Monthly Archives: July 2014

Apps. Illusions and facts.

I have just read this post and thought maybe I have more to say on the topic than a reasonably sized blog post comment would fit. It’s about apps, students, and teachers in between (or by the side).

Within 2 years I’ve come quite a way from being frantically and irritably enthusiastic about apps for learning English to being bearably enthusiastic and critical about their content, value and purpose. The history of my iTunes purchases would show you positively more than 50 various apps, either specifically designed and presented as tools for learning a foreign language or fit for that goal from my view (at the moment of purchase). It would be a strong and valid argument that my devices are a curious teacher’s devices, bound to be different from any curious student’s ones.

There are several statements, open for criticism of course, that I believe to be largely true.

1) Students need guidance in choosing apps. Producing a list of apps, whether long or short, is not guidance.
2) To think and hope that students will continually and persistently use apps you recommend, or apps they find on their own, would be an illusion.
3) Some apps will stick, most won’t. It’s highly individual. Most just won’t!
4) Recognize the difference between apps for use in class WITH a teacher and apps for use outside of class.

Random comments now.

On durability:
If you have ever played a game on your phone, you might have noticed that it gets boring pretty soon. Some games last longer in your phone than others but all of them without exception come to a dead end in terms of your interest in them. The same, in my experience, relates to apps for learning a language. Any apps which are not in your day-to-day use will likely have a short life span.

On the key factor:
The key factor being what it is that personally suits your style of… not really learning a language, but rather having a relationship with your phone. My example is this: I’m subscribed to quite a few podcasts. Some of them I rarely but do use in class. Others were added with a fair prospect of listening to in my spare time, or long commute hours. That was an illusion. Fact: there’s something in listening to podcasts as a type of activity that does not tick for me. However, I know people who are regular listeners and do that with pleasure, which I’m jealous of. I’m ready and willing to learn that skill… Some day. 🙂

On apps used with or without teacher:
There are apps intended to be used in an instruction-led mode, that is for classroom use, for homework, for a course of English. For me the best (or worst) example is Quizlet, which I still can’t imagine to be used by a student of mine, on their own, for the fun of adding own flashcards and playing vocabulary games there is questionable. It looks a nerdy pastime, really, and, as “Jenny” rightfully noted, phones are perceived as a nice way to relax after studying and working hard.

Not to appear overly grumpy, here’s a list of apps designed for autonomous language study but proved working/ popular among my friends and students:
Memrise (mentioned previously here – and, by the way, I gave up on it for now)
Duolingo (recommended by a few teacher and non-teacher friends)
Lingualeo (all-time favorite for Russian learners for several years! Lots of positive comments and nice feedback. Some of my colleagues at the university where I teach use it in class and for homework.)
Busuu (my personal favorite which does work for me, or rather would work if I were a disciplined learner)

Now this is where I see the dissonance that could be mended. The ubiquitous association is “books and notebooks = studying (and doing it hard); phone and apps = friends and fun”. Look at your phone, browse through what’s in it. My guess is your home screen would probably reflect your interests and lifestyle. This is exactly what I see as a chance for those apps to make way into your (= a language learner’s) mobile device. Apps which are not originally made for learning any language could become pleasant and discreet partners in your daily life. Those apps which do not thrust much of focused linguistic exposure on you, but provide you with the content you’re up for, in systematic view and following recognizable patterns. Fotopedia for photos and stories, Instagram for photos and communication with friends, TripAdvisor for travelling, Horoscopes for the lovers of horoscopes, Infographics for the lovers of figures and facts, Fitness for sports and training programmes, Games (first thing on my mind) for anyone – whatever comes along with the specific scope of interests of the cell phone owner looks potentially English-worthy to me. If you’d like to push students’ use of apps, be nagging and ask for feedback on it once in a while. I often chat with my students about it or just show interest in what’s in their phones.

