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What’s your mobile language learning strategy?

What an exciting weekend this was: 3 days full of language-related awesomeness at The Language Show! The inspiration will trickle down in links, blog posts and possibly much more – but today, here’s a post that sums up what I’ve seen, heard and thought of during the show. It’s big, it’s mobile – and it’s more personal than you might think.

1. I’ve seen the future brother, it is mobile

Twenty years ago, you were lucky if you could fit a powerful calculator in your pocket – and you probably had to carry your cell phone around you Big-Lebowski style. Fast forward to 2012 and here’s what’s happening: Android is 5 years old, there are more iPad models than you can count, and with Microsoft Surface, the trend is unmistakable. Mobile technology is now powerful enough to support everyday users in their common tasks – and that includes educations.

2. Unleashing the languages

Think about what it means to language learners. It probably doesn’t mean that classroom learning is over – far from it: there will be even more need for brilliant teachers and effective lessons. The living, breathing stuff of any foreign language learning – communication, relevant content and context, using methods that work – this will all remain and possibly become even more important.
So what’s likely to go? How about sterile, expensive and dust-gathering computer rooms? Or bulky and confusing interactive whiteboards? Finally – what to make of old coursebooks filled with irrelevant subjects and ineffective methods?
Languages have always been designed to roam freely. Every day, there are fewer and fewer excuses to keep them in an isolated classroom context for too long. And with every mobile device out there, it gets easier and easier to bring that beast into the classroom. I’m not saying we’re there yet – but I’m saying that we’re getting there, and schools and teachers are paying attention.

3. It’s not about the big guys

When Apple or Samsung tell you they’ve got all you need to learn effectively – that’s when you should start asking questions. The big companies will provide the hardware, the apps, the content even – that much is true. Most of this is awesome stuff in itself.
But the mistake made by so many people is this: they assume that the gadgets, software and content will make them learn something “just like that.”
You didn’t learn to drive just because you got a car. You took lessons, practiced, got tested – and kept getting better as you went along.
Computer programmers aren’t good at programming just because they got this shiny device from a store. They thought it out and worked, made mistakes, asked questions, figured it out.
So why is it that when the next tablet or smartphone comes your way, you automatically assume that 20 more apps and a new processor will help you learn?
It’s not about the hardware, the apps, the content. It’s about you.

4. Why you need a mobile language learning strategy

Mobile is huge, and getting bigger. See point one above: the changes are picking up speed, and it’s hard to ignore them.
Mobile language learning can be enjoyable, rewarding and really effective. It’s there when you need it. It can be customized to suit your needs. It’s not necessarily classroom-based. This thing can really bring good effects.
Mobile learning is changing really fast. Every new device, new app and new content provider is pushing the limits of what is possible – inspiring even more innovation.
There are very many clueless people out there. Your teachers, the authors of your coursebook, your classmates – how much do they know about mobile learning? If not, how much are they likely to help you?
A strategy helps you figure things out. It shows you where you are, it outlines where you want to be – and suggests steps on the way. I’m not talking about 20-page documents: a page of notes or a folder of bookmarks is a good place to start!
A good plan saves time, money and effort. You’re a guerrilla language learner. Time, money and effort are your key assets. And it really makes sense to invest them wisely. So instead of throwing your money at everybody who shouts “I’ve got a learning app!” – try planning ahead and knowing what to get into.

What’s your mobile language learning philosophy, folks? And how do you go about getting one? This topic might become important sooner than we think – so let us know how you’re dealing with it!

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4 Responsesso far.

  1. Joel says:

    In descending order of centrality–reflecting current emphasis of growth in reading/writing vocabulary:
    1. AnkiDroid, synced w/ Anki 2.0 — content fed as described below. In “dead time”, pull out the phone and churn through some cards.
    2. GoldenDict
    3. Doggcatcher and a number of target-language podcasts
    4. Target-language video on mobile device.

    Content for Anki comes from several sources:
    1. LWT on various texts, vocabulary and sentences exported to Anki.
    2. A straight dump of a short dictionary that includes usage-example sentences.
    3. Numerous phrases/sentences to demonstrate grammar, vocabulary, or shades of usage.

  2. Mizuu says:

    I cannot stress the gist of point 3 to my students enough. It’s about YOUR BRAIN not toys your brain uses. Of course, you need to figure out how to trick your brain into learning efficiently, and this may vary from person to person, but it’s essential.

    Lately, I’ve been using Diigo to keep my links in one place and Evernote to keep notes and todos in one place. The more I work with certain systems the better I can tailor them to fit my needs.

  3. Wiktor K. says:

    Diigo works for me as well, and I completely agree with “working with the system” – the more you feed it, the better it “learns” you.

  4. Wiktor K. says:

    I’m with you on Doggcatcher, and will seriously look into Anki now that recommendations come from everywhere! Thanks for the good stuff.