Mark and Steve – Language Learning, the IPhone and New Technology, Part 2

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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.

Steve: However, if we’re looking at language learning…

Mark: And BlackBerry didn’t let you make apps for the longest time.

Steve: Oh, okay.

Mark: It’s more of a recent thing, but having said that I mean iPhone the apps thing is exploding.

Steve: I mean listen, if BlackBerry catches up and they allow people to build apps they will undoubtedly try to copy some of the features that iPhone has.

Mark: Oh, they have done so already.

Steve: But the interesting thing is that, again, this Japanese professor from Hawaii showed, you know, he said “Let’s look for German flashcards.” In terms of looking there’s an apps store or whatever they call it, right, on the iPhone; over 100 apps having to do with learning German, just learning German.

That’s today.

And they list by most popular and stuff like that.

And he, himself, is devising special apps for handwriting characters and recognizing characters and, you know, voice…

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: Well, you name it.

So that’s one extreme.

And he’s obviously a mid-30s, techie kind of guy.

But then I’m leaving that discussion and there’s a lady, she’s probably in her 50s, Chinese lady and she teaches Chinese.

And she has developed a whole range of things that she does for her class all of whom have iPods or at least iPhones or iPod touches, including flashcards for characters, everything related to the lesson.

She’s figured out their mentality and if she gives them stuff to do that isn’t specifically required for Friday they won’t do it.

And her teenage daughters have shown her how to track what they’re doing on their iPods: most frequently, you know, visited or recent, whatever.

You would look at her and say she’s not likely to be an early adapter, but she is.

Mark: Right.

Steve: All I’m saying is that once people decide that they want to use this technology it’s really not that difficult to use.

Mark: No. That’s the same with any technology.

If you’re motivated to use it you’ll figure out how to use it.

Steve: Including LingQ.

Mark: Including LingQ.

Well that’s right.

Steve: Right.

Mark: You know we’ve talked about having an iPhone application for LingQ and one thing about people, I think, one thing about people that do have iPhones or iPod touches is that they want to use them.

Like it’s a neat device and they’re looking for excuses to use them, so that’s where, you know, an iPod application might be a good thing.

Because if people are looking for an excuse to use it and it does what they need then they’ll use it and people will see them using it because they’re out in public with it and it might be a good way to help spread things, but that’s an aside.

Steve: Well, I mean we were looking at my iPod touch, which I bought, by the way, from an automat from a vending machine.

I went to a vending machine with my card and bought this product, which cost $200.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Unbelievable.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: Anyway, we were looking at my iPod touch and of course we can access LingQ from it.

So I can actually do my flashcards on my little iPod touch…

Mark: Right.

Steve: …which is extraordinary.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: And there are perhaps…you know people have different preferences when it comes to flashcard systems.

And we are looking at exporting our lists from LingQ into different flashcard systems so that those that like Anki or SuperMemo or whatever they like they can then use their preferred.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Because people do have preferences.

Mark: However, we’ve been talking about exporting our flashcards for quite a long time, so in the meantime…

Steve: Yes?

Mark: …it works on the iPhone.

Steve: Well that’s right.

It works on the iPhone people.

Now some of the, you know, actions are a little more difficult to do on the iPhone screen.

Mark: Sure.

I mean…or you just have to zoom in…

Steve: But the flashcards work fine.

Mark: Yeah, the flashcards are good and even the linking does work.

Steve: It does work.

Mark: It does work.

Steve: But you have to be very skilled …and have long fingernails.

Mark: It’s just a small screen is all, but it does work.

Anyway, that was neat to see.

Really, I guess, we should have been more early adapters on the iPod touch, iPhone.

Steve: Right.

Mark: We should be testing these things.

Steve: I know.

Anyway, people, go and use it and tell us what you think.

One thing I wanted to finish off with about that language conference, one thing that I thought was very interesting, is the extent to which certain countries are totally committed as a matter of sort of foreign policy to promoting their languages.

So the Spanish Embassy had a huge presence there.

The Chinese, I mean it was dominated by the Chinese; the Confucius Institute Hanban, which is another Chinese government, you know, institution that promotes the Chinese language.

The Italians were very well organized.

I spent an evening with a group lead by the Italian Embassy Consulate and they’re connected to the Italian public radio and television system RAI.

And they have a tremendous range of Italian learning programs that are available free of charge for kids, you know, on history, on cooking, on you name it.

So, I mean…and the French they had a big splash there and yeah.

So it’s interesting to see that there is this effort to, yeah, to get languages out to people.

So I think everything that surrounds language learning is just getting a lot more exciting.

It’s not some obscure thing you do in a classroom that’s sort of frustrating and annoying.

Mark: Well a lot of people still think it is, unfortunately.

Steve: Yeah.

Mark: But we’re trying to change things.

Steve: And it’s not just us.

I mean the French have this TV5…TV Cinq.

