Learning and Technology (apps)

Learning and Technology (apps)

I have been using an application (app) called iQamos TTS for more than three years. It is a bilingual dictionary application, Arabic-English and English-Arabic. The app can provide you with the definition and meaning of a word, with audio pronunciation, in both languages. Every word in Arabic and English is translated into more than one word (synonyms) in the other language, and the app tells you what type of word it is (verb, noun, adjective, etc.). If you don’t know the spelling, you just type the first couple of letters and the app will help you and suggest some words, again in both languages. No Internet connection or network signal is needed to use it, and it is free. This is only one example of using applications for mobile language learning. Mobile technology is a powerful thing; it is almost everywhere nowadays, but not everyone is using it in language learning. It is worth focusing on apps because their relatively successful implementation indicates their future direction and development. In the spring term of 2010, in Kuwait University, I studied a module called Literary Translation 252, which involved translating Arabic poems into English and vice versa. All the twenty-five students used their different smartphone (Blackberry, iPhone, or Android) dictionary apps for in-class activities. The tutor was quite happy with how the dictionary apps helped us by saving time and offering various synonyms, which were important in writing verses in both languages.

In recent years the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Kuwait has tried to work on and develop the use of information technology, by using e-learning in the national curriculum in public (government) schools. And in the last two years the MOE has made serious attempts to follow and start working on this technological trend; we obviously cannot nowadays ignore this trend because of the needs of the twenty-first century. The MOE has launched an app on the app stores of smartphones that allows students to download all the books for all the grades. Students insert the class they are in and then have full access to all the books that are required by the MOE for that school year. The app is called “manaheej” which is an Arabic word and means curricula. It is an electronic library of the national curriculum. With the use of this app, the MOE established what are called ‘iPad classes’, for which students no longer have to carry heavy books, but which of course require full access to an iPad or other tablet by all the students. For this reason this idea was only used in couple of classes in certain areas in the country. To be honest I am not sure if this idea will really work in the future for many reasons – for example, it is difficult to arrange for all students to have access to iPads or tablets. However, I think it is a good start or step to encourage students to use technology in learning, especially with the new learning theories like George Siemens’ connectivism theory. Siemens argued that the massive amount of information on the Internet and social networks (and with the use of new smartphones) can change and have an impact on the acquisition of knowledge. I think students should have access to sources other than the teacher in their learning process. Students of course will not follow the connectivism theory precisely, but how it deals with the impact on learning of technology, and therefore it is not like previous theories (behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism), ‘Including technology and connection making as learning activities begins to move learning theories into the digital age’ (Siemens, 2005).


Accessible ‘Anywhere, Anytime’

Generally speaking, ESL/EFL learners can benefit from the flexibility of using apps outside the classroom, where they can have access to them when they are at home or at work. ESL/EFL learners can continue learning new words and can increase their knowledge all the time by using the apps, as they are accessible ‘anytime, anywhere’. Apps can offer learners ‘mobility’ learning. Being accessible anytime and anywhere can offer learners a great opportunity to integrate their smartphones into their personal and learning lives, as it is part of mobile learning which is essentially personal, contextual, and situated (Traxler 2007).

–       British Council LearnEnglish apps

Dictionary apps are only one example of many other apps that were created for educational purposes. For example, the British Council offers a great number of apps called LearnEnglish apps. The apps were created to help English language learners by offering them a variety of apps for different skills such as grammar and pronunciation. This is a link to the LearnEnglish apps http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/apps.

The emerging mobile technologies, such as apps, will play a part in the future life of ESL/EFL learners. Smartphones and apps are an example of individualized informal learning; ESL/EFL learners can choose which app to download and how to use it in the best way to help their language learning. ESL/EFL learners should be encouraged to use a combination of formal and informal learning. In addition, the versatility of the use of apps in the classroom can offer teachers different options and new techniques in teaching. Also, the ‘bite-sized’ smartphone is very important in offering learners accessibility, anywhere and at any time. ESL/EFL learners are likely to make their smartphones their primary device for language learning, even if it is not their only computing device. This is a trend in mobile language learning that we cannot ignore.


–          Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning 2 (1). Retrieved from: http://www.itdl.org/Journal/Jan_05/article01.htm

–          Traxler, J. (2007) Defining, Discussing, and Evaluating Mobile Learning: The moving finger writes and having writ….International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 8 (2).


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