*****
Being a teacher, I might not be a typical learner of a foreign language, but since most of my Japanese studies happen in the realm of mobile devices, here’s what I can share.
– My 日本語 folder is full with 12 apps, only three of which I regularly use.
– Phone itself is set in Japanese, so the majority of all other apps operate in Japanese, too. Which, frankly speaking, is oftentimes frustrating but also fun.
– Blog posts and articles I find online (on culture, language, grammar, whatever else Japanese) are saved in Pocket app. It’s helpful for me to get back to the same things again and again.
– There are a couple of great Japanese-speaking chat partners that agree to chat with me in Line. Stressful, enjoyable, Japanese-only chat time. I love it and hope it is useful, even if unsystematic (or thanks to it maybe?).
– One day I’ll write a separate post on this issue… For now I’ll just admit to reading a guide to Japanese grammar (!!! reading a grammar guide, seriously, me) AND finding it very useful. Yes, it is an app.
*****

My final lines, possibly summarizing all those bits and pieces of facts and thoughts about apps:
Mike asks why Korean students don’t use apps for learning English. I’m not saying it by way of giving an answer, but my belief is that the problem lies in the wording and expectation from this wording – “an app for learning English”. I might very well be wrong in my assumption that Korean/ Russian/ Italian/ Indonesian/ Finnish/ etc learners of English would have the same reasoning as Jenny. They could, though, start using apps for learning English as soon as these apps stop being handed over to them as apps for learning English. Or they could already be using their phones in the ways that they do and enriching their English, without giving it much of a serious thought. And this, to me, is also fine.

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The Life of Me, Teacher

This unembellished narration, telling briefly about almost 9 years of my life as a teacher, among other roles, was written for a reason. The reason is not to say yet more and more about myself – I’m certainly coping with the task to be running a self-centered blog very well. The reason behind writing this is the upcoming IATEFL webinar. On July 19th Barb Sakamoto will be talking about the Lives of English Language Teachers. This story is just one particular professional journey of several years up to now. It does not aim to impress, ask for a moral, or inspire. I’ll say more after the 3 paragraphs of the journey.

A beginning teacher (9 years ago?).
I didn’t enter a teacher training university to become a teacher. I wanted to study English and I wanted to work in a profession that would mean being around people, that was my reasoning. Like most of my university mates, I started tutoring kids when in my second year of studies. That was more of a game at first, having fun making own crosswords and cutting lots of flashcards (apparently, there’s an age when it is a fun game)). Then, as part of our study course, we had to teach for a month in a comprehensive school in the 4th year of studies. That experience involved intensive teaching, planning, observing, feedback receiving and handling extra-curricular activities. Somehow it happened that I, surprisingly for myself, fell for the excitement of working with the kids. A month after this mandatory teaching practice finished, I found myself a job as a part-time English teacher at a small private school. I felt the thrill, pride and importance of being a teacher. Well, to cut a long story short, 2 years after I quit, both happily and with a heavy heart of feeling frustrated about education system in my country that I’d experienced (more about why it so happened in my blog post here).

About halfway, and getting to the tipping point.
For a little over a year after I quit there was downtime and feeling down, too, for me. I toyed with an idea of trying myself in some other job, went to a couple of interviews, and that was enough to realize teaching felt as a best fit for me at that time. I started teaching in-company (both General and Business English), I got employed by a leading university in Russia. All in all, I found myself in a good place, where I finally felt interested and comfortable teaching. I’d describe the time as smooth and routinely exciting. The familiar routine was rocked incidentally by joining Twitter, learning there’s a whole global world of ELT (also learning about the acronym), and meeting Chuck Sandy online, all of that in the spring of 2011. Since that time my life as a teacher has changed in many ways, some of which can be traced online – on iTDi website, on Twitter and Facebook, on my blog.

Now, summer 2014.
I’m still working at the same university and I’m enjoying it. I’m still teaching English to adults, while also helping them to remember (or often to relearn) how to learn. I’ve found out there’s comfort zone and it feels challenging, necessary and rewarding for me to be stretching it by presenting at conferences, talking to other teachers, listening to them, thinking about my classes and writing about these.

I never wanted to be a teacher and I don’t presume I “was born to be one”. It’s my belief that a person can be anything he/ she wants as long as there’s realization about this, confidence, pain and effort, and acceptance of the way to be thorny, though sometimes rosy, too. That totally depends on your perspective. My way now is interesting and inviting, allowing me to have time and chance to think and improvise. Now I’d like to change my teaching context in a way more radical than instructing learners of another education stage (besides, I feel like “a veteran” who’s seen enough of it here – I get the idea of ELT in Russia). I wish to see how I would cope with teaching, students, and teaching students in Japan, Brazil, New Zealand, etc. At the same time, I wish for myself to be writing more and better, about things I know or spend so much of my time contemplating about. I imagine I could very well be anything other than a teacher, still, and maybe I will. A columnist, a psychologist, a gallerist, some other -ist. I wouldn’t mind being a teacher all the while, too. 🙂

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you there —> Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto – ‘The Lives of English Language Teachers’, July 19th.

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