Sunday, October 4, 2015

5 Free Digital Resources For #ELL #ESL #TESOL Students & Those Learning a Foreign Language

I took four years of Spanish during my school years, though you wouldn’t know it if you tried having a conversation with me in Spanish. My experience is not unusual. The way language is typically taught in the United States often does not result with language acquistion at the end. I wonder if things would have been different if I was a student today in a time when technology provides such terrific ways to learn languages.

Here are five free digital resources, that can support modern learners in language acquisition.

1) Duolingo
Has become a popular app to support the learning of another language. It’s gamification elements make it both fun and addictive. You can earn points for correct answers, race against the clock, and level up. The bite-sized lessons are effective and here is proof that it works. More than 100,000 classrooms are using Duolingo. Teachers can easily track their students’ progress, run in-class activities and assign homework. Here is the “How to use Duolingo in class: the guide.

2)  LiveMocha
Live Mocha explains on their site that language is not just an academic subject but also a performing art – something that must be actively practiced in order to master. A learner can watch people speak a new language, memorize all of the grammar rules, and talk about the language ad nauseam. But to truly speak a language, a learner must actually try it out with a partner. Real conversational fluency takes good instruction, a dose of courage, and a lot of real-life practice.
Their methodology is structured around the Whole-Part-Whole learning model. Whole-Part-Whole is a proven structure that allows learners to observe, learn, and then practice new language concepts.
The Livemocha community is made up of language enthusiasts: teachers, language experts, other language learners, and native speakers proud of their language and heritage.  Community members help each other learn in a myriad of ways: they leave comments in response to practice exercises, build mini-lessons within exercise feedback,  have practice conversations via text, video or audio chat,  provide language practice and culture tips, and give much-needed encouragement (after all, learning a new language is not easy!).
Live Mocha is available to students of all ages. Children under 13 must have written authorization by a school or other educational organization that registers that child.

3) Dotsub

Subtitles are great for both increasing literacy in a native language as well as learning other languages. Scandinavian countries are renowned for the terrific English acquisition. This is often credited to the fact that they grow up with subtitled English television and so the exposure to the language is plentiful.
There’s a digital resource called Dotsub, that capitalizes on the power of subtiltes. It is a browser based, one-stop, self contained system for creating and viewing subtitles for videos in multiple languages across all platforms, including web based, mobile devices, and transcription and video editing systems. It's easy to use, nothing to buy or download, and it's fun. You can upload your videos, transcribe and time caption them, translate them into and from any language, and share them with the world.
Not only can a student watch videos with subtitles in various languages, they can also create the subtitles. The videos are translated in a totally open "wiki" type of environment, or closed with password protected permissions, allowing the video "owner" to decide who can view, transcribe, or translate their videos.
Here’s a sample.

MovieStar Planet is a social website (blending elements of Facebook and YouTube) where children and teens work together with friends to create cartoons. Users practice and improve their English skills by creating cartoons in a fun and innovative environment. This virtual world for students has been developed in collaboration with researchers from the Danish University of Education and a number of Danish primary school teachers. It has been financially supported by the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, and is part of the research and development project dedicated to games in education, entitled Serious Games on a Global Marketplace.  It is also available in languages from 16 countries such as Germany, France, and Spain.

5) Translation Tools
Translation tools provide interesting opportunities for language acquisition. For example, you can Tweet, post, chat, or write an article and use a translation tool to convert it to another language quickly. Next, the language learner must figure out if the translation is accurate and revise it so it is. This has the added benefit of enabling the learner to connect with those who speak other languages as well as learn information from other cultural contexts.  It is also useful to see language translated real time.  

Here are some examples of how to do this.  

Visit Wikipedia in another language to learn about an historical event. Of course, first the student will need to figure out what that event was called in other countries. For example, in Spain they refer to the Spanish-American War as “La Guerra Hispano-Estadounidense.” A student can read about it in Spanish, but also translate it to English for instant tutoring assistance.  They can take any passage and hover over it to see it in their native or new language.  They can also contribute to a better translations.  

I used translation tools to communicate with  Arif Hidayat. Arif was working on his English and using translation tools to communicate with me via chat helped his English become stronger.  We used Google docs to collaborate on writing  this article.  I provided guidance and support on proper use of English and in the end we created something we could share with the world.  

I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with parents of students who speak different languages using Google Translate.  Not only does it live translate, but as you can see at the arrow below, it will also speak the language.  
This is terrific when the other person can come to your school, but even if you are communicating with someone across the globe, you can use this Google Sheet hack to do live translations as you can see below.  

Technology provides amazing ways for us to acquire new languages as well as communicate with and understand those from distant lands.  The possibilities are exciting.  Which of these resources have you, or might you, try with your students. What have you found or do you feel would be effective where you work?  

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