Sunday, December 11, 2016

Anki: Bringing flashcards out of the stone age

This is the text of a guest post I wrote for the Everydaylanguagelearner blog.  Unfortunately, the link is no longer current, so I thought I would re-post it here.

Anki: Bringing flashcards out of the stone age

Let's start out with what I really think.

If you are not studying using Anki on a mobile device , then you are wasting your time.  And, that, my friends, is the worst possible thing in the world.

I am going to assume you, the reader, are a serious language learner.  You already study a lot, and by that, I mean hours a day.  You're not one of those many people who say they really want to learn a language but don't actually give it any time.

Why do I keep going on about time?  Because it is your most precious resource.  You never have enough of it; we're all super busy.  You can't buy any extra.  You get a finite amount and then you're done.  It's a harsh reality, but it's true.  And, if you are a serious language learner, you know that it is time spent with the target language that gets the job done.  So, desire and motivation are great, but without time – You. Will. Not. Learn. Period.

Now, hear me out before you get all bent out of shape about my apparent ultimatum.  I'm not saying that you can't learn a language by other means.  In fact, I don't think you could learn a language just using Anki.  You still need conversation, grammar, music, classes, books, listening, and everything else that we are all desperately trying to find time for.

However, to be able to communicate in your target language comfortably and confidently, you need all that raw material cemented in your head.  It needs to be automatic.  It needs to be instantaneous.  And it needs to be there all the time.  

How do you burn it into your brain?  By repeated exposure – time and time again.

That's where the beauty of Anki comes into play  It shows you the material time and time again, but by using it's spaced repetition algorithm, you only study what you need to study when you need to study it.  Based on cognitive research, there is no more efficient and effective way to learn something.  For that alone, you need to start using Anki.  Anything else is a waste of your time.Let's start out with what I really think.

However, to take it one step further, it is the ability to use Anki on the go that makes it the most amazing thing since beer in a can.  When I first started using Anki, I spent hours sitting in front of my computer.  I was learning, but it was killing me (please read this article about sitting too long).  It was also easy to get tired, bored, and distracted.

Once I discovered the ability to use Anki on my iPod, I was off and running – well, walking actually.  I started studying EVERYWHERE: on the walk to work, on the train, on the exercise bike at the gym, while waiting for students, and, in the spirit of full disclosure, on the toilet.  My wife and I have become so addicted to moving and studying Anki that we actually bought a folding treadmill so we can study in the apartment during bad weather.

Suddenly, we were finding hours of extra time to study.  And that, in a nutshell, is why you should be using mobile Anki.

So, let me tell you what else I think.  If you are serious about learning your target language and you have a mobile device, you need to get the Anki app right now.  If you don't have a mobile device, go buy an iPod (new or used) right now.  Yes, I know it's not cheap, but you need to put your money where your mouth is.

It's time to stop wasting time, and it's time to start learning.

P.S. I don't work for Anki, nor do I have any commercial connection.

What you need to know to get started

You can find very detailed information and instructions on how to setup and use Anki at its website:

If you have an Android based mobile device, you’re lucky - the AnkiDroid Flashcards app is free.

If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, you’re not so lucky.  The Ankimoble Flashcard iPhone app is $25.  Yes, I know it seems expensive compared to most apps, but in my opinion, it is worth much more. If you are reluctant to pay for the app, one option is to learn how to use the free PC program and website study option. If you find that it is effective and want to reap the benefits of the app, you can buy it and sync to your account so you do not lose any progress.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Mobile Assisted Language Learning Facebook group

In the interest of sharing ideas and information wtih teachers and students about using mobile digital devices for language learning, I have created a Facebook group:

Mobile Assisted Language Learning

Please join us and share your ideas and experiences!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Quizlet.Live: Classroom based social vocabulary game

Quizlet is a fantastic vocabulary flashcard website and smart phone app that we all should be using in our classes.  Recently, Quizlet has come out with a new game called Quizlet Live, where students collaborate in teams to be the first to match all my terms.

My students love the game and really want to play it time and time again.  Other teachers are using it at my university and report similar findings.

I recently wrote a short piece for the Digital & Mobile Language Learning website titled "Quizlet.Live: Classroom based social vocabulary game" about it and important information to make the process easier and smoother.

You can read the piece here.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Voice to Text (VoT) Technology on Smart Phones

At the recent JALTCALL 2014 conference at Sugiyama Jyougakun University in Nagoya, I attended an excellent session given by James Henry from The Research Institute of English Language Education in Kobe regarding how he used Dragon Dictation, a free Voice to Text (VoT) application on iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches to teach pronunciation and speaking.  Over the years, VoT has improved dramatically and is much more reliable and accurate, and Dragon Dictation is one of the best currently available.
James showed us how students, using Dragon Dictation and at their own pace, spoke words or phrases from a list into their smart devices and compared what the application registered on the screen to the text on their papers.  After receiving this direct and immediate feedback on their pronunciation and speaking skills, many students were surprised by the results and felt challenged to try again, resulting in increased motivation and effort.
To better see this in action, please click on the following hyperlink to see a YouTube video of a similar process in an ESL classroom in California:

