Tag Archives: apps

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.
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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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Am I learning Japanese?

I am in the process. More accurately, a couple of days ago I pulled myself out of the 2-month stagnation process, thanks to this post of Sandy Millin about how she actually is learning Russian. Thanks again, Sandy, for this unintended nudge, which I’m just hopeful will mean effort on my part for more than a few days after this post is out.

Over to the more detailed answer to the question in the title. I am learning, of course. Am I enjoying Japanese? Very much. Am I progressing? Well, I believe I am. Am I happy with my progress (and myself learning)? Not at all. The funniest thing for me here was to look back and track out my post of Dec 3, 2013, the moment when, having studied Japanese for a whole one long week, I came up with morals and lessons, both for myself, for students, and for the community. Little did I know then what months ahead had in store.

 

I’m writing this post to:

(1) display the viewable fruit of my effort and tell about my studies. Explain, comment.

(2) ask myself questions resulting from (1). Wonder, speculate…

(3) .. and not despair.

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Even though pictures in the posts here in this emerging space of a blog is not much my style (the serene black&white somehow appeals to me), I’ll insert some images here. I was blown away by Sandy’s, to be honest. It is also past my understanding why I, a teacher who keeps telling students to surround their living space with as much English as possible, have failed to do so. Anyway, what’s on display here in (1)? Here’s what one could find in my room and suppose I’m studying Japanese:

photo 11

Most basic Kanji characters taped to the wall in front of my desk. That really means I look at these every day. I can recognize, draw and pronounce the highlighted ones. My confession, one I never imagined myself making, is that I love kanji. I’m also quite keen on hiragana symbols and think they look attractive (maybe that’s why I managed to learn them easily), but katakana syllabary just won’t settle in and really causes frustration at times.

photo1 2

The three owls are staring at me daily with the easiest of conversational Japanese. One of these days I will be giving them neighbours, there are a lot lined up waiting. I’ve found these owls have truly done their job well – I can assure you I know these phrases.

photo1 4

Next up – the box. Old-style cards with random Japanese words and phrases I pick up from here and there (written in kana and where possible in kanji lately) and the English for them on the other side. No context for them as yet. I hope you now have at least one question on the tip of your tongue finger about this box contents. Save it for (2), please.

photo 3

I have no course book. This picture book is the only book for Japanese studies I have, and this is now maybe a shame, already. While being openly a let’s-stay-away-from-coursebook teacher, as a learner I have ironically started wishing for a nice glossy-paged thin volume of something with exercises I could mechanically complete. I would then see the pages covered as an achievement and would likely brag about that now. However, in my one episode of a Japanese coursebook hunt, the books I found were offering me to learn Japanese through Russian AND through the methodology of the 60s. I politely refused.

Apart from the book I have a whole file for kanji writing practice. From this website I downloaded all kinds of seemingly relevant files, one of which was the first 103 kanji with stroke order and space to practise. I’m taking my time, going through them at my own *snail slow* pace.

photo 15One of my two notebooks for studies is the one for random, or all, kind of notes. There’s no structure there at all. The pages at the back of the notebook would reveal my attempt at keeping vocabulary lists but it didn’t work out for me, I see no reason/use in having words listed like that. That is, at this particular moment, for myself.

The other notebook was just started a few days ago and is for recording and practising grammar and vocabulary from this app. The app is great for me since its materials are accessible offline and that’s what I need, since I spend hours in Moscow metro where wifi is still a promise. The initial Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese looks to be a comprehensive resource in itself and I just wish I had time or whatever it is I need to check back there once in a while. Plus I’ve just now joined the corresponding FB group, whatever that means for my future studies.

While speaking of apps, here’s the last picture for this post.

photo

Phone and iPad screenshots for this folder would be about the same. I have only used Sketches app on the phone to practise drawing hiragana, but I now think maybe I could get back to it for kanji as well. My point is having/writing the same things (characters, words, phrases) in different places around me: in pen&paper notes, in phone or tablet notes, in apps, on sticky notes. There are two more apps in this folder I haven’t found a way to make real use of, so they’re waiting for their turn. One app I’m totally not getting is… Quizlet. I created sets, I played with them, I tested myself. It’s not interesting for me and I’m not impressed or convinced, or unhappy about it either, for that matter.

I am happy though that I found this blog by Matthew Ellman. Matthew recommended me to try out Memrise for myself, which I did. You can see there were 47 notifications from the app at the moment of taking the screenshot, and that should prove I’m studying but somehow lagging behind the app) Actually, Memrise is surely in top 3 useful resources for my Japanese vocabulary, so thanks very much, Matthew.

