This post is based on an article published in Business Issues, the IATEFL BESIG Newsletter, Summer 2013, Issue 84, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the Editor, Julia Waldner.
The success of the Collins Business English: Listening app in winning the 2012 David Riley Award for Innovation in Business and ESP sponsored by IATEFL BESIG and Macmillan, was not only recognition of the quality of the resource, but it also signaled that apps designed for mobile devices were here to stay in ELT and not just a passing fad.
Comparison of this digital version with Ian Badger’s original self-study book of the same name provides a handy illustration of the advantages in terms of price and convenience that apps can bring. The book retails at €12.95, while the app can now be downloaded from Apple’s iTunes for just €4.49. The book comes with a CD containing the authentic listening material that sets this book apart from similar publications, while with the app, the recordings can either be downloaded individually when needed or en bloc. Playing them is an integral part of the app experience that requires no lugging around of a CD player.
Mobile devices of one kind or another have become ubiquitous. At the time of writing, we’re awaiting the launch of Samsung’s next generation smartphone, the Galaxy S4, of which the Korean company expect to ship 100 million units in the next nine months alone. Apple’s best selling phone, the iPhone 4S, sold 110 million in the 15 months following its launch in 2011. It has become standard practice for companies to equip their sales forces with tablets (predominantly iPads) to enhance their customer relationship management systems, provide product training and add multi-media zip to their sales pitches.
In the teaching community, the explosion of interest in social media has come about side by side with similar excitement surrounding mobile learning. More recently still, increasing numbers of teachers have followed the example of the Khan Academy, and are ‘flipping’ their classrooms so that learners watch recorded tutorials they provide in order to free up valuable classroom time for learners to take a more active role in their learning. Often, these recordings are both produced and consumed on mobile devices (see, for example, bContext), which means that in theory at least learning can take place anytime, any place.
Mobile learning is certainly not all about apps, as the example of the ‘flipped classroom’ illustrates. But in this new, regular ‘Apps to go’ feature, we’ll be restricting ourselves to this aspect of mobile learning and looking at apps that can be used for business English and ESP by trainers and learners both in and beyond the classroom.
There are, of course, many issues that have yet to be resolved concerning the use of apps for language teaching. For one thing, there’s the problem of competing operating systems. For instance, the Collins app mentioned above is only available to those lucky enough to possess an iPad. Clearly, recommending an app that only runs on Apple’s iOS is of no benefit to learners with devices running Google’s Android OS. Many are yet to be convinced that learners should be ‘allowed’ to use mobile devices in the classroom for fear that they will prove a distraction. Others have doubts about the pedagogy underpinning mobile learning. These are valid considerations, but this won’t be the place for this kind of debate. Rather, the aim is simply to introduce apps – either specifically designed for ELT purposes or otherwise – that could be of interest in our work as business English and ESP trainers.
If you’re unfamiliar with apps and how they’re being used in language teaching, it’s good to start with something reasonably familiar such as learning vocabulary. Apps on smartphones and tablets seem particularly suited to helping learners with learning vocabulary. There are quite a few monolingual dictionary apps to choose from. Longmans, Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press, for example, all offer monolingual dictionary apps for learners in both the iTunes and Google Play app stores. And there are also some popular free monolingual dictionary apps (see list below). And of course, there are many bilingual dictionaries to choose from. Here in Germany, for example, Leo and Dict.cc are probably the most used on devices and both are available for Android and iOS. But dictionaries are far from being all that’s available.
Flashcards have been popular with learners for learning vocabulary for a long time and there are plenty of digital versions of this old teaching aid. Some, like Anki, are quite sophisticated and can be simultaneously installed on one’s desktop and mobile device. But a good place to start is Quizlet, which many will be familiar with because of the website (http://quizlet.com/). One advantage of using this app is that learners with no smartphone, but access to the Internet, will also be able to use the sets of vocabulary the trainer or other learners produce.
With the Quizlet app, lists vocabulary items known as ‘sets’ that the learners create on the website will be automatically downloaded onto their devices for them to study on the go choosing from three different modes of study. Learners can also share their sets and search for and download sets produced by others.
The app can be used for testing the meaning of new words using L1 translations or L2 definitions. It works well for learning synonyms, antonyms and collocations. With groups, I sometimes ask learners to take responsibility for recording the new vocabulary that comes up in a lesson and to produce and share a set in Quizlet.
What could be better
At the moment, it’s not possible to create sets in the app itself. That has to be done on the website. The good people at Quizlet, however, say that they’ll soon be adding this feature. A good work around, in the meantime, is to buy the FlashCards Sync app (€1.79), which allows you to produce sets on your device, and because it syncs with Quizlet the sets are automatically added to your Quizlet account.
Phrasal Verb Machine
This free offering from Cambridge University Press is a relatively new addition (at the time of writing) to the ever increasing range of ELT apps. With its fun, retro look that has something of the Phileas Fogg about it, this is a very attractive app, that is clearly designed to lessen the stress some learners experience in learning phrasal verbs. The app looks good and works well on both Android and iOS. Animated illustrations are used to help the B1 – B2 learners understand and remember the meaning of the verbs.
In the settings, learners can choose from six languages (French, German, Italian Portuguese, Russian and Spanish) in order to see a translation of both the verb and of the example sentence provided for each phrasal verb. Users can view the phrasal verbs in order, or can choose an exercise mode in which the 100 animated phrasal verbs are randomly tested using a multiple-choice activity.
The app is clearly designed for self-study, but with a one-to-one student, or with a group (if you can connect your device to a data projector), the app would be a fun way to start a lesson and introducing some phrasal verbs that are relevant to a topic you’re planning to work on.
What could be better
At the moment, the app only works in portrait view – other than that a good little (free) app!
- Dictionary,com (Android & iOS – free versions with ads) Merriam Webster (Android & iOS – free versions with ads)
- Leo – German-English/English German (Android & iOS – free versions with ads)
- Dict.cc – German-English/English German (Android & iOS – free versions with ads)
- Anki (Android free / iOS €21.99)
- Quizlet (iOS (free) only, but there are plenty of Quizlet-friendly Android apps recommended if you visit the website on your mobile device (http://quizlet.com/mobile)
- FlashCards Sync (iOS only €1.79)
- Phrasal Verb Machine (Android & iOS – free)