Update (August 11 2014): You can see more commentary and analysis of this post in another post I recently wrote for eltjam.com.
A couple of months ago, the folks over at eltjam put out an invitation to you and your students to talk tech. Then last week Mike Griffin posted his results from discussions with his students on a graduate program in Seoul. I was intrigued by the responses that Mike got, and thought that it made for an interesting discussion. So, today, I decided to do the same with some of my students.
First things first, the students. I had a class of 21 students. It was a ‘free talking’ class which usually entails groups of students sitting around together and talking about anything they fancy. I, as the teacher, then usually circulate among the tables and chat with the students. These students were all in their 20s, mostly university students studying in Daegu. All of the students are studying at a private language academy – where I work. The students were split into three groups (7, 6, 8), and were a mixture of male and female students.
Our academy does in fact use technology quite a bit, where students are required to complete an online component of their course before each lesson on their own.
I adapted the questions slightly from the ones posted by eltjam and didn’t use them all. Rather than giving the students the chance to discuss the questions together first, I led the discussion and wrote down notes. The questions I asked were:
- Apart from this academy’s material, what do you use outside of class to help you learn English?
- What technology do you use to learn English when you’re not at the academy?
- How do you know that technology is helping you to learn English?
- What language is your phone set to?
- What do you think about using technology in class?
- Is there anything you want to do with technology and learning English, but can’t?
Below are my notes and what I gathered from the students comments on the questions I asked.
1. Apart from this academy’s material, what do you use outside of class to help you learn English?
- One student responded that he read English news articles from the likes of BBC and CNN.
- A couple of students said that they liked listening to pop songs in English online, and that they felt that helped them learn English.
- Quite a few of the higher level students said that they watched English dramas – when asked, many said that they tried without subtitles first, but would sometimes re-watch with English subtitles. I also asked the students who said that they did this if they were doing so specifically to learn English, and most said that they were trying to improve their listening skills.
- A few students mentioned that they liked to listen to a Korean radio broadcast ‘입이트이는영어’, which translates into something like ‘How to speak fluently’.
- TED Talks came up a couple of times, and many students said that they found this helpful.
- Most students said that they used grammar books, both Korean produced and those published outside of Korea, e.g. English Grammar in Use.
2. What technology do you use to learn English when you’re not at the academy?
- The TED Talks app cropped up a couple of times here again. One of the students showed me a ‘TED Talks Subtitles’ app.
- Almost all students said that they used a Korean-English dictionary app, and a few said that they used an English-English dictionary app. Most students said they were familar with Naver and Daum dictionaries (two of the biggest internet search companies in Korea). One comment I got was that Daum dictionary was good for providing the correct definition, while Naver was good for providing lots of example sentences.
- Google translate was mentioned a couple of times also, where students said they used it more as a dictionary.
- Only one student said that he used a specific English learning app to help him: ‘SuperVocabulary’.
3. How do you know that technology is helping you to learn English?
- Most students had difficulty answering this question. Many said that they didn’t really know.
- One student responded that it was ‘always helpful and convenient’.
- Another said that he didn’t really know if it was helpful, but used technology because other people had said that it helped them.
4. What language is your phone set to?
- I asked all 21 students this question:
- KOREAN: 17
- ENGLISH: 3
- JAPANESE: 1
- Two of the three who did have their phone in English were fairly low level.
- A couple of students said that in the past their phones had been set to English but they had changed it back.
- Another comment that I heard twice was that the iPhone English was ‘better’ than the Android English. One of the students who previously had her iPhone in English said that she couldn’t have her Android in English because it was too difficult to use.
- One student said that he thought that it would be useless to turn the phone to English after having used it in Korean, because it had become automatic to use the phone, and he didn’t need to read the on screen instructions, but it would have been better if he had turned his phone to English from the start.
- One more student was very excited about the idea of turning her phone to English, and couldn’t wait to try it out.
5. What do you think about using technology in class?
- Most of the students were actually quite indifferent to this question. Some said that they hadn’t really thought about it before, so didn’t know how to answer.
- One of the three groups did however have a bit to say about this. One girl thought that it would be good to have handouts sent digitally to phones/tablets to save paper, and also she could write on the notes on her phone and save them for later.
- Another student suggested using QR codes on handouts so that students could get more information later on if they wanted.
- A couple of students felt that allowing technology in the class could be a distraction though, and that students might be tempted to play on their phones or chat with friends if they were not interested in the lesson.
- Another student felt unsure because of the ‘technical skill’ required on both the student and teacher’s part, and that this might take up a lot of time in the lesson that could be otherwise spent on English.
6. Is there anything you want to do with technology and learning English, but can’t?
- Some students said that they hadn’t thought about it.
- One student said that she’d like to record her voice so that she could listen back to it later on, but didn’t know how. (One other student immediately showed her the voice record function).
- One student said that he would like it if all YouTube videos had English subtitles so that he could check his understanding.
- Quite a few students said that because they use Hangeul Word Processor, a Korean equivalent of Microsoft Word, they were unable to check their spelling and grammar because the spellcheck only worked for Korean. They didn’t have Word on their computers to use the Microsoft spellchecker. As a result, they didn’t know how they could check their spelling.
- One student said that she would really like to be able to find out the meaning of idioms and proverbs online but didn’t know how.
- Another student who had studied in the US said that she really wanted to be able to use the Netflix app on her phone, but couldn’t because it was blocked in Korea.
- Finally, a couple of students commented on how they would like an app to be able to do our academy’s online component of their course instead of having to do it on the computer.
I think the thing that stuck out the most for me, was the lack of apps that students used/were aware of, apart from the dictionaries. Only one student said that he used an English learning app specifically. I was also a little surprised at the comments about watching dramas/TED Talks without subtitles, and wonder whether students were just saying this because they felt that they had to because it was the ‘right’ answer.
If nothing else, I hope our discussion of technology at least raised my students’ awareness that there were things they could do, and I was quite happy to see the other students making suggestions and helping out students who didn’t really know what they could do.