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Interesting book series on diversity

October 22nd, 2009

I have long been interested in Language & Development and Linguistic Rights (and very sorry to miss this year’s Language & Development conference) and was therefore interested to be given a brochure at the recent TBLT conference in Lancaster on a book series called ‘Encounters, Language and Diversity’, edited by Jan Blommaert, Ben Rampton, Marco Jacquement, Anna de Fina and Norman Joergensen. It includes books on topics such as linguistic rights, ‘the asylum speaker’, language in African education, and other topics at the crossroads of linguistics, communication, culture, law and other disciplines. You can find more information here.


Flashcards for mobile phones

October 19th, 2009

Thornton and Houser were among the first to show the potential for cellphones for vocabulary learning back in 2004. They sent out SMS messages to their students with new vocabulary, and made sure that each item was received multiple times by their participants. I don’t think (but I could be wrong here) that they made use of spaced learning by increasing the time interval between each exposure. Flaschard software is excellent at that, and now there are programs for use on cellphones. This could potentially be excellent as you are likely to have your phone with you when it is time for your next rehearsal. Here is one such program ( but there are many others.


Mobile portfolios

October 16th, 2009

Why do students not like to keep portfolios? I think it’s largely because they require a lot of effort, and effort that is clearly separate from and in addition to that demanded by the language activities they engage in. It takes an extra step to pull out a notebook or (more likely) log on to a website to update your learning record or to write up your reflections. That’s why it’s important to make the process as easy as possible and to integrate reflection into the learning process. Since most learning takes place outside the classroom, how can we encourage this reflection ‘in-the-moment’? To my mind cellphones are an excellent candidate. Using the simple voice recorder available on most phones students can be asked to record such things as:

– their use of the language outside the classroom (length, location, purpose)
– examples of the target language (for example a particular feature discussed in class)
– their success or otherwise in doing so (self-assessment)
– any questions they come up with

Several applications let you automatically upload voice notes to an online account. Some, such as one of my favourite pieces of software, Evernote (, let you share an account. As a teacher you could set this up and let students send their recordings directly to that account so that both they and you can review it. An audio message as feedback will certainly cost you less time than a written comment. The (audio)record of students’ learning gives you a chance to give them credit for their out-of-class learning while giving you an immediate account of whether and how they use and learn the language on their own. In this way, mobile portfolios could be a feasible way to assess students’ development towards autonomy.


7000 textbooks on your cellphone

October 13th, 2009

Coursesmart, a publisher of college textbooks in the US, is offering an Iphone application that gives you access to over 7,000 textbooks. Why are publishers of language education materials so far behind….?

Delivering an entire school curriculum through games…will it work?

October 10th, 2009

As those of you who read my blog regularly will know, I strongly believe that computer games have an important role to play in education. One school in New York is taking this to the next level by delivering its entire curriculum through four domains, such as ‘Codeworlds’ (a combination of maths and English), and ‘Being, Space and Place’ (English and Social Studies). Each of these comprises a series of games that bring together several skills. An example of these is one in which students play the role of pyramid-builders to learn about engineering, maths, geography and other fields. The programme started last month and it will be very exciting to see how it goes.


Dynamic assessment and autonomy

October 7th, 2009

It is interesting that, to the best of my knowledge, there have been no studies that have used dynamic assessment to measure autonomous learning. Dynamic assessment is a procedure that has its origins in Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development and that integrates assessment with instruction. The assessment involves interaction between the assessor and the learner, during which the assessor offers help to the learner with task completion. In this way it is a measure of a learner’s ability to learn, not a static measure of the outcome of that process. The score on a dynamic assessment may be expressed as the difference between the initial performance and the final performance, or the score on the final performance only. Additional measures include learners’ ability to transfer what they have learned to other situations and their ability to complete the task independently. DA is thus future-oriented and learner-oriented and takes into account both the individual and his interaction with the environment. It could thus very well be an excellent way to investigate the independent aspect of autonomous learning, especially if changes in this ability could be measured over time (for example, before and after a course or using a particular resource such as a self-access centre). Has anyone used DA in relation to autonomy?

