Will Jordan-Cooley

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Some language learning ideas

October 12, 2016

I'm currently living in Spain and trying to learn the language so I'm thinking a lot about language learning and apps/games that would help. This is more of a musings piece - just quickly jotting down some ideas that have been floating around.

Location-based language learning - Duo Lingo meets Pokemon Go?
Hanging out in Toronto, I met a lot of folks who were there to practice English. It was obviously good experience to be traveling in an English-speaking city. Most were also taking language courses. However, the situation wasn't optimal. Most were having problems paying attention in their courses, being 4+ hours at a time and taking place in a classroom. The classes were certainly less interesting than the other time the spent out in the city, walking around and experiencing. On the other hand, the courses provided more structure and directed learning than time spent in the city.

What if you could walk around a city and find little language learning activities related to your current location? For instance, you might walk by a grocery store and receive a packet of vocab words related to groceries and some simple phone-based activities to quickly practice them. Then, you'd be given a mission like, "Go into the grocery store and find all the ingredients needed to make your favorite sandwich. Upload a picture and description."

There's a number of benefits to this approach. 1) Exercise increases blood-flow to the brain which promotes learning. 2) It's probably a more memorable experience than anything you engineer in a classroom. 3) It leads to real conversational practice with native speakers.

Dirty Lingo
This was a nice joke between me and some friends but would probably be very engaging and potentially popular, if only by riding the coattails of its namesake. The idea is simply, what if you made a language learning app like Duo Lingo but focused on curses and suggestive phrases? Certainly not for the classroom but probably useful...

Language learning with sign language
I'm wondering about the utility of pairing words in a new language with their representation in American Sign Language (ASL), either in addition to or instead of, the word's translation in the learner's native language. I know that one goal of language learning is move past the point that you're constantly translating back and forth between your own and the target language. I also know that adding additional associations to a word (elaborative processing) and thinking about an abstract concept in physical terms (grounded cognition) are helpful for remembering and thinking about concepts. It seems that a program which used sign language to reinforce translations or replace them is an interesting route and there seem to be many free video libraries for ASL.

Enabling conversation with augmented messaging apps
It seems that conversations are sort of the holy grail of language learning activities for a number of reasons (this article does a nice job explicating the pros). The barriers to this are 1) availability of conversation partners 2) people's natural reluctance to make mistakes in a social setting and 3) steep learning curve for beginners with limited vocab/grammar.

The best language learning app might just be a messaging app integrated with google translator and a couple other light features. Imagine you're having a text conversation with friend in another language. Whenever you don't understand a message, you can highlight a selection and it will be translated in-app. The translation has some errors but it's certainly enough to convey the meaning and you can isolate words to help suss out any mistakes. It should also let you suggest edits to a friend's message (without disrupting the main message thread). Maybe you can even send voice messages that can be turned to text if need be.

On to BrainPOP work though I think I'll add to this later.

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