3 Things I’m Grateful For: Language Learning Edition

The Alps, fondue, chocolate, skiing and neutrality – these are some of the features of my new host country. Yes, my family and I have taken a great leap and moved to Switzerland. This is our first country move in 12 years, so it’s kind of a BIG DEAL!

With our kids, my husband and I usually spend a few moments each night sharing
3 things we are grateful for. I thought I’d share some ways I am grateful for technology making our lives easier as we transition to our new culture.
Today’s edition is all about language learning.

LANGUAGE LEARNING

We now live in the French-speaking region of Switzerland. Slight problem: I don’t speak French… yet! I am a firm believer that to know a culture, you must make an effort to learn the language. Enter Duolingo, Google Translate & the French keyboard on iOS.

Duolingo
My daughter (11) created a family French club on Duolingo, and each morning, we complete at least 3 exercises. It’s quite simple to motivate the littles – they aren’t allowed any screen time until they’ve done it, so it gets done in record time! They also love the club aspect – seeing where everyone is, smack-talking about who is taking over the leaderboard, and commenting on the activity.

Although Duolingo is brilliant (and free!), I am mildly frustrated that while I can tell you “The boy is calm,” and “The duck is eating a fly,” I don’t yet know the days of the week, or how to ask where the bathrooms are. Still! Great app, which has been super helpful so far.

French Keyboard on iOS
Adding the French keyboard to my iPhone has certainly helped too, particularly the predictive text feature. It automatically helps me spell words I am trying to type, and helpfully adds the right accents, making me feel more professional in my written communication. I do need to pay close attention when typing, because the placement of the letters on the French keyboard is a little different!

Google Translate
For everything else, there is Google Translate! I know, language teachers, I know! It’s not a long-term solution, but it has helped us find baking powder at the supermarket, decipher descriptions of everything from BBQs to cars, and tell the delivery people we are running late. We couldn’t do without it.

I recently downloaded French as one of my offline translation languages, which is helpful when trying to avoid over-using data packages!

I’m sure there are many other language learning tips you could give me! Any great apps I need to load right now? I am willing to give everything a go!


“Aletsch_36” flickr photo by Gipfelwanderer https://flickr.com/photos/150752905@N08/35375628573 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Lingt Language

Our Chinese teacher Wendy Liao has been at it again – she’s found another excellent site for language learning – Lingt Language.

Here’s what the website has to say about the potential uses of Lingt Language:

Create online assignments that make engaging and assessing student spoken performance as natural as giving out a worksheet.

Make oral exams that take a fraction of the time to administer and assess. Perfect for IB and AP preparation.
Offer targeted feedback to individual responses to maximize student improvement.
Incorporate video and images to create media and culture-rich exercises.
Archive all your assignments and student responses to reuse next time and track individual improvement.

In our elementary school context, Wendy has come up with a unique way of marrying Lingt Language with Voicethread to create a multimedia reflection and learning experience.

Wendy wanted the students to learn and remember the Chinese Characters for various countries, and do this in a way that helps to contribute to the learning of others.

The students selected a country, then tried to come up with a story to create a mental picture, or visual association, that will help others remember the Characters in that country name. They recorded their explanation on a Voicethread, which included all the countries they were studying.

[As an aside, Kim Cofino has a great blog post explaining how making connections to visual cues helped her when she was learning Japanese, which is worth checking out]

See example below:

Following that, students were then directed Lingt Language to answer some comprehension-style questions. A specific link is created for each class page, so you can link directly to the task. In order to answer the questions, students needed to view  the Voicethread as a whole, and learn the country names that their classmates had investigated.

Students could either type or record their answers in the Lingt Language site. The other great thing was that Wendy could either type or record her feedback to the students – isn’t that fabulous?

Here is a copy of the  Lingt Classroom page that Wendy created for the Grade 4’s:

Lingt_1Lingt_2Lingt_3

Highlights

  1. It is a user-friendly interface which is easy for the students to understand
  2. No log-in is necessary for students to enter responses
  3. The ability to record voice or type – this is fantastic for students and teachers alike.
  4. Teachers can mark and give feedback online, in both oral or written form.
  5. Responses can be organised either by student, or by question, meaning teachers can analyse results and check for group understanding.
  6. The potential for learning becomes 24/7, not just limited to the hours you are in a classroom.
  7. Great way to assess and support children according to their individual needs.
  8. It is an excellent way of collecting evidence of student-learning, particularly for student-led conferences.

Things to think about

  1. It requires the latest version of flash, so school/home computers may need updating
  2. Feedback is emailed to students, so students will require their own email address, or an address of a parent to receive feedback from Lingt Language.

Lingt Language

Our Chinese teacher Wendy Liao has been at it again – she’s found another excellent site for language learning – Lingt Language.

Here’s what the website has to say about the potential uses of Lingt Language:

Create online assignments that make engaging and assessing student spoken performance as natural as giving out a worksheet.

Make oral exams that take a fraction of the time to administer and assess. Perfect for IB and AP preparation.
Offer targeted feedback to individual responses to maximize student improvement.
Incorporate video and images to create media and culture-rich exercises.
Archive all your assignments and student responses to reuse next time and track individual improvement.

In our elementary school context, Wendy has come up with a unique way of marrying Lingt Language with Voicethread to create a multimedia reflection and learning experience.

