Mark and Steve – Language Learning, the IPhone and New Technology, Part 1

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Steve recently attended the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Convention in San Diego. Mark and Steve talk about technology and change in language learning.

Mark: Hello again.

Welcome to another episode of EnglishLingQ.

Steve: Hello.

Mark: Steve is here again with Mark.

I’m Mark, of course, for those of you who don’t know.

Steve: Of course, right.

We need to have a television camera or something, yeah.

Mark: Something.

Steve: And then we’d lose our audience.

Mark: Don’t let the cat out of the bag, so to speak.

Steve: Alright.

Mark: Anyway, we haven’t had a podcast together for a while.

Steve: Right.

Mark: I know you’ve just returned from the, whatever, American Teachers Conference, whatever…Language Teachers Conference in San Diego.

Steve: It was a very interesting conference in San Diego.

When you live in Vancouver the chance to go to San Diego for five days is nice.

Because all five days that I was down there it was like 18 degrees Celsius, whatever that is in Fahrenheit.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: Sixty or something, sunny, not a cloud in the sky and here in Vancouver it rained hard and the wind blew.

Mark: The whole time.

Steve: The whole time. So that was kind of nice.

It’s called the American Council for Teachers of Foreign Languages.

Mark: Yeah, okay.

Steve: And they have an annual convention and this one was held in San Diego.

It was an amazing experience for me.

I’ve been to other language conferences; this is the biggest one I had been to.

They had hundreds of seminars every day and, you know, there was a whole range of experiences.

A number of things that surprised me, I have to say, all of the American teachers — in other words, not native speakers of French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Japanese — that I came across were very fluent in the language they were teaching, which was astounding because I have had so much experience with teachers teaching French when I was a kid in Canada who couldn’t speak French very well, so I was very impressed.

There were some rather boring presentations.

Many of the presentations were like unilateral.

Some guy gets up there and drones on, which is surprising because I kind of feel that teachers nowadays want to engage the audience a bit more.

Mark: Right.

Steve: But there were some interesting presentations.

But what I want to get into with you is this whole issue of modern technology, the iPod touch, iPhone and the impact that I think that is already having on language learning and where we think that’s going to go.

And of course you’re much more technical than I am because you’re my son and your son is much more technical than you are because he’s 10 years old, but that’s where things are headed.

Mark: Well I know.

And I know you just got an iPod touch because you’re inspired by your trip to San Diego and you’re hoping that my son will be able to help you use it.

Steve: I know. Now that I’ve got it I need help.

Mark: I’m not so sure if he’ll be able to help you or not, but if he had one of his own and used it for a while he probably would.

Steve: Right.

Mark: But, at any rate, I know you mentioned that there was a significant portion of the conference attendees that were more traditional and were talking about traditional language teaching-type things, but then there was the 20% of attendees were doing neat things with technology and you were telling me that those were the guys that you were most impressed with down there and saw the most potential for, I think.

Steve: Well exactly.

You know the first day I was there someone who was supposed to run a workshop — talk for an hour and a half and then have a workshop for an hour and a half — droned on for four hours talking about research into language learning with conclusions like advanced readers read better than intermediate readers.

You know things of that nature.

Mark: Now somebody had a gun to your head making you stay in this four hour conference?

Steve: No. What happened was I got there a day early because I had a deal on the hotel tied in with my air.

Mark: Right.

Steve: There was nothing much happening.

There were five seminars; this was the only one that wasn’t sold out.

Mark: Oh!

Steve: So I went.

Mark: Okay.

Steve: So that was kind of a bit of a low note the first day.

There were others, you know, they were talking about drama and, you know, Immanuel Kant and all kinds of, you know, obscure things that were kind of, to my mind, I had trouble relating to, but some of the really good ones starting talking about this idea of open education.

The University of Texas Language Center, for example, has a tremendous collection of audio/video/text content and they just make it available to anyone, open education.

There’s someone at Rice University who is on the same path.

Of course MIT has stuff out there for people.

You want to learn, just get on and learn.

That whole open education thing was interesting.

But I’m not sure they are the dominant voice because apparently even at the University of Texas the other lecturers will get up at a lecture and say “You cannot copy this.

I own the rights to what I’m about to tell you.” So there’s a real struggle there between those professors who are trying to protect their rights to whatever they say and think even though, of course, everything they’ve read they got from somewhere else, right?

