice recorders, note pads and timers. Applications or hardware we could only dream about using with one device a decade ago are now sitting in every student’s pocket. I understand it’s easy to get caught up in the search for the newest or coolest, but let’s get excited about tools we have right at our fingertips.

Teachers really need to take a longer look at how they can incorporate these built-in apps into their classroom. To begin with, students are usually very proficient at using them, which means a teacher doesn’t have to dedicate class time to training, and should a technical issue arise, there is a classroom full of teachers to help out. Secondly, many great apps aren’t available on both iOS and Android platforms, which prevents the whole class from participating. And, even when an app is available on both platforms, it often doesn’t work exactly the same. For a lot of these built-in apps, an Internet connection isn’t required, and given the app has been designed to run with the whole device in mind, teachers don’t have to worry about reception or processing issues. And lastly, I feel a lot of these built-in apps develop study skills which students can apply to classes outside of the language classroom.

If none of my arguments above have prompted you to consider the built-in apps once more, I hope this list of my four favorite built-in apps and their possibilities for the language classroom will.

2013-11-23 14.51.28Voice Recorder: Allows the teacher to: record lesson instructions; create authentic listening texts; record speaking activities;  and ask students to narrate their class blog posts. I’m also finding that if I ask a group of students to record themselves during a speaking task, students are less likely to fall back into using their native language, Japanese. Students can record themselves to evaluate pronunciation or prepare for a speaking task. Not only can students evaluate sound, the sound waves displayed on their screen can provide useful feedback on intonation. One of my favourite activities to play with the voice recorder is a “hot potato” game where a group of three to five students stand in a circle and pass a phone around the group and each member has to contribute one word to continue on a story. When teams are finished I play the recordings over the speaker system and we judge the best story.

Video camera: Over the last few years it has been interesting to watch how video cameras and cameras have been taken over by the smartphone. A feature I love is that users can rotate the camera to record a great video of themselves. This technique can be used to identify problems with pronunciation or create individual content for a class blog or project. A tablet or smartphone’s screen and speaker volume is also large enough for a video to be watched by a small group. A lot of the activities I suggested in the voice recorder section above can also be experimented with using a video camera, just make sure the mobile device is close to the speaker’s mouth to ensure sound quality.

2013-11-23 12.32.34Timer stop/watch. One technique for increasing student motivation is  to include a component that stimulates the heart rate. Racing the clock or displaying a timer beating down are wonderful ways to get your students moving and foster a game-like environment. For classroom management, stopwatches or timers enable a teacher to ensure tasks don’t run over time. I also see value in encouraging students to use this application to evaluate their time spent on tasks or leverage their own motivation while studying individually.

Camera: I know that the saying goes  “a picture tells a thousand words” and when one is teaching a language it’s fair enough to question whether images rob the opportunity for more language to be produced. However, the power of an image to stimulate or support a conversation cannot be ignored. What is more, the camera is usually the app students are most skilled at using.Tamagawa pic

Even without downloading Instagram one can now crop, take panoramic shots and use filters with their built-in camera app on newer devices. I also like the ease at which students are able to flick through their camera rolls to show multiple images during small group presentations similar to this picture above.

Some examples of how photos can be used include: asking students to report on their weekends while flicking through their photos; asking students to introduce the most artistic or interesting photo on the camera roll; ask students to take photos for blog content; and, sending students on a picture hunt to take photos of something which is round, diagonal or red, etc.

Students and teachers alike can also record whatever is presented on the blackboard or projector screen with just one tap.

I know there are more built-in apps worthy of a mention, but in the spirit of slowing down, let’s keep things simple. How have you been able to incorporate these 4 apps into your language classroom?