Try something different this year, adopt an app!

image source: John Allan

As language teachers, many of us agree that technology is useful for assisting our instruction.  Videos, animations, virtual tours, audio clips, interactive games, self-correcting quizzes and digital online resources are some of the possibilities offered through technology. Until recently, technology based learning events have been delivered on institutional workstations, laptops or tablets.  The personal device revolution is migrating learning events/objects to mobile device applications or apps.

For security reasons, institutions have been organized to control digital resources. This includes networks, hardware, software, online subscriptions and website access.  The advent of Bring Your Own Technology or B.Y.O.T. tests this control. The challenge for language instructors is to keep the students on task while on individual devices. As well, teachers will be overwhelmed with the number of app offerings.  Over the past few decades, we have relied on instructors to ensure that TESL technology integration is suitable for facilitating language learning and providing a safe learning experience for our students. Hopefully, this trend will continue, and as teachers experiment with apps they will share their recommendations with blog posts, articles, workshops and conference presentations.

Are you already using BYOT?

Many language teachers use B.Y.O.T. without even recognizing it.  Examples of this are:

  • using a messaging app in group mode to communicate with students
  • asking students to refer to an online translator app
  • assigning students to run through vocabulary flashcards via an app (Quizlet)
  • using a map app to practice giving directions
  • playing a game using the Kahoot app

Each of these examples oblige students to use a mobile device to participate.

There are a bounty of apps that target the individual learner in the language learning community.   Marketing campaigns, at times, tout that their app will allow them to learn a needed language. This is off putting to language teaching professionals as we know that there is no ‘silver bullet’ in the language acquisition process.   However, if we strip away the marketing hype and focus on what these apps can offer us as instructional tools, we may advance our students’ learning.  I guess I am asking – is it time to embrace apps as common tools in our classrooms?

Have some reservations?

Most of us may have some reservations about using these apps in our teaching due to:

  • the overwhelming number of available apps available
  • fear of losing control over learning events
  • technical issues such as repair, charge, subscription, advertising overlays
  • managing multiple apps in a single course
  • mapping the apps to the course outcomes

Consider these apps to get started…

Six apps that I have found have potential for use in a B.Y.O.T. language teaching and learning situation are: (there are many more)

  1. Babbel
  2. BUSUU
  3. DuoLingo
  4. Drops
  5. Memrise
  6. Mosalingua

I will be experimenting further with apps this academic year and hope to share my experience in the future. Give it some thought and bring up the potential of apps to your centre/institution.

If you have any experience or ideas related to apps in the classroom post them below.

Links to listed apps in this blog:


Hi—I'm John Allan. I am an educator who works in the technology enhanced language learning field. I create online learning opportunities and mentor instructors on the Avenue project. I