How Mobile Apps Are Changing Language Learning
Mobile technology represents a revolutionary approach to education. In recent times mobile devices have been steadily incorporated into learning as the use of a mobile device affords a way to attain students in a way that they are adapted to: “It gives them active control of their learning in the palm of their hands” (Betsy Redd, 2011).
With the accelerated development of Apps surrounding language learning and the popularisation of mobile devices among students, it has become easier to serve different types of media to encourage engagement and repetition. For example, text, picture, animation, audio and video can be integrated in order to create a multimedia instructional material. And gamification is also used to excellent effect by language apps such as Duolingo.
Apps are helping students listen
Listening plays an important role in communication and is considered the first skill to be acquired, especially with children who are good listeners and grasp the language even before they start to speak. Improving listening skills in a second language is not easy since students have to both process knowledge and linguistic knowledge simultaneously.
However, mobile devices provide plenty of resources to develop the listening skills of learners who can be exposed to authentic material such as songs, video and news. Language apps such as ABA English make excellent use of conversational videos of local accents embedded into stories, whilst Verbling allows users to converse directly with native teachers across the world by video call.
But it’s only the start of the journey…
A review of mobile language learning applications, trends, challenges and opportunities has shown that, in the commercial app space, there is a predominant focus on teaching language as isolated vocabulary words rather than contextualised usage. Most offer very little explanatory, correct feedback, and there is little adaptation to the needs of individual learners. Despite advances in language teaching that have stressed the importance of communicative competence, technology is still primarily used for vocabulary instruction rather than fluency-building.
Mobile devices and apps are helping more people access teachers across the world and listen to conversations in local accents. This real-world learning is further benefited by the lack of time and transportation needed to arrange online lessons as opposed to attending language schools.
“Learning is coming out of the classroom and into the big wide world where people are much more in control,” says Rosalind Potts of University College London.
However, there is still room for improvements to be made with technology, including the incorporation of more adaptive learning features that would provide a more personalised experience, both in terms of content delivered during instruction as well as feedback and recognition of written text. Tech needs to take the learner further towards a more communicative, holistic model that reflects our current understanding of language ability and acquisition.