Thursday, 23 May 2013

Mobile devices and language learning: the students' perspective

In a previous post, the students taking part in my Learning English with Technology course gave an international perspective on how technology is used in their home universities. Over the last few weeks, we've been looking at how mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets could be used in education and particularly for English language learning. We talked about various ways that they could use these devices for improving their English and they went away for a week and tried some of them out. To summarise their experiences, each of them wrote a short blog post detailing what they did. I thought you might be interested to read their reports:

Ales (the Czech Republic)

My first encounter with "learning" English using technology occured, when I was young and I have accidentaly switched my father´s mobile phones language into English while playing with it, and because we both didn´t speak English that time, he had to reset the device to the factory settings, which has restored the default language (it was one of the first Nokia device).

Now I have new Nexus smartphone and I use it for learning English very intensively. I have set English as a default language (this time not by accident J), and I use all apps in English as well, which is good for everyday practise. I have internet access on my phone, so can I read news and everything else which interests me on the internet, and it is actually the very first thing that I do when I wake up in the morning – I read the news and check Facebook, and also the last thing before I fall to asleep. I like reading and I read a lot, so I have used an Kindle app in my phone for reading E-books, but I have recently bought an genuine Kindle device and now I use this instead of mobile phone, because it is more comfortable and its battery also last significantly longer then the battery in the phone.

But I also use apps with learning purpose only, the one that I use most is Czech-English dictionary – because of the large display with Swype keyboard, searching for words is convenient and quick, and I can use it for example during lectures for finding words which I don´t understand and still keep up with lecture topic, which would be almost impossible with classic dictionary.

Another very useful app is Google Translate, which enable the user to translate whole sentences or take a picture of some text using phone´s camera and then translate it, and it is working very good – of course, it can´t translate the sentence 100 % correctly, but for getting a basic idea what is going on about, when I´m competely stuck, is more than enough. Another good feature of it is that it can pronounce the sentences or words, with slightly "robotic" accent (which is more noticeable when it speaks Czech), but again, for basic idea it is good.

Instead of dictionaries, I use for example Flashcards for practise vocabulary and some other apps for grammar or general English practise (namely Test Your English, iPractise and some others). Also, I find very useful that the music player in my phone show lyrics while listening to music, which is good for listening and English understaning training (good thing is that the lyrics doesn´t have to be embedded in the song, it can find the lyrics on the internet when its missing).

So my mobile phone has become almost irreplaceable device for me, and I´m going to continue using all apps and features mentioned in this post after my return home.

Anne (Germany)

Using a smartphone for studying English seems to me a handy way of improving language skills. I tried this week to listen to podcasts via the “Beyond.Pod” App and also I used my memo feature on the phone to remember a new word a day. Before this homework, I only used the and in order to look up words, but never actually saw the smartphone as a means of enabling me to succeed in my second language.

I listened to “Shakespeare’s Restless World”, a series by the BBC and “BBC World News”. The podcasts were a great way to increase my listening skills, as their level of language were appropriate for a fairly advanced student. Especially the news increased my cultural knowledge as well as my language skills. Also, I could pick up unfamiliar words and immediately after listening to the podcast on the topic of my choice I could type the vocabulary into my phone and check them whenever I had time.

In general, I find smartphones motivating to pick up more reading and listening in a foreign language, but not so much writing and speaking, unless to stay in touch with friends from another country, which is not automatically related to language improvement. I found amazing that there are even fun-apps like hangman, which can just be played on the bus or whenever there is a little time.

Denitsa (Bulgaria)

Few days ago it came to my mind that this is actually not the first time I am using my phone to learn English. I have never set up my phone in other language than English, except for a while in French.

My very first mobile phone, one of those lovely old-fashioned monochrome display Nokia, did not have a menu in my native language therefore I had no other choice than to get used to its menu in English. It`s been many years from now so I cannot remember if I got some major troubles with the menu. However, I reckon I was quite curious and I loved changing the settings and then by seeing the result, I learnt what meant the option I had just clicked on.

