As an ESL/ELD resource teacher, I often get asked about what apps are beneficial for students who are learning English. This can be a tricky question! On one hand, I believe that spontaneous oral communication and interactions are the best way for students to acquire proficiency in an additional language. At the same time, I understand that teachers need resources to support their students, especially when they are in the early steps of acquiring English. While ESL accommodations and modifications may help to’level the playing field’ for newcomer students in the mainstream classroom, I think it is still important for English learners to receive explicit, targeted English language instruction, especially when they arrive in Canada during the intermediate grades. This is where language learning technology can play a huge role: many newer programs are designed to cater to the interests of learners, and follow a scope and sequence that aligns with international language acquisition continua.
Language learning technology has advanced significantly over recent years: there are a slew of fantastic options that make language learning fun and engaging. Let’s take a look at a few language learning apps that are fun for kids and adults alike to use. If any of these options sound intriguing, you can easily sign up for a week long trial to see if it will work for you or your students.
Drops by Kahoot
Drops is a fabulous language learning app that hails from the same company as Kahoot, a company whose app became ubiquitous in the virtual teaching world. Users of Kahoot will recognize the dark purple interface and illustration style, along with the same easy to use, immersive, and exciting virtual environment of their quiz games. I absolutely love this language learning app for the same reasons I love Kahoot: it is fun, intuitive, and has an element of urgency to keep you on your toes.
Drops is an app that is best used on a mobile device. The app works by feeding the user a steady flow of highly visual vocabulary learning activities. Once you have correctly identified the meaning and spelling of a word a certain amount of time, you have “mastered” the word or phrase and can move on to new ones. The app is great for supporting students who are getting regular oral practice in the classroom or through other immersive situations.
I could see this app being used by an older multilingual learner who enjoys games and is accustomed to using a mobile device. Drops does not have a dashboard teachers can see or monitor learning, so a teacher would have to check in with the learner regularly to see how they are progressing through the app.
Lingo Pie capitalizes on the access Netflix has to content from all over the world. You can watch multilingual shows and movies from all over the world, geared for different ages and levels of language acquisition. The subtitles are interactive, and the user can click on words they don’t know. After the content has been watched, Lingo Pie generates a set of digital flashcards the student can use to practice.
This is a fun app that enables learners to experience language through media and storytelling. I could see a teacher having a single subscription and sharing the media on a projector, pausing when a student or students identify an unfamiliar word. This app could have great potential with French or any international language app.
Mondly is Pearson’s contribution to the language app world, and it does not disappoint. Educators will feel comfortable using content from such a well known publisher, and the website does indeed offer purchasing options for schools and boards. Mondly presents basic vocabulary and phrases for multilingual students, and students can learn the target language using instructions and prompts from their home language (ex. there is an Arabic interface for those learning English as the target language; you could learn Romanian from Turkish, or French from Chinese). The app produces a daily lesson, and students can complete that lesson or move forward if they’d like. The app can be used on both mobile and desktop devices.
Another great aspect about Mondly is that there is a version for young kids with child friendly graphics. My daughter in grade 1 enjoyed playing it!
I could see this app being used widely by multilingual learners of different ages. It is a great way for students to practice at home, or in school during periods of independent work. In my dream classroom, my entire class would using it to learn the language of their choice!
Lexia for English Learners
Lexia, whose reading app has become widely used and praised, also has created a program for English learners. This app is designed for desktop use, and has culturally responsive characters that appeal to kids through storytelling and subject based learning. Students do not require literacy skills in the target language to start the app, as it is focuses on building oral foundations for students: much of the initial part of the app is based on listening and students speaking to the app.
To support its methodology, Lexia has published a series of rather informative and useful articles explaining the pedagogy of the program. As you might expect, the app is rather costly. However, the subscription package does offer some flexibility so educators can make the most out of it during the school year.
Which App is the Best?
As with all technology, it is more than worthwhile to give it a good test run before making the investment. Much of the effectiveness of the app will depend on how it is utilized and the extent to which it compliments the ongoing language instruction happening in the school.