Revolutionising Languages learning with edtech resources

Rachel Smith

Rachel Smith is a Modern Foreign Languages teacher currently teaching in a comprehensive school on the Isle of Man, where she teaches French, Spanish and leads on edtech and digital learning. Prior to island life, she worked in comprehensive schools in and around Sheffield.  Rachel is an Apple Distinguished Educator.

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Originally published on 23rd May 2016 Originally published on 23rd May 2016

You’ve just been gifted 120 iPads by a very kind benefactor. Which department would you give them to? For me, the answer is a real no brainer: the Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) department. Some would say I’m biased, and maybe that’s true, but I have put my impartial hat on to answer that question and although Humanities came a very close second I still maintain that MFL naturally lends itself to technology use.

Since the inception of GCSE way back in the 1980s (and one could argue even earlier than that), language learning has been broken into four distinct strands: listening, reading, speaking and writing. It is my view, that the learning of a language can be hugely augmented by the use of technology.

"Modern language learning is the most practical and creative subject on the curriculum."

I’ve been using iPads in my classroom for four years now, and it is clear that the subject lends itself very nicely to technology use. Not only is it a modern day language lab all wrapped up in shiny aluminium and glass, but it also enables you to bring the culture and people right into your classroom.

Modern language learning is the most practical and creative subject on the curriculum. What you learn in my classroom today can be instantly applied in the appropriate foreign country tomorrow. Modern language learning opens windows and doors on the world, and the use of technology in class only serves to assist this.

When using technology in the classroom, the first thing you need to establish is a good workflow. My school is a GAFE (Google Apps for Education) school, so we currently use Google Classroom, but other alternatives worth a look are iTunesU and Showbie. Workflow essentially addresses getting work to the students and then back to you? How will you mark and give feedback on the work submitted? This element of technology use needs careful consideration, but once in place you are good to go!

For me, the number one language skill is that of speaking. This is where the iPad comes into its own. Even with the best will in the world, it is impossible for an MFL teacher to hear each child speak the foreign language in a lesson. Technology helps us to overcome this issue. iPads allow students to easily record themselves using a number of simple apps, and with a strong workflow in place they can readily share their work with you for assessment and feedback. They could do this every lesson if you wanted them to - giving you, as the teacher, a very clear view of the ability of each child.

This in its own right is fantastic, but the use of technology goes one step further - and it’s an important step. Edtech improves confidence in second language speaking. We’ve all been there: you’re asked a question, put on the spot but you don’t really want to answer, you’re a bit sheepish, shy, not wanting to make mistakes, not want others to see what you perceive to be a weakness. For many students, this is how language learning feels every time they step into your classroom.

Using technology can help them to increase their confidence and independence while giving you a true view of what they are capable of, rather than some mumble from the corner of the classroom each lesson. iPad gives these students something to hide behind. Apps such as Yakit Kids, MSQRD and the wonderful Adobe Voice allows them to create a new persona for themselves. Because you can’t actually see them when they speak, and nor can anyone else for that matter, the nerves and concerns seem to just disappear.

Previously, access to authentic materials meant that you had to go and physically acquire them from the foreign country in question. In the case of reading texts and for-listening texts, most of us relied on the not-so-authentic material provided in textbooks. Nowadays you don’t even need to leave your desk to have a wealth of authentic materials at your fingertips.

I love using the website Audio-Lingua to search for short authentic listening texts. There is a huge variety of languages on this site, and you can search based not only on language but by topic and difficulty too. It goes without saying that Youtube holds a wealth of material for the MFL teacher to exploit, from pop videos to Peppa Pig in French and pretty much everything else in between.

