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iBooks Author For Languages: 3 Guerrilla Ideas

We’ve had an uneasy relationship, Apple and me. I went from ridiculing every iPod owner to proudly taking my MacBook everywhere I went, only to wonder at the utter uselessness of some of its later incarnations.

But I still know a good idea when I see one. And today, I want to discuss one of those – although probably not the way Apple would like to see it discussed.

Enter iBooks Author.

iBooks: like e-books, but shinier?

This was supposed to be a killer blow to the traditional, paper-based textbook industry. Apple’s second generation of iBooks is now even more interactive and feature-packed: with photo galleries, 3D animations and chapter reviews, an electronic version of any textbook finally seems to come into its own. Feel free to take a look (the fun part begins around 1:30):

The inconvenient truth about iBooks is that the idea is not as perfect in practice as the above video suggests. This is for a few reasons – let’s just name a few:


  • Textbooks are only available in the US (as of late Jan 2012),
  • They rely on hardware to work – students need an iPhone, iPod Touch or (ideally) an iPad to make use of them,
  • iBooks textbook market is, from the outset, dominated by big publishers.
  • [/badlist]

It is still too early to say whether iBooks will make a splash in the textbook-publishing world. But along with the introduction of interactive textbook, something else became available – a tool for creating them!

iBooks Author – DIY Publisher’s Dream

This tool is almost too good to be true. I’ll just let you watch this video to see what it can do:

Did I mention that it’s free – and that the books you create can be freely exported and/or printed as PDFs?

To me, this was the game-changer. I don’t care if Pearson sells millions of their digital textbooks – I can now make my own!


iBooks Author in Language Education

The ideas below are just the tip of the iceberg. They can be used by anyone dealing with learning / teaching languages. I’m more than happy to hear from you, if you’ve got more.

Language Teachers: Design Your Own Textbooks

This couldn’t really be more obvious to anyone who had to deal with a language textbook. The problem with them is that they’re often too generic to be relevant to your particular context – or worse, completely fail to address your students’ needs!

Case in point: an English school whose clientele comes primarily from Arabic countries. Awkward areas: speed dating (every coursebook’s favourite), romance (ditto) and mingle activities (not every Arabic woman will want to speak to a man from outside her family).

With iBooks Author, teachers can collaborate to prepare and compile texts that actually work. And with a little work, they can really make it appealing and interactive. It would take some time – but it takes even longer to wait for the big publishers to get a clue…

Language Learners: Prepare an Awesome Language Scrapbook

When you find a useful article – copy and paste it. Got an interview which illustrates last week’s discussion? Embed it into your scrapbook. Pictures? Flashcards? Mindmaps? Why have them in separate programs when you can put them in one place? You can then record yourself giving a talk, or prepare a video of a roleplay in class – and that also makes its way into your book. And finally – how about a self-made test?

A language learning record that you prepare for yourself – that engages you on a textual and audio-visual level, helps you remember, revise and reflect on the go. This is what you can prepare with the help of an iBooks Author.

Your scrapbook doesn’t have to be published (in fact, for copyright reasons, it’s best if it isn’t). But by creating this by and for yourself, you’re doing your language learning a huge favour. Soon you may find that this way of learning – by making something relevant to you, and recording things your own way – suits you better.

Project work: Make the best of both worlds

OK, so you’re not ambitious enough – or not sufficiently determined – to write your own coursebook, but you would still like to give iBooks Author a try? Take it to your class. Let your students write their own textbooks! With the right kind of preparation, this can turn into a fascinating class project. Your students will turn into authors, researchers and publishers in a foreign language – and the result will be an interactive book which they will surely enjoy!


What do you think, then? Does this tool have a future – or is it just another craze?

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One Responseso far.

  1. Marta says:

    Who knows, maybe I’ll use it soon. I can definitely imagine how words learnt at school can gain greater meaning in more useful (for me) context. Suddenly all those fruit names make sense because I snapped a photo of the ice cream flavours in a local heladeria;)