Reading & Writing

Miguel Witte - article, written 2014:
Language learning with iPod´s, iPad´s and iPhone´s

Recently I got a new iPodTouch 5th generation with a 32GB memory. It functions in the same way as any modern iPad or iPhone since all devices run the same operating system iOS7. I found that it can be used very productively for language teaching and teacher training purposes as I will try to outline in the following sections.

The bubble

If there is one catchword in foreign language learning that sounds magical it´s: full immersion programme. This program surrounds the learner so that his focus is exclusively on the target language he is learning and ensures that he is fully submersed at all times. For example, a student attends a language course, lives with an English family and converses in English at all times. The hypothetical situation is, of course, extremely productive due to the the great deal of exposure to the language that he gains. The question is: How can a student attain this type of experience in his native country without the possibility of going abroad? A productive solution to that problem could be to use mobile devices for language learning. Never has there been access to such a great amount of native speaker content within foreign language learning, be it audio, video or as text. Language learners should utilize that material to compile content which is suited to their level and fully immerse themselves in that content, ideally, on a daily basis. This would be comparable to living in a foreign language `bubble´ for a limited amount of time resulting in an increase in their exposure to the foreign language.


Audible is a branch of Amazon which sells audiobooks. Even for lovers of traditional books, the discovery of audiobooks is like entering a new world. The main advantage of the format is that it is much more ubiquitous and timesaving because almost any mp3 player can reproduce them at anytime and anywhere. The "audible" app is available on Apple´s App Store as well as on GooglePlay for Android users, and it offers convenient functions like bookmarks, listening statistics and search functions. Audible offers a wide array of audio books which are specifically designed to aid learners of English and can complement the classroom. Advanced students can gain access to audiobooks in English. Instead of literature I have found non fiction and biographies highly suitable for improving my English. Motivational books can also be interesting. I found Brian Tracy´s "Flight Plan" very inspiring and the next book on my list is Malcolm Gladwells "Outliers. The true story of success"

Audible: www.audible.com

lynda.com - teacher tips

Lynda.com is a commercial online videocourse platform. It mainly offers courses on computer related topics but interesting courses for teachers are also available. All videocourses are led by professional trainers and the video is complemented with written transcripts that are displayed on the screen as the video progresses. It has proven to be very productive for me when I have needed to improve my computer skills with regard to my teaching activity. The following courses were extremely helpful: "Google Doc essential training and "iPad Tips and Tricks". The last course I took was "Teacher Tips" by Aaron Quigley which offered me a wealth of insight into useful resources related to the internet and computers in general and how to integrate them into my classroom context.

With a monthly no strings attached subscription rate of 25 dollars it really offers value for money. The lynda.com app can be downloaded both for Android and iOS but only iOS users with a premium subscription are allowed to download courses on to their device in order to watch them offline.

lynda.com: www.lynda.com

iTunes and iTunes U

I get access to podcasts and videocasts through Apple´s iTunes, which is a free downloadable programme from Apple for both Windows and Mac computers. In order to find out about podcasts the user has to start within the interface of the programme at the iTunes Store, a name that is somewhat misleading. While it is perfectly possible to buy films and music there, lots of educational podcasts and videocasts are available for free.

The iTunes programme offers another section, called iTunes U, (where U stands for University) which provides the user with access to video and audio material from top universities around the world on an incredibly wide array of different subjects. The iTunes U section offers also learning material produced by primary and secondary schools. A quick search for the sake of this article took me to the "Alabama Learning Exchange" English Resources section where I found a video giving instructions on how to write a friendly letter suitable for secondary students.

iTunes has its own apps for iOS devices, they are called "iTunes U2 and "Podcast" and are available from the app store for free and thus it is possible to access content directly from the device.

iTunes: http://www.apple.com/itunes

English as a second language - podcast

One of the best podcasts I have discovered via iTunes is called "English as a Second Language" and is packaged and presented by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. More from the Institute and their podcasts can be found at www.eslpod.com . Every podcast presents a medium length conversation between two people on an everyday topic like "Buying Electronic Books", "Sports -Related Injuries" or "Taking Up a New Hobby". The user starts listening to the conversation at a slower pace. Afterwards McQuillan goes through the vocabulary and explains the meanings of the words and phrases in a manner that is easy to take in. The last part of these podcasts presents the conversation at a normal speed. Whilst listening to the podcast on my iPod Touch, a simple tap of the screen displays in order to bring up the transcript of the dialogue for my perusal.

Another section in this podcast series is the "English Café" which is released once a week and presents two or three thoroughly prepared topics from American culture or history which are presented in an entertaining way. The podcasts themselves can be downloaded for free and users can also obtain access to a paid membership which provides them with a learning guide of 8-10 pages for every new podcast episode which includes complete transcripts, definitions, sample sentences, comprehension questions, additional explanations, cultural notes and a podcast newsletter. The podcast is ideal for using in classes at B1 or B2 level.


