“Tell me more” – An effective language learning tool?

Yesterday in Andrew Wickham’s presentation on Blended learning I heard about “Tell me more” – an online language learning website that seems to have grown to have a lot of users. I got curious and decided to find out more today. Their homepage, www.tellmemore.com, said this was “the leading language company”, but of course they would say that themselves. Well, they seemed to have a lot of languages on offer – Spanish, French, German, ESL – English as a Second Language, Italian, Chinese etc. Some of the languages apparently needed a CD or a DVD to work properly in addition to the online services. Somehow, however, this looked rather old school to me; I had seen similar layouts even in the 90s, when the e-learning industry took off. At that time this kind of layout appeared on the CD-boxes on the shelves in the computer department of department stores. How could this be blended learning? As it seemed to me it was definitely e-learning, the exact kind of learning we heard yesterday was completely OUT and deemed useless with poor completion rates and results. Decided to have a closer look, went to Youtube and hoped there would be some kind of demonstration there, as I really didn’t want to register for a 7 day free trial until I knew more. There was at least one link there, one whose title seemed to be official and promotional as it was named “Tell Me More, language learning software Walk through Part 1”.

The young student here was obviously enrolled in a Beginner’s course in German. Interesting, I thought, as I am a German teacher as well. However, the whole experience was embarrassing to say the least. I don’t know if the poor student had a bad internet connection, or if the  page loads really are that slow. Speech recognition, yes, but that worked only once in ten, and even then I didn’t see the point. Boring task, no intellectual challenge, no structural build-up. The 90s software even beat this. I remember trying out a software CD in German language acquisition at the time with my own kids, then elementary school children. They were playing games with vocabulary, and each time they said a word with the correct pronunciation, they scored and got additional sound feedback with those cheery kinds of exclamations like “Yes, way to go!”, “Great!” etc. (I really hate those, they would put off anyone from continuing any game whatsoever). Sometimes the speech recognition feature worked, sometimes not – but as it was a game, the kids were still motivated to play and went on repeating the words until it worked, all a plus from a learning point of view, I think. There is no such incentive here. If something doesn’t work, the student just leaves the task and randomly and aimlessly (as it seems to me) opens another. No games, if you don’t count those ever present multiple choice tasks as games.

Back to the original question: where does the Blended learning come in here? I can’t see that it does, actually. Not in any sense that it couldn’t have been done so (better) with the 90s software. So, I’m sorry, but this experience of today’s so called blended learning software compared to yesterday’s doesn’t tally with what we learned in yesterday’s presentation:


(And I would definitely leave out all speech recognition features from the “on-computer-phase” and do those elements in a traditional class setting.)

Blended learning

blended learning defAttended a great webinar again today, this time with Andrew Wickham on “Teachers Teaching Online” at WizIQ.com. He has a long history of working with e-learning and subsequently blended learning. His presentation made a succinct distinction between the two, something I had previously had no idea about. I’m almost ashamed now of having used the wrong term so many times – difficult this with language changing all the time and all the effort and time you need to invest just to keep uptodate with the terminology. Even a few years make a whole lot of difference  when it comes to language; something that was positive yesterday might be totally out today. People keep complaining about the ever changing fashion industry, but this accelerating speed of change has really affected everything in our lives now.

But, as I said, it was a great presentation and I’m so happy I decided to join. In spite of the linguistic shame that I personally felt, I do feel inspired to continue on the road I’ve chosen and also got a lot of my teaching principles confirmed. So, thank you again, Andrew!

Namnlöst-16Here are Andrew’s links for resources to explore for anyone interested in testing blended learning with their classes:





twitter.jpgEven though I’ve been registered on Twitter since 2012, I haven’t really used it much. I suppose I didn’t find I had the time or the energy to actually learn how to get the most out of it, since I was so busy creating my own digital teaching material for all my classes. This summer, however, I started off the holidays right away by trying to get a serious hang of it. Basically, I landed straight on an IATEFL webinar with Jill Hadfield talking about internal and external motivations in L2 learners, and I was hooked. First of all, Jill Hadfield is kind of a hero to me ever since I was introduced to her  Communication Games in my own teacher training a hundred years ago. Secondly, I was astonished to find that there were all kinds of first-class webinars out there absolutely free of charge! I loved the format – I could attend from home, didn’t have to dress up or anything, could have a cup of coffee or something to eat whenever I wanted, and the interactivity factor was a lot bigger here than at a regular IRL seminar at any of all the conferences I have attended around the world (and they were NOT free!) And lastly, I’ve learnt a LOT! Thank you, guys!