Busuu is pretty great and I used it quite consistently and successfully for two months last summer to pick up some basic Italian before my holidays there. What I like(d) about it best was that there’s this community part of every unit you go through, where you’re asked to produce some language based on questions they ask or commenting on pictures, etc. It did work for my super basic Italian, and is yet to be seen for my ultra basic Japanese.

 

What are other “materials” I turn to in my relaxed/ lax approach to self-studying Japanese?

* Video and audio podcast from JapanesePod101.com. They’ve got plenty of collections aimed at different levels and for various purposes. Only from one introductory audio I learnt (and remembered) when and why to say いただきます (itadakimasu), おいしい (oishii), まあまあ (maa maa) and ごちそうさま (gochisousama).

* Being an Instagram addict user (frequent but sensible), I follow several accounts which post pictures for learners of Japanese, or accounts of learners of Japanese. I find it useful and interesting to study hashtags in particular, even if かわいい (kawaii) seems to be the all-around favourite.

* Every day there’s at least one status update in Japanese in my Facebook feed. When it doesn’t look too daunting, I copy it out (especially so if it’s just one line) and break it down with the help of the dictionary.

* There are occasional blog findings that refer to the language or culture that I go through (like, for example, recently this post about the blood types of Japan, or RocketNews24).

* In the Facebook group for students I have written about there are enough active members from Japan, and I sometimes learn from them as well (またね- matane, for instance).

* I try to read every product label in Japanese that I happen to see. That’s difficult, as they’re mostly written in katakana (which as I said I’m still struggling with). Besides, it becomes impossible as soon as I see a row of kanji characters.

* I watched “My Neighbour Totoro” for the 4th time with my niece this weekend, and while we understandably were watching it in Russian, I was happy to note that I could catch and understand some bits of original Japanese there. Or catch, type in a dictionary and learn a new word (まって- matte).

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(2) Thoughts and questions now:

– My decision to go for self-studying is a conscious choice. Is it the right track? Am I losing much? A week ago I wrote a post on how/IF teachers can motivate students to learn a language outside of class. My case is *formally* no class. Who motivates me? Am I motivated? What’s responsible for that? Would classes help motivation and/or progress?

– I’ve mentioned “here and there” above. Well, this is exactly the essence of “my method”, which I still almost believe should work one day. Sporadic, spontaneous nature of learning… is it the nature of learning a language, especially when you’re thousands of miles away from the target culture? My biggest concern about the success of my studies comes out of my most grounded belief that I don’t need a rigid system to reach a certain language level. I’m ready to reconsider.

– It’s true that the only person I speak to in Japanese outloud (introducing myself, asking for chopsticks, greeting, encouraging for studies, etc)) is me. This is one big problem with opting for self-studying Japanese in Moscow.

I invite you to ask me more questions.

I am making an effort to surround myself with Japanese. Am I learning it? Some learning is happening, but because it’s unsystematic, or because it’s been a while since I last diligently spent 15 minutes per day for 7 days in a row doing something, the current feeling is that of self-doubt. I have a very vague idea of how sentences are structured. Though, of course, I have a big picture and know a lot more than I did 5 months ago, and I’d now come up with several very simple “can do” statements for myself. If need be, that is.

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(3) This morning I’m excited again. One result of a tweet exchange around the topic of teachers learning languages was the discovery of Kimchi Bites blog where Martin Sketchley shares his experience self-studying Korean (this particular post with the comment thread was key for inspiring me make an action). My immediate plan is to put this present excitement into practical solutions. Realistically, I won’t be able to run yet another blog, so I’m going to blog about how my Japanese is going here. The regularity cannot be promised, but is hypothetically a post once a week/fortnight.

Another result is this realistic challenge from Matthew. Looks like the next post in the Japanese series is round the corner! Community support, nudge and competition is fun and exciting.

 

This post, however, is over now. You have read 1800+ words. Arigatou.

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Sake, sushi and a kiss

The title of the post can make you think I will be writing about a recent visit to a Japanese restaurant. Or a poem. Or a movie script.
Well, I might. Bear with me and read on.