Mark: Right.

Steve: But now that they’ve put it together in some format they own it.

That as opposed to this other group that is saying it should all be open.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So that whole debate was interesting.

Then there were university people saying – more than one speaker saying — that learning has changed.

It’s not the professor doling out knowledge to the students it’s very often the professor learning from the students; for example, how to use the iPod, iPhone, students finding content that the professors didn’t know about, excellent content, you know, authentic things relating to culture, relating to language, whatever it might be, so it’s become much more of an equal relationship.

So there were a lot of people saying those kinds of things and I’m sure they represent the vanguard, not necessarily everybody.

Mark: I’m sure.

Steve: By the same token I’ll get into later on some of the exciting things people were saying about the iPod touch and the iPhone.

But there was a conference on how to use the iPod for language teaching, there were 80 people in this huge room, the presenter didn’t show up.

So then half the people left, but a bunch of other people, including me, we stayed around and we started talking.

Like there were two of us who had used an iPod.

The majority of the people there didn’t know what an iPod was.

Mark: Was or did?

Steve: Was. I showed them one.

“Oh, that’s an iPod?”

Mark: That’s unbelievable.

Steve: Yeah. I mean sure.

But what was so impressive is this thing is growing so fast that there are some people who are very advanced and we’ll get to them, but there’s a large number of people who know nothing.

Mark: Right.

Steve: And then there’s a bunch of people in between who maybe use it a little bit to listen to music.

Mark: Right.

Steve: And my impression is that all those people who didn’t know what it was they’ll know soon, those that were there.

And next year if I go to another one of these conferences — it’s going to be in Boston next year — like three times as many people will be using it.

Mark: Right.

Steve: I just think it’s an exploding phenomenon.

Now I have a tendency to get excited about things, but…

Mark: Well, I mean it’s not just you saying these things.

Obviously the iPod already has exploded.

I mean these people are at the tail end of it, I guess.

Steve: Yes.

Mark: They may have been in a cave somewhere.

I mean it’s not like it’s something that’s come along in the last year or so.

I mean the iPod has been around for years.

Steve: I mean here were these language teachers and they said “What’s a podcast?” which is not so surprising.

Mark: But you know that’s the thing, if you’re not involved in one, if you don’t listen to them.

Perhaps you’ve heard the term, it’s a bit like the iPod, but if you’re not motivated to go out…

Steve: And if it’s a strange new term you’re actually turned off by hearing of things that you don’t know.

Mark: Yeah, you know I don’t need an iPod.

I’m happy with whatever I’m doing and maybe they are.

Steve: Sure. They’re still listening to RPM records.

Mark: Yeah, sure, they’re happy.

And maybe they don’t listen to that much music or they’re happy with their records or whatever the case may be.

Steve: Right.

Mark: And until you feel a need to actually use new technology…I mean there are some people that whatever new technology is out there they want to use it right away, whether they have a use for it or not.

Steve: Correct.

Mark: And there are other people that, no, if I don’t need the thing I’m not going to bother.

I don’t need to learn about it.

I don’t need to buy one.

Steve: One of the most interesting conferences I went to was on the last day there were two professors of Japanese, one from Dartmouth and the other from Hawaii and the one from Dartmouth had done a study on what the learners wanted to do with their iPod.

And I can’t remember all of it, but that was kind of interesting.

She’d actually, you know, what are they prepared to do with their iPod.

They’re prepared to do a lot.

They’re prepared to read books on their iPod for gosh sakes.

Then the professor from Hawaii, who was also a professor of Chinese, or Japanese rather, he had some interesting statistics on the growth of the iPhone versus Blackberries.

It’s dramatically in favour of the iPhone.

Mark: Right.

Steve: And the most dramatic difference is that there are over 100,000 apps (applications) that have been written for the iPhone, there are 300 that have been written for the Blackberry, 60 for Samsung, 20 for Nokia.

I don’t remember the exact numbers, but it’s that range and that order of magnitude.

Mark: Sure.

Now the thing is it’s the type of people that are on iPhones versus on Blackberries that probably determines a lot of those statistics.

Like your iPhone type is your early adopter-type tech keener who likes all of his gadgets, likes all these applications and so on and your Blackberry is basically a business device.

Steve: Right.

Mark: Business people use it to keep in contact with each other, send emails.

Steve: This is true.

Mark: So it’s a different type of user.

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