Mark: Right.

Steve: They have a lot of different programs.

In fact, the French government has a language learning site that approached the University of Texas and asked for permission to use some of their Spanish and Portuguese content.

In other words, the governments are getting into promoting language learning and coming up with different video and, you know, worksheets and stuff like that, so there’s a lot of stuff.

Mark: But they’re competing with us.

Steve: I know that they are.

Mark: But they’re subsidized by the taxpayer.

Steve: I know.

Mark: That’s a problem.

Steve: No it’s not.

I think that 99% of people think they have to go to a classroom.

Mark: Right.

Steve: I continue to believe that the more people…oh and I’ve got to remember one other thing.

The more people that realize that language learning depends on them and that there’s a tremendous number of resources out there…

Mark: Right.

Steve: …the better.

And many of these resources we can, in fact, integrate into our functionality at LingQ.

And some people will like our functionality and some people will like some other functionality.

Mark: Right, absolutely.

Steve: I have no trouble with that whatsoever.

Mark: The more people that want to learn languages online the better.

It doesn’t matter where they’re doing it.

Steve: Which reminds me…

Mark: They’ll eventually realize that ours is the best.

Steve: Well, it’s the only place I like to go.

No, I think ours is more practical.

Mark: Right.

Steve: But people have their preferences.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: You know Sunday was the last day and everybody was kind of packing up their exhibits and there were no more seminars to go to and I had nothing else to do, so I went to the Rosetta Stone booth.

Mark: Yeah?

Steve: Because I had commented about Rosetta Stone on my blog.

Mark: Right.

Steve: And I said you know my son used it and, from what I gather, it’s not something that I would use.

And so someone actually contacted me from Rosetta Stone and said we’ll send you a free copy if you will review it.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: So I got a copy of Arabic, which is what I asked for, but I haven’t bothered doing much with it because of the nuisance of putting stuff in my computer and whatever, so I thought I’ll go there and walk through it.

So they didn’t have Arabic, but they had Korean so I went through Korean.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: And my impression was that it’s extremely well done.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: And if you want to get sort of jumpstarted in being able to say a few things like, you know, this is a tree or your ladder is falling down…

Mark: Right.

Steve: …then it’s good.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: But all of the content is chosen by them and so I fast forwarded.

Like you begin by having multiple choice pictures of a boy drinking juice or eating a cake, whatever and at some point you sort of read or try to answer and if you get it correct or whatever you go forward and stuff and then I said yeah, yeah.

And then we went to the advanced thing and they had two workmen and the ladder falling down and you were supposed to say stuff and it’s not obvious to me that I want to talk about ladders.

So the thing about it is it gets you saying things and if that’s the goal then perhaps that’s good, but the vocabulary that they can provide you with is so very, very limited.

And so I did not come away feeling that this was necessarily the way to go.

Mark: Yeah.

I mean that’s my impression from when I used it for Japanese.

I mean it’s fine.

And it’s like, you know, there’s all kinds of different language courses that you can buy, whether it’s teach yourself or Rosetta Stone or whatever and they all get you started.

Steve: Right.

Mark: That’s all they do.

Steve: Right.

Mark: And after that you’ve got to listen and read a lot and do the stuff that we do.

Steve: And, you know, we can finish off with a commercial.

But one lady who was the head of the San Diego Language Center said something, which I firmly believe in and I hadn’t heard it expressed quite that way.

She said “Language learning comes down to three things: time on task, motivation and attentiveness.

Those are the three.”

It’s a lot of time and that’s why we try to make it more interesting and more enjoyable, it’s motivation and there again if it’s interesting content you’re more likely to be motivated and attentiveness.

And I think that our flashcards and, you know, our discussions…

Mark: …highlighting…

Steve: …and corrections and all of these things help to make you just a little bit attentive because the language can flow by you and you miss things, so I think, you know, we’ve kind of zoomed in.

The other thing too about time on task is we make it possible with LingQ because the audio portion, which is the biggest use of time, is something you can do anywhere.

Whereas, if you’re obliged to sit in front of your computer the amount of time you’re going to have available is less.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So, time on task…

Mark: And I guess we feel that your time spent doing what we ask you to do is time spent more efficiently, obviously.

Steve: Because it makes you more attentive.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Because it’s more motivating.

Mark: Right.

Steve: But people might be motivated to watch movies, but they’re not going to watch movies three hours a day.

They can’t watch a movie while walking down the street they’ll run into a telephone pole.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: Whereas, I can walk down the street and listen to languages and then review the words and phrases at LingQ.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Anyway, a little bit of a chat there.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: We’d love to hear from you.

I’m sure there are some early adopters out there who are doing different things with technology.

Mark: Maybe using LingQ on their iPhones.

Please let us know how you find it.

Steve: Okay. That was a long one.

Mark: Bye-bye.

Steve: Bye for now.

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