For this homework I tried two m-learning English features. Firstly, I set up a BBC news application, BBC Iplayer as well as another two handy applications- QuickDict and Spelling Bee. More or less what I have done is that I have listened to various radio shows and I have read articles and the News online. Meanwhile when I spotted an unknown word I checked it in QuickDict- a quintessential application which gives you access to Macmillan Online and Oxford Online dictionaries. Moreover, during this experimental period I have been watching intensely BBC TV online on my phone in addition to listening to the radio. This helped me improve my listening skills for a very short time and also made me feel more comfortable while listening. Furthermore, I used Quizlet in order to create flashcards to memorise the new words.

As I have been travelling a lot over the last 5 days I realized how handy it is to have a smartphone with you all the time. This was the perfect opportunity to try learning English using my smartphone. I am not sure whether or not I will be able to spend that much time in future to learn English using my smartphone. However, I feel like going on and I will continue using my phone as a tool to improve my English.

Missy (Japan)

I rarely use my mobile devices to improve my English skills since I mostly use my mobile devices for messaging, using social networks and to play on game apps in my mother tongue. However, I do have some apps which are somewhat related to improving my English skills.

First one is the BBC News app. I find this app useful since it keeps me updated with the latest news as well as making me read English articles in different topics. I think one of my weakest aspects of my English is the reading skills therefore I try to improve it by checking this app when I have time.

Second one is the dictionary app. It is helpful when I quickly want to look up the meaning of a word. However, I find dictionary apps not useful enough since they usually do not give me the full definition to understand the word correctly. I always end up looking up the word again in an online dictionary or a paper dictionary to check what it means so it is only helpful when I need to check the definition of a word in a desperate situation.

Last apps are the game apps in English. For example, I have an anagram app which I sometimes use during my free time. However I get bored quite easily when I cannot figure out the right answers so I do not think it is helping me much.

As I have mentioned above, I do not use my mobile device for proper study purposes. I find mobile devices more like toys to use in my free time rather than devices to support my English language studies. I think my stance on using mobile devices for English acquisition purposes would not really change in the future since they did not help me much for me to improve my English skills in the past. However I do believe that there would be more chances for apps and features on mobile devices to be enhanced and to be supporting more English learners in the future.

Audrey (France)

Before this week's assignment, I already used my smart phone as a way to improve my language skills: I made a point to set my phone in english in order to get used to the language, and i also have a couple of applications such as "Ihandy translator" or "Ivoc audio" which come in very handy when trying to translate words or sentences. Also, since coming to Sheffield, I have exchanged text messages with British people, which has helped me in learning new useful vocabulary. However, this week, i decided to try and use my phone's mcrophone and record myself while reading difficult words, in order to understand my mistakes and try to modify my pronunciation. I also used the app "Flashcards +" and created small flashcards with new vocabulary and grammatical points. I was pleasantly suprised to see how helpful it was, and will definetely use it again in the future. This week's tasks made me focus more on my language learning, and the new apps that I downloaded have really helped me on this path. Mobile devices are a great way to study while still having fun, and I think that It's something education should focus on more in the near future.

Jesus (Spain)

My mobile phones have been helping me during most of the years I have been studying English. I remember the last one I had, had a dictionary app and it was so much useful. It was a very good dictionary, although not very manageable.

I guess I could also include here my Ipod Touch. This mobile I had (Samsung Onix) didn’t even have the Android system so I couldn’t download apps. My Ipod Touch made up for not having an advanced mobile phone. I used to have two dictionaries, one was a Spanish – English one and the other one was English – German. They were very useful because every time I found a word I didn’t know the meaning of I could look for it everywhere and anytime.

This week I wanted to try using my phone camera to take pictures of interesting words or articles/texts that I could find. I didn’t quite like it. In the end it was taking up memory from my mobile phone and I rarely checked later on the Internet. It is a very annoying task for me. I guess I can use for the same purpose the memo/note-taking app without taking up that much memory. Besides, I think it’s easier because you use interesting expressions every time you want to just checking your phone.

Another thing I have tried has been listening to the radio app. This is clearly, one of my favourites. Always having native speakers talking to me by my earphones helps me a lot to keep focused and my English goes more fluent. Moreover, once I leave Sheffield, using TuneIn Radio App or similar, it will make me keep practicing my listening skills and not forgetting the accent. And I can always learn new daily words or expressions even without being in England!

