The Linguist

The Linguist 54,5

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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24 The Linguist Vol/54 No/5 2015 FEATURES Language learning apps have exploded in a few short years but are they any good? To find out, a team of academics in Spain designed a method for assessing apps teaching English M obile learning offers modern ways to support the learning process through devices such as handheld computers and smartphones. Educational apps have been classified and categorized using rubrics for an unbiased evaluation 1 but there is still a lot to be done in the field of foreign language teaching. Our team at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid researched the qualities and constraints of the most notable Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) applications in the market by analysing them from a pedagogic and linguistic point of view. We had already been working together as part of the group ATLAS (Applying Technology to Languages), which has carried out a series of state-funded projects for a number of years. Phase 1: Analysing the apps There were three phases to our study of MALL apps. The objective of phase 1 was to analyse and categorize some of the more than 80,000 educational applications available for mobile devices, gaining knowledge of the features that are most effective and suitable for learners. 2 This would represent a starting point from which to develop our own app. This phase focused on the pedagogic goals of the apps using an original rubric based on a scale of one to five, and three criteria: the apps' cognitive value; similarities with the pedagogic aims of ATLAS's SO-CALL-ME project (Social Ontology-Based Cognitively Augmented Language Learning Mobile Environment); 3 and complementarity with those aims. Of the 67 English as a Foreign Language (EFL) apps we assessed, more than a third presented technical problems at the time of downloading or starting, and the vast majority were only available for Apple devices. The most expensive were mobile versions of traditional dictionaries or grammar tests, costing up to €30. A second group were downloadable for €1-€3, or as a free sample with the possibility to obtain further packs for a small amount. A final group were English courses where the price varied according to the needs of the user and/or seasonal offers. The apps could also be categorised as: 1 Games, e.g. those available from Cambridge English Online 2 Versions of textbooks, e.g. Cambridge's EFL methods 3 Apps providing vocabulary, grammar and/or pronunciation practice, such as Johnny Grammar's Quiz Master; or allowing conversation practice with other users, e.g. The Language Campus 4 Adapted online courses, such as EF's EnglishTown 5 Apps exploiting the use of language in context, such as podcasts (e.g. Talking Business English), videos (e.g. Conversation English), films (e.g. English Attack!) and cartoons (e.g. Big City Small World). This type of app was the most closely related to the interests and goals of our project, as contextualized teaching is a driving force in our pedagogical approach. Some apps presented features that differentiated them from the rest and provided added value. These included drag- and-drop facilities; the possibility to draw with your finger; connectivity with social networks; and the inclusion of an avatar, as in Cambridge's free QuizUp. As Alan Cohen states, 4 avatars are useful for online education because they provide the human interaction that is natural in classrooms. Phase 2: Evaluation design The results of the assessment phase 5 gave us an idea of the features and limitations of the apps, and an overview of the educational aspects covered. A quantitative scrutiny allowed us to ascertain the limited scope of many of the existing products, which often provide rather fragmented language practice. We then analysed those apps providing more contextualized practice, 6 developing a quality guide and a rubric for the evaluation and creation of educational apps. The guide, based on one created by Ana Fernández- Pampillón in 2012, 7 combines pedagogical criteria (cognitive value and pedagogic coherence, content quality, capacity to generate learning, interactivity and adaptability, motivation) with technical criteria Mobile learning gets REALL Top five EFL apps Englishfeed Speakingpal Clear Speech Learn English Audio & Video Learn English Elementary Podcasts

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