That was the start for my webinar  frenzy during June. There were lots of webinars and lots of really knowledgeable, experienced people presenting, people I had known nothing about previously. To my shame I had to ralize that I had lived in a bubble until then, filled with my own ideas and ways to make those ideas happen in class. Okay, yes, most of the time I had been successful, even to a surprising extent if one can go after students’ course evaluations. They learned in new ways, and they were actually surprised to find that learning this way was actually fun. And that’s a lot, coming from teenagers ranging from 13 to 19 years of age.

But here were a lot of people that also found technology to be an extremely useful medium for learning, and they had all found their own ways, too – even though their journeys were different from mine. And I started to follow them on Twitter and found new webinars and new people and new organizations that were there to assist ELT teachers like myself. But they all had something I did not – a blog or a homepage. And again I realized that if I really wanted to play in the same league and actually contribute something myself and give back to them, I needed to have that too. And here I am.

For those of you who haven’t been bitten by the Twitter or webinar bug yet; here is a list of all the webinars and conferences I attended during my June+ vacation, including the  presenters (all great and really worth following on Twitter) and the organizations behind.

May 2014

31st – Jill Hadfield – ‘Motivation, Imagination and L2 Identity’ ; IATEFL.org

June 2014

14th –  2nd Web Conference: IATEFL LTSIG & TESOL CALL-IS – Gaming and Gamification – a Win-win for Language Learning

Vance Stevens & Ellen Dougherty/Nicky Hockley & Elizabeth Hanson-Smith: Welcome Address

Karenne Sylvester, UK – Honey Coated Peas vs Chocolate Covered Broccoli, Part 2

Jeff Kuhn: The World is Not Enough: The Need for Game Design

Dawn Bikowski: Training Teachers to Think in Games

Graham Stanley: Gamification – Magic Bullet or Broken Sword?

Paul Driver: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”: Gaming the System with Mary Poppins and Mr T

Julie Sykes: Out in the World: Place-based, augmented reality games and language learning

Closing Panel Discussion

16th – Teachers Teaching Online – Intro; www.wiziq.com

16th – Teachers Teaching Online – Shelly Terrell: Virtual Makeover; www.wiziq.com

17th – Teachers Teaching Online – Nik Peachey: Getting the Most Out of Online Video Resources; www.wiziq.com

19th – Teachers Teaching Online –Vicki Hollett: Every Teacher a Video Maker; www.wiziq.com

21st – Teachers Teaching Online – Jack Askew: The Successful Online Teacher; www.wiziq.com

21st – Lindsay Clandfield: What’s hot and what’s not in coursebooks; IATEFL.org

22nd – Madeleine du Vivier – ‘How to write an effective IATEFL conference proposal’ ; IATEFL.org

23rd – Teachers Teaching Online – Heike Philp: How Do I Find Online Students; www.wiziq.com

23rd – Russell Stannard: Flipping your classesLandesinstitut für Pädagogik und Medien

24th – Teachers Teaching Online – Vicky Loras: Across Time and Space; www.wiziq.com

25th – Teachers Teaching Online – Barbara Sakamoto & Chuck Sandy: Building a Community of Leaders; www.wiziq.com

25th – Teachers Teaching Online – Rich Kiker: Google for Productivity in Online Learning; www.wiziq.com

25th – Teachers Teaching Online – David Deubelbeiss: Blended Learning – Woven Curriculum Design; www.wiziq.com

26th – John Hughes:  Critical thinking skills in Business Englishelt.oup.com

26th – Different approaches to teaching language – PPP to TBL; cambridgeenglish.org

26th – Teachers Teaching Online – Sylvia Guinan: Managing Group Dynamics; www.wiziq.com

28th – Teachers Teaching Online – Jack Askew: Getting Students; www.wiziq.com

30th – Teachers Teaching Online – Graham Stanley: Engaging Online Learners; www.wiziq.com

30th – Edmund Dudley: Approaches to Culture with 21st Century Teens; elt.oup.com

July 2014

1st – Teachers Teaching Online – Marisa Constantinides: Essentials for Teachers New to Online Teaching; www.wiziq.com

1st – Teachers Teaching Online – Jason R. Levine: Getting to Know the Virtual Classroom in WizIQ; www.wiziq.com

3rd – Teachers Teaching Online – Dr. Nellie Deutsch: Leading from the Inside Out; www.wiziq.com



Starting out

I’ve been thinking of starting writing a blog for a few years now, but never really got down to it. Well, now I have and this will be sort of a record of my thoughts and my ideas on teaching (and learning) a language.
Some of it, quite a lot actually, will be about CALL, ie. computer-assisted language learning, online as well as offline. However, there will be posts on communicative language learning, blended learning and ideas for the traditional classroom, too.