ELL students practice English with iPods

I was very excited by the potential of VoT technology and immediately began trying to incorporate it into my teaching the following Monday.  I introduced it to some individual students, who all strongly responded to the immediate feedback and reported that they felt challenged to try again and wanted to keep trying.  I also introduced it to a Technical English for Engineers class and quickly was able to have all the students practicing their pronunciation of the new and difficult technical and scientific vocabulary they have been studying.  With an adult staff class, I introduced VoT as a way for them to practice their speaking and pronunciation of conversational questions they have been studying.   Both classes responded in the same positive way.
Here are some suggestions and observations to make your life easier based on the above experiences:

  • Before you try to introduce VoT to a class of students, make sure you know how to use the VoT options the different phone systems: iOS for iPhones and Android for most other phones.  Often times, different phones have different settings in terms of input language, enabling voice to text, keyboard language, microphone button, etc.  One idea is to work beforehand with one or two reliable students so that they understand the process and can assist in class. Another idea is to have students change the language of their phones to English so you can help guide them through the process of figuring out how to use VoT.
  • You don’t have to use Dragon Dictation.  Most newer iPhones and Android phones have built in VoT that can be used in composing emails and other texts.  Dragon Dictation is easier to use, but it is not available for Android phones.  There may be some free VoT applications available for Android phones, however.
  • It is better to have students focus on individual words or short phrases (2-3 words).  With longer texts, it is much harder for the students to produce correct VoT text which that can be frustrating and demotivating.
  • Along the same lines, it is important to let the students know that even if they are unable to produce a VoT text with 100% accuracy, they can still be understood by a human listener.  Remind them that this activity is just to improve their pronunciation.
  • When appropriate, use the student’s phone yourself to produce the correct text to show them that the VoT actually does work the way it is supposed to.

Next semester, I have a Listening and Speaking class where I plan to incorporate VoT as a regular activity in the classroom.  I’d welcome any suggestions and thoughts on how that might be done.  Stay tuned for updates!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Technology workshop and presentation

On December 1st, I attended the CUE Technology Workshop at Keisen University in western Tokyo and was also able to give a short presentation about my past and current efforts to incorporate mobile technology into my teaching and into my students' lives outside of the classroom.

At the workshop, I attended some excellent sessions and learned what other teachers are doing.  I was particularly impressed by Mark Firth's presentation about students using smartphones to make videos as a learning activity.  He had some very good advice and pointers.  Dan Ferreira's presentation on digitally streamlining the essay correction process was excellent.

I will post again when the power point presentations are available on the website.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Getting students signed up for free Quizlet user accounts (false start!)

In the week before our first computer lab meeting, I had the bright idea to have my Freshman English students signed up for free Quizlet accounts using their smart phones.  Bad idea.  Even though they have used the website or app before on their smart phones, it did not go well at all.  

One reason is that the app language is in English, so it was not easy for them to understand what to do. Some were signing up using their Facebook accounts, and some created new accounts with usernames and passwords.  Trying to monitor 24 students doing all this at the same time was quite stressful and not very effective.

And slow cell phone signals and wifi in classroom caused some smart phones to jam up.

I quickly realized that  trying to do it this way was a bad idea, so we stopped right there and then and moved on.  

The takeaway is to do it in a computer lab, very slowly and clearly, leading them through the process on the Quizlet website.  Another option would be to use my smart phone mirrored up on the TV screen.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Change of Focus...

Over the last three years, I have been experimenting with incorporating Anki, a spaced-repetition software (SRS), flashcard website and smartphone application (app) into my teaching.  Personally and professionally, I think Anki on a mobile device is one of the best learning tools/methods available, and I use it daily to study Japanese.

However, I have come to the reluctant conclusion that Anki is not a good choice for many traditional teaching situations.  To work effectively, SRS systems require the users to be very serious and diligent in their use.  Many of my students, especially those taking required English classes, are not motivated enough to use it properly.  As much as they say they want to learn English, few of them put forth the time and effort, for many understandable reasons.

In short, using Anki incorrectly is an inefficient and ineffective way to study and may be a waste of time.

With that in mind, I have decided to change my focus to Quizlet (website and app) which has many similar features but does not require such serious and diligent use to be effective.  Quizlet has a variety of study and game modes to keep it interesting for students.  Another nice option is that teachers can create classes that students join and allow the teacher to keep track (in a limited way) on student use.

So, the plan for this semester is to incorporate Quizlet into two classes.

One is a regular Freshman English class, and we will meet in a computer lab once a week (out of four 45-minute classes) to use Quizlet.  We will aslo use Quizlet on smartphones for short periods on the three other days.

The other class is a once-a-week (90 minute) class.  We will also meet in a computer lab, with half the class time focused on face-to-face communication in my regular teaching style.  The other half of the class will be focused on using the Quizlet website, especially using the Test mode as an assessment device.

Overall, I want to see how to best use Quizlet in class for both students and teachers.  I also want to explore ways to get students to use the smartphone app (or website if they don't have a smartphone) to study Quizlet outside of class and how to monitor that usage in a useful way.