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How using apps and online resources benefits ESL students with limited resources

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Teenage girl using smartphoneIn this post Justin Birch explores how using apps and online resources can benefit ESL students with limited resources.

From spelling to grammar to intonation, learning a new language can be difficult. With its exceptions and broad geographical influence, the English language is no different. However, times are changing. Non-native speakers of English now outnumber native speakers 3 to 1. With the enormous increase in the number of students taking on English as a Second Language (ESL), especially those with limited resources, an array of wallet-friendly apps and online resources have cropped up to make the learning process speedier and less tedious.

Apps and online resources can make learning English fun. Instead of repeating common English phrases in a classroom setting, ESL students can play games and complete exercises while learning the ins and outs of the language, even if they are far away from a real teacher or school. The Internet TESL Journal created a site comprised solely of quizzes, tests, exercises and puzzles for ESL students. With thousands of contributions from teachers, students can take advantage of exercises that suit their needs. Users are allowed to choose their level of difficulty in grammar and vocabulary quizzes, and even crossword puzzles. In addition, the site offers a range of podcasts and YouTube videos, including those that allow students to listen and read along. For the technology savvy, the site is also accessible from the iPhone and the iPod Touch.

Though ESL classes can be extremely beneficial, they can also focus solely on the basics. Online resources and apps can supplement basic skills to allow students to learn slang and idioms. This creates more natural sounding dialogue and allows the student to better understand phrases and terms that aren’t available in a dictionary. Sites like ManyThings.org, not only feature games, quizzes, exercises, and vocabulary words, but also a collection of slang terms, English songs, proverbs, jokes, and American stories. Podcasts such as the Learn a Song Podcast, Jokes in English, and Listen and Repeat Podcast can also be fun ways to not only learn the language, but soak up the culture as well.

Convenience is another major benefit of utilizing apps and online resources. ESL students can learn on their own time and tailor a program to fit their needs. YouTube and Podcasts allow the student to hear the English language being spoken. There are a variety of listen and repeat programs to enhance the memorization process. The well-respected VOA Special English program, offers streaming podcasts, Facebook lessons, YouTube tutorials, mobile phone applications, and webcasts, free of charge. Apps are ideal for ESL students on the go. A lunch break, doctor’s appointment, or long line at the supermarket can become an opportunity to learn. Apps like Pocket English can be downloaded to an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. ESLai.com Conversational Apps are available for the Android phone. Apps such as Test Your English, Dictionary.com, and 250 Grammar Quizzes can be downloaded on any Smart Phone.

A study published by R.M. Felder and E.R. Henriques in the Foreign Language Annals, discussed the different learning styles of ESL students. It was found that students tend to be either visual learners or verbal learners. Visual learners retain more information when lessons are presented visually, such as through pictures, diagrams, film, and demonstrations. Verbal learners prefer spoken or written explanations to visual information. ESL students can be further classified as active and reflective learners. Active learners need to use their knowledge in the external world by means of discussing it, explaining it, or testing it. Reflective learners examine the information and process it introspectively.

Relying solely on a classroom approach to learning English can be unsatisfactory for certain types of learners. To maximize a student’s ability to absorb new information, it is important to subject them to a variety of learning styles. Internet resources and apps are the perfect way to reach all students, regardless of their learning needs. By choosing the type of resources or apps that work for them, the student can create a personalized program. Active learners can use chat rooms, games, or competitive tools. Reflective learners can use informative lessons, concentration games, and vocabulary tools. As for visual and verbal learners, charts, diagrams, YouTube lessons, listen and speak apps, pictures, and reading exercises, satisfy both types of learning styles. In addition, many online resources and apps such as Parlo, use diagnostic tests to determine the ESL student’s skill level before providing appropriate exercises.

ESL students who immerse themselves in the culture often have an easier time picking up on the cultural nuances that exist in all languages. Online resources go beyond what can be learned in book. Students can chat with native speakers and learn about holidays, sports and pop culture with online resources and applications. Pictures, stories, news and history can add to this understanding. Online resources and apps allow students to experience the culture in a variety of ways.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of using online resources and apps for ESL students with limited resources is cost-effectiveness. There are thousands of Web sites that offer free lessons, activities, and resources for ESL students. Even those who do not own a computer, can take advantage of the resources by using the Internet at a library or community center. Non-resident library cards tend to be affordable and a way to gain unlimited access to a computer. While apps are sometimes available for a charge, the fee is never more than a few dollars. There are a fairly large number of apps that are free. Athabasca University recently released a free app called Mobile ESL with 86 sections of lessons and activities.

For ESL students with limited resources, apps and online resources provide a fun way to learn, and a way to supplement basic knowledge with an understanding of cultural factors, idioms, and slang. In addition, the use of apps and online resources is cost-effective, convenient, and customizable to fit the ESL student’s individual learning needs. The vast quantity of apps and online resources ensures that there is something for every ESL student.

Can you recommend any apps and/or online resources that might benefit ESL students?

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12 thoughts on “How using apps and online resources benefits ESL students with limited resources

  1. I recommend some online resources for practicing English. You can find them here:
    http://leonardolinks.blogspot.com
    Leonardo Ornellas

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  4. Great post, Justin.
    There is so much out there that I think the real issue for a teacher may be where to start with new technology and the time it takes to research and implement. I suggest: 1) Setting some techno stuff for homework and see how they respond as a trial and 2) Letting the students lead the way in terms of what they like doing online/with apps outside of English learning. If your students like online games, then set them online English games/quizzes as homework and have them report their score. If they are into social media, set up a Facebook group for your class and have students contribute regularly on a theme or question you set and help them correct each others’ English.
    If they’re ambitious have your students make an animation with text to speech facility: http://goanimate.com/
    and here is one homework they will love to do: watch a video, read, listen and speak the dialogue while speech recognition helps you refine it:
    http://www.englishcentral.com/

    • Many thanks Justin and Teflady!

      I absolutely agree with your suggestions as HOW beneficial it is to deal with technology in the classroom. I set staff for hw. as well and then evaluate how much sts. have done and how responsibly they have worked. I also encourage them to do some research on given topics on the Internet and prepare short talks they have to share with their classmates.

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  11. Technology is growing seriously in every matter of life, software from small devices to PCs have evolved effectively. How easy is to learn English with androids apps for learning English idioms, dictionaries, grammar tools and etc.

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