Ai (Japan)

I don't use smart phone and I've never used English learning website through the mobile phone so I can’t say how useful it is. The one I’m using doesn’t have a big screen and doesn't suit to use for language learning so I always use my laptop for English learning.

Now I’m thinking buying a new smart phone. After getting it, when I find it is useful to language learning, I think I’ll use it. I can learn English outside as well!

Blanca (Spain)

"As the device I currently own is far from being a smartphone, I will write about the things I used to do with my former one (a BlackBerry 9300). Then again, most things might not seem very clever compared to all the possibilities that any owner of a smartphone, specially Androids and iPhones, have.

In my case, I am constantly trying to write things in the languages I am learning. So, for example, if I feel inspired while waiting for the bus and something creative comes to my mind, I would try and write it in English or German instead of Spanish (my mother-tongue). That makes me remember a certain word more easily. Precisely because of that, the feature that I found most useful was having a dictionary. Then again, that is my way of learning.

For some people it might be very useful to have interactive apps to learn languages, but in my case, I am not very fond of learning with games.

So, for me the main tool was the browser. I used it to read articles in online papers, I would have two tabs open, one for the article and one for an online dictionary to look words up (I might have Facebook open as well, not going to lie).

Podcasts can be very useful as well. There are all kinds of podcasts around, about politics, philosophy, some monologues by comedians or even audio-books. You can download them, put them on your phone and open the notepad on your phone while listening to it to take some notes of interesting vocabulary. My English friends have recommended I listened to Karl Pilkington podcasts. I have done so and they were right, he’s hilarious and his English accent is very challenging to practice your listening skills!"

Michelle (Holland)

The last week the homework was to take two ideas how to use your mobile device to improve your English. There is a large range of options to choose from, for example record native speakers, make your own flashcards or take notes from difficult words or phrases. I choose the following two options:

- Taking notes from difficult words or phrases

- Taking pictures from difficult words or phrases

The first option fit perfectly into my everyday life, because I talk daily with English native speakers and often words crop up that I don’t know the meaning of.

The main positive thing about this option is that you will learn words that are really used in the everyday language of native speakers and you will learn a much broader range of words covering an infinite variety of subject matter. It would be different if you would read a text about one specific topic and you will only learn new words about this topic.

The main issue that arises is that I have to interrupt the native speaker to take notes from the words I don’t know, and often ask the native speakers to repeat, spell and explain the words. It is not very conducive to a fluent conversation. But I still think I would continue asking and interrupting native speakers because the native speaker I talk most to, says she doesn’t mind when I’m interrupting her and that I should. This stimulates me to ask if I don’t know any words or phrases and stimulates me to continue using my mobile device to take notes or words I don’t know.

Everywhere you look, you will see written English language. So everywhere are opportunities to improve my English. For the second option I took pictures of difficult words or phrases. Most of the time I took pictures of flyers. The good thing about it is that I always carry my phone with my. Furthermore I don’t have always to time at the moment to look up the definition and it just takes me a few seconds to take a picture of the word or phrase so I can look the definition up later. I think I would remind to word better if I look up the word or phrase right away and then maybe write it down (somewhat like option 1). Another issue that may arise is that I sometimes forget that I took a picture and forget to look up the definition later. I still think I would continue taking pictures of difficult words because I like to improve my English by looking at language that is used in daily life.

Michal (The Czech Republic)

The world is becoming more and more modern, more globalized, more linked. When I got my first mobile I could not imagine how immense technological change will occur in the next 13 years. I never could imagine that I will be able to use the phone for study purposes. Now, I really can. Dreams came true. I can use the phone for reading presentations, articles and other important files. I can share and discuss my essays with friends even with tutors. It is very useful because you I get a feedback immediately, hence I can incorporate comments into essays. Through the phone is also possible to be aware about current events not only at the university. It doesn’t matter where you are at the moment, you can see your exam results online, you can sign up for your exam wherever you are. It is also possible to do funny things that atd the first glance look unrelated with study – listen BBC, watch films…but it is important to note that these activities are a great source of information. In my opinion, mobile phones, rather smart phones today, are very useful for study purposes. Honestly, who could imagine the study without using your mobile phone?


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