さけ
すし
ちゅ

A week ago I started to learn Japanese. There’s nothing to feel extremely proud of yet, I haven’t learnt even half of Hiragana syllabary. But I can read something, I can draw some symbols, and I remember these three words very well.
I learnt German at the university – and gave it up. I started to learn Italian, twice – and gave it up. It’s not much of statistics but could probably lead to a thought that I still have chances to fail. Indeed, perseverance without a distinct, articulate, Big Thing purpose is not my story. That is why I like to hope that this time I’ll do better, and not only because I’ve got the Purpose and I’ve exposed my baby-learner status. I am not alone, and I am aware.
More findings of this last week below:

(1) Having the Purpose is helpful but in the long run it can be a little intimidating. When I started to study German my aim sounded something like “I want to read Remarque in original”. This is a bit of a delusion for a beginner in any language. Aspiration, yes, but not too good a goal. At the moment my micro-goals in Japanese include having a decent 15-minute daily lesson and being focused on what I’m learning. That means sitting down at the desk and writing. During the day I try to liven up my long metro commute and study more with the help of two or three apps.

Moral I’m taking out of this for my students: little aim is a useful aim. Be realistic about what you can do, then do it and stay pleased with yourself, not frustrated at your inability to come up to your own expectations.

(2) During this week I have come to see very clearly one truth about learning a language that I have always known (and it’s nothing revolutionary, you all know it, it’s just nice to think of it from another angle). Language learning does not happen in a linear way. Getting pieces of a language system together comes as a gradual consequence of a chain of tiny discoveries of every single learning moment, of every given (and taken) learning opportunity. My examples:
– I downloaded several apps both for iPhone and iPad and try to use them occasionally, on both devices. One of the apps constitutes my basic “syllabus” of learning to write, pronounce and read hiragana syllables. A couple of others work on different levels (a basic grammar guide, busuu, dictionary, study cards from that hiragana app).
– There is a notebook to practise writing kana (symbols) and simple examples, all coming from the app.
– There is a notebook to record vocabulary I come across (which for now is all mostly passive). In the same notebook I started a Week Recap section, where I basically sum up all I’ve learnt about Japanese from different sources during the week of study.
– I printed out Hiragana syllabary and look at it. (Very useful, give it a try, looking at something)
– I created a photo album in my iPhone for all pics and screenshots connected with studying Japanese. Look at them)
– I downloaded an app which enables me to “sketch” on the phone. So I practise writing on my way. Then I may post a screenshot of some word I like in my Instagram account as my #wordoftheday. I am sure followers, especially the majority of my Russian friends, think I’m nuts.)
– I visited my sister at the weekend and stayed with my 7-year old niece. We practiced learning together. For example, I drew a symbol (like き) and pronounced it (ki), she had to write it in Russian. That was fun.
– There is this good friend (thank you!), who can sometimes be seen online wearing a hat, following newly-born movements (see P.S.) and writing excellent posts, who is not bothered (or is bothered but too kind to say so) to throw in some really tough but real life examples, that is words for me to read. Or I’d say lines of symbols to decipher. These are then supplied with comments of how/ why/ what for that happens in the language. This is all terribly exciting and challenging, too. (Tip for the students – have somebody teach you, who is not formally your teacher, and who will supply you with bits of information about the language in a (yes! Again) non-linear way.)

Moral I’m taking out of this for my students: think 360 degrees, 24 hours and other dimensions. Use your imagination.

(3) First time in the two years of my geeky teacher life I’ve started to use Quizlet. I don’t know most vocabulary items I’ve put there. Words out of context and out of a bigger scheme of understanding of how the language works don’t sink in. Obviously except for those, which are either beautiful, or short, or are sake, sushi and kiss.

Moral I’m taking out of this for my students: before suggesting to your students some method or tool for learning a language, try it out for yourself. It’s interesting that last week I showed Quizlet to three of my students. One of them got off it immediately, the other two are still holding to it. The teenage girl went crazy about it, needed no explanation at all how to manage the sets, how to add words and study and play games. Fun!

Whether I fail or make a little progress is not a question. At the moment I perceive these studies as a process I enjoy. Every day I rush home imagining how I will take the pen and start writing these beautiful kana, line after line, like my niece is doing with the Russian letters and syllables. How I’ll combine them, try to give them their sound. Try again.
And there’s more to come.

Here’s a picture with the only aim to be shown as a thumbnail image of this post.

20131203-005435.jpg

P.S. The Glorious #FlashmobELT Movement.

P.P.S. Here are links to the three blogs of teachers/ teacher trainers learning a language, writing about their journeys. Their journeys have been much more exciting (and longer) than mine, they’re definitely worth a read.

Vicky Loras on opening her eyes and starting to study German.
Ken Wilson and his series “Diary of a language learner”
Scott Thornbury’s “(De-)Fossilization Diaries

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