Wendy wanted the students to learn and remember the Chinese Characters for various countries, and do this in a way that helps to contribute to the learning of others.

The students selected a country, then tried to come up with a story to create a mental picture, or visual association, that will help others remember the Characters in that country name. They recorded their explanation on a Voicethread, which included all the countries they were studying.

[As an aside, Kim Cofino has a great blog post explaining how making connections to visual cues helped her when she was learning Japanese, which is worth checking out]

See example below:

Following that, students were then directed Lingt Language to answer some comprehension-style questions. A specific link is created for each class page, so you can link directly to the task. In order to answer the questions, students needed to view  the Voicethread as a whole, and learn the country names that their classmates had investigated.

Students could either type or record their answers in the Lingt Language site. The other great thing was that Wendy could either type or record her feedback to the students – isn’t that fabulous?

Here is a copy of the  Lingt Classroom page that Wendy created for the Grade 4’s:

Lingt_1Lingt_2Lingt_3

Highlights

  1. It is a user-friendly interface which is easy for the students to understand
  2. No log-in is necessary for students to enter responses
  3. The ability to record voice or type – this is fantastic for students and teachers alike.
  4. Teachers can mark and give feedback online, in both oral or written form.
  5. Responses can be organised either by student, or by question, meaning teachers can analyse results and check for group understanding.
  6. The potential for learning becomes 24/7, not just limited to the hours you are in a classroom.
  7. Great way to assess and support children according to their individual needs.
  8. It is an excellent way of collecting evidence of student-learning, particularly for student-led conferences.

Things to think about

  1. It requires the latest version of flash, so school/home computers may need updating
  2. Feedback is emailed to students, so students will require their own email address, or an address of a parent to receive feedback from Lingt Language.

Radical Chinese

My colleague, Chinese teacher Wendy Liao, has kindly agreed to co-author the following post, detailing her experiences using the iPod Touch for the teaching of Chinese language. I think she has fantastic ideas for the use of technology in Language teaching which need to be shared!

Wendy works with multiple grade levels, but for these lessons she wanted the Grade 3-5’s to learn some new vocabulary – what she describes as ‘simple Chinese characters’, that will help them understand more difficult characters later on. Wendy explained to me about the importance of learning the root of the character – also known as the radical. As this website explains, “The radical usually, but not invariably, gives a name or clue as to the meaning of the character.”

Wendy gave me the following example:

In the same way that we have bi = 2 and tri= 3 in English, Chinese has root words (or radicals) as well, e.g. 木 = tree, 林 = wood, and 森  =  forest. They all have the root word of ‘tree‘.

Learning the order in which the characters are written helps students understand the meaning of characters they are not familiar with – they will know what the character is about, as this example shows:

妈 姐 奶 姨 = Mum, Sister, Grandma, and Aunt, all have the same radical of female 女.

One way Wendy might have previously taught this sort of lesson is to give each child the Chinese characters together with their meanings. She would then show them how to write the character, and try to emphasize the importance of writing each character in a particular order. The trouble was, she tells me, the kids would never remember about writing the character in the right order, meaning they were missing the opportunity to understand more complex characters as the radicals weren’t clear to them.

This is where the iPod Touches came in. She used this free Chinese/English Dictionary app: It is a basic dictionary app which allows you to write the characters, and then provides the pinyin, together with the definition in English.

Wendy gave the list of characters, this time without the definitions. She gave a check sheet showing the stroke order for half of the words, but the rest, students would have to figure out themselves.

Students had to try and use what they knew about the order of the characters (the basic principal when writing Chinese characters is left to right, top to bottom), to try and find the definitions of the characters. Check out the video below to see the students in action:

Using the iPod Touches was particularly motivating for the students – they were absolutely determined to find out the meanings, they were eager to write the characters correctly so the dictionary would be able to find the definitions, and they were great at helping each other and making suggestions for ways of writing the characters.

So where was the learning? I asked Mary van der Heijden, our Vice Principal of Curriculum (who observed one of the lessons), and this is her response:

Every child had hands on experience of drawing the root of the characters. Not just once, but repeatedly. This was because if the characters weren’t  written  fairly well the dictionary couldn’t read it. Therefore the children had plenty of practice in trying to form the  characters correctly.

What empowered children more was that they could keep trying and different characters kept coming up in the dictionary and even at the lower level they look  for patterns and shapes to try and match the correct character with their own attempt.

The language between the children was constantly reinforcing the correct way of writing. For instance they would say, ‘no not like that, top to bottom’, or ‘that’s not straight’.

This application was also very good for hand eye co-ordination and this skill can be transferred to other areas of learning.

In addition, the problem solving skills developed  were very clear. Use of trial and error, looking for patterns to make links with, using prior knowledge were all important strategies.

Collaborating with a partner to assess where each child might be going wrong was very beneficial to improving their attempts and then sharing their findings.

Persisting even when the tool they were using didn’t seem to be able to understand their writing was also a good development.

Knowing how a dictionary works, whether for Chinese or any language was key in the activity and children progressed in their understanding of using it.

Finally the most important aspect was that the children were engaged and motivated. What might have been a tedious dictionary lesson, turned into a very powerful learning situation which would aid children’s memory of characters and vocabulary suitable for various levels of ability.

I hope this approach proves useful to people, and that it sparks some other great ideas. We would be very interested in hearing other ways iPod Touches are being used in Language lessons, so please let us know what is going on in your classroom/school.