Coursera is an online course platform that was initiated by some preeminent American universities. It provides video courses concerning a wide variety of topics which can be accessed for free, requiring only a username and a password. I enrolled on a course called "How to reason and argue" by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Ram Neta from Duke University. Since I could not attend the course when it started I was able to download the videos with an iOS app called "Courses for Coursera" and there are equivalent apps for Android Users as well. The downloaded course has enabled me to watch it offline wherever and whenever I want. The course itself is highly interesting, the topic is presented in an entertaining way and the overall multimedia video design makes it easy to follow. The topic of this course is, obviously, not intended to be used for ESL language lessons but I have found that the content has increased my awareness of the use of language as a whole significantly. For that reason I believe that it would not be unreasonable to use an isolated section or video in order to illustrate a point on courses at B2 or C1 level.

The projector

In my classroom I have a laptop with internet access which is connected to a projector. I usually use a google docs document when I am presenting something on the board. I share these documents with my students through google cloud and gmail so that they can have access to the board annotations after the class whenever they want. I have now discovered that my new iPodTouch 5g, as well as an iPhone, can be connected to the projector so that any educational material such as podcasts, videocasts, lynda.com tutorials or any educational app interface can be projected on to the board. Therefore, I am looking forward to sharing apps that have the potential to simultaneously boost teaching and learning

Speak English

Speaking English of course is one of the most important classroom activities and probably the main reason why students attend language lessons. However it is perfectly possible to increase English fluency outside the classroom as well, as a homework assignment for example. Every computer, smartphone or iPod Touch has the ability to make voice-recordings. I recently asked one of my students to record a summary of a short story we had read in class and to share with me the mp3 file through google drive . It turned out to be a worthwhile task for a student who perceived it to have been an enriching experience, and I was also able to give him useful feedback highlighting the good as well as some hints about errors. Of course I did not give him a full account of all his mistakes which would have been overwhelming due to time constraints but the feedback was enough to further his efforts in language learning. Lots of assignments could be completed utilizing recording software. Contemplate oral diary or exam preparation exercises which could be recorded and analysed in depth in class with the authorization of the students.


For me one of the most important features of an iPodTouch (running iOS7) is Siri. Siri is a voice assistant one can speak to. It works like this: Double tap the home screen button, a ring-tone comes up as a prompt to start speaking and then it is up to the user to ask Siri questions. Lets begin with: "Hello, Siri. How are you today?" and Siri answers with something like "Thank you. I am fine" The conversation could continue with: "What is the weather like in New York?" and Siri gives the following answer spoken out loud: "Here´s the weather for New York City, NY,US between today and Thursday." followed by a texted weather report from your integrated weather app. You can even ask Siri to send an email to someone: "Send an e-mail to Michael" and Siri asks: "What´s the subject of the email?" You continue with: "Subject: Weather Report" and Siri continues: "Ok, What would you like the email to say?" My answer could be: "The weather in New York is fine. Ready to send it." And all I have to do is to push the "Send" button or to say "Send" and Siri answers: "Okay, I´ll send it". Every question and every answer is displayed as text on the screen and thus perfectly readable and also trackable backwards and forwards. The user can choose a male or a female voice. Possible wrong pronunciation results in mispelling and could generate answers like: "I don´t understand you." which is quite informative and educational as well in the context of language teaching. By tapping on the question mark on the lower left side of the programme interface a large list appears displaying possible topics one might like to ask Siri about. In addition, it is easy to find large lists of questions already formulated for Siri on the web. Overall Siri is an amazing tool which could be productively used in one to one or small group classes with a list of questions that have been previously prepared by students or teachers.

.... but I don´t have time

This is all very wonderful one might think but who really has the time to deal with all these courses, audiobooks and apps? While it is perfectly true that there is no iPhone, iPod, iPad tablet, phablet (phone+tablet) or smartphone that offers any app that generates more time, I have found that they allow me to use my time more productively. I not only use it whenever there is a free moment but also when I am doing my workout at the gym. While I am on the crosstrainer or on the bike I can easily place my device in front of me and follow some kind of video-course and while I am doing some exercise on other devices I can listen to a podcast or an audiobook.

Videoteaching and -learning in English will become mainstream

With all this content that is out there at anyone´s disposal, language students will make use of it with or without the help or guidance of teachers. Online video teaching on mobile devices will become mainstream. Just read Salman Khan´s very instructive book "The One-World Schoolhouse" or open a user account at khanacademy.org to see how much content for primary and secondary students is already available as videoteaching on a wide array of languages. Nonetheless, English will definitely become more important than ever before as most of the best educational content in any given field is delivered as video-training and exclusively in English. Not knowing English in order to follow a video course will result in students falling further behind. English has been and is the number one foreign language to learn and it will remain so in the future.

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