The question is though, how can we easily exploit these materials? Of course, technology can provide some solutions. The browser "You can view the answers as they come in, thus enabling you to assess progress immediately."based tool (it also has an app) Edpuzzle is perfect for exploiting YouTube videos. This tool allows you to import and crop a video from YouTube and then add questions from students to answer. Students then watch the video answering questions as they go. As a teacher you can view the answers as they come in, thus enabling you to assess progress immediately. Students also gain instant feedback on correct and incorrect questions as they progress through the exercise. If you are a Google Classroom user, Edpuzzle shares easily into your classrooms. Other tools worth exploring are Zaption and PlayPosit (formerly eduCanon).

Exploitation of reading materials is also relatively easy with the use of Google Forms and the self-marking script Flubaroo. You can even use Socrative, which is web and app-based, to create reading exercises based on authentic materials for you classes. Again, like Edpuzzle you can download the students answers immediately allowing for instant correction of misconceptions.

Collating information is also a good way of encourage students to read in the foreign language. Why not create a Pinterest board of foreign language jokes and memes, or use Flipboard to gather together interesting articles on a specific topic? This way students don’t have to trawl the internet to find the goods stuff; you’ve already cast your expert eye over things and provided them with items suitable for their age and level of language.

When it comes to writing I tend not to use technology, as I often find it easier for students to write in their books. However, If we are completing a long piece of written work I insist that they make use of Google Docs and our Google Classroom workflow, as it makes feedback, drafting and redrafting that much easier.

The awesome Google suite of tools aside, I do have my favourites when it comes to writing. Reference tools such as the online dictionary WordReference and the verb table tool verve2verbe are used on a daily basis in my classroom. It’s worth pointing out that, at this juncture, we deliberately don’t block Google Translate as it’s important for students to find out that it can be a great tool at single word and simple sentence level. Hoever, get it to try and translate a paragraph well and essentially they end up with gobbledygook - this is a pretty important lesson to learn for most language students! Conjuguemos is also a great web-based tool for practising verb conjugations.

When it comes to planning work, my students love the generic notes app on iPad, or the fabulously beautiful Paper 53 app. If mind mapping is more your style, Popplet is simple and straightforward to use.

Two of my ‘must have’ apps now deserve a mention. Explain Everything pretty much allows students and teachers to do anything in the classroom: explain concepts, make simple animations, write, record "There is seemingly nothing Explain Everything can’t do."speech, make screen casts… there is seemingly nothing this app can’t do, and if you couple its use with mirroring to the main screen in the room via using Apple TV or AirServer, it makes peer feedback and metacognition a doddle!

Book Creator is another incredible app that allows children to make e-books into which they can add all sorts of multimedia, video, text and sound, which makes it perfect for use in the MFL classroom. You can even go one step further and turn your students into published writers by publishing their books via iTunes, or you could even let the world see their work by publishing it on a blog.

Vocabulary learning is an essential part of language learning, but gone are the days of look, cover, write, check. Students can now easily learn vocabulary using online tools such as Quizlet and Memrise. Testing vocabulary need not be a chore either, as you can now gamify tests by using quizzing tools such as Kahoot, Quizlet Live, Quizizz and Socrative.

Finally, when you live on an island in the middle of the Irish sea like myself and my students do, Liverpool can seem a long, long way away - let alone France, Germany or Spain. Using technology can help to bring the world into your classroom. The internet is awash with cool photos of worldwide locations, so why not use them in your presentations and starter activities (check for copyright though and always credit the photographer)? Google Street View allows you to walk down streets in most towns in the world - why not use it when you teach about places in town? Rather than talking about your town, why not talk about a town in a foreign country? Google Street View and the web application AirPano allow students to virtually go to that place by providing 360 degree photos and fly-overs of historic places and cities. You can even virtually meet real foreign people by making use of Skype, Google Hangouts and FaceTime and bringing foreign speakers into your classroom. The etwinning website can help you get started.

Technology opens doors and windows on the world. It can help to make language learning more accessible and more fun. It can help to improve confidence and independence. It allows teachers to easily create materials that are specific to their classes.

Yeah, my ‘free’ 120 iPads are going straight to the languages department.

Do you use edtech in the MFL classroom? Let us know in the comments!

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