Here are a couple of useful references:
Matthew E. Poehner (2008). Dynamic Assessment. A Vygotskian Approach to Understanding and Promoting L2 Development. Springer: Educational Linguistics , Vol. 9. ISBN: 978-0-387-75774-2

Poehner, M. E., & Lantolf, J. P. (2005). Dynamic assessment in the language classroom. Language Teaching Research, 9(3), 233-265. doi: 10.1191/1362168805lr166oa.


Blogging on Brain and Behaviour

October 4th, 2009

A great blog on issues relating to psychology and brain research. Recommended!


Wireless Ready Conference – Language, Technology & Community

October 1st, 2009

The fourth instalment of this excellent conference series, held both in Second and in Real Life on 19/20 February. I hear they have some interesting keynote speakers ;-)


UK will lose money due to poor language skills

September 27th, 2009

From the BBC website:

Poor language skills ‘hamper UK’
By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

Language lesson
Fewer secondary school pupils are studying a foreign language

The UK will be held back as it seeks to emerge from recession unless it boosts the number of language graduates, campaigners say.

The National Centre for Languages (Cilt) points to a worrying decline in the take-up of modern languages.

It wants languages to be treated as strategically significant subjects in the same way that science and maths have been championed.

The government said a review of modern languages was currently under way.

We are going to be held back as a nation as we seek to emerge from the economic downturn
Teresa Tinsley
National Centre for Languages

Cilt chief executive Kathryn Board said: “English is one of the great global languages but it will only take us so far.

“Our engagement with the non-English speaking world will remain superficial and one-sided unless we develop our capacity in other languages.”

Recent research from Cardiff Business School suggests improving languages could add an extra £21bn to the UK economy and that export businesses that use language skills boost their sales by 45%.

Cilt’s director of communications Teresa Tinsley said there was a lot of concern that not enough youngsters were taking languages in secondary schools through to university.

In 1997, 71% of England’s GCSE pupils took a foreign language, last year the rate was down to 44%.

For the most popular foreign languages at GCSE, French and German, take-up declined in England by 45% and 46% respectively between 1997 and 2008.

Whilst at university, the share of home UK students taking modern languages has fallen by 4% since 2002.

Home-grown talents

This happened against an 4.5% increase in the overall numbers of students. Cilt says this decline comes after an even bigger fall in language student numbers in the 1990s.

Ms Tinsley said: “We are going to be held back as a nation as we seek to emerge from the economic downturn or recession.

“Companies are looking to recruit people with language skills and if they can’t find them amongst our home-grown graduates they will obviously bring in people from other countries to fill these gaps.

“We really need to buck up our ideas or we are going to be stuck in a mono-lingual world when everybody else is taking global opportunities.”

The comments come as Cilt published its new agenda for languages calling on government departments and businesses to help safeguard their importance.


Language courses at some universities are struggling.

The University of the West of England is to stop courses in French, Spanish and Chinese this year because they received only 39 applicants.

And Queen’s University Belfast is planning to close its German department.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said it recognised the value of learning a language for personal development and for people’s future careers.

“This is why the government will make language teaching compulsory in primary schools from next year.”

She said the government had expanded a scheme into a national programme encouraging universities and schools to work together to increase language take-up.

It was also working with the higher education funding council for England on their review of modern languages and strategically important and vulnerable subjects and would continue to do so.

The latest in phlogging – using mobile blogs for live to web recordings

September 24th, 2009

A very neat application was just realised by Ipadio for use with any cellphone. Essentially this lets you dial a number in the UK (or if you have an Iphone or Android phone you can use a dedicated app) and record yourself, a call or a presentation (if you have a mic). It then automatically uploads that to an audioblog, so it’s ‘live-to-web’. It also includes voice-to-text transcription and it will geo-tag your post so that people can see where the recording was made. Needless to say this would be wonderful for a range of uses, such as data collection (interviews, recordings of classroom interactions, personal reflections/portolios), and also teaching (get students to do interviews or be ‘journalists’ and report on events outside the classroom; they then read or listen to eachother’s posts and comment on them). Has anyone usd this yet for language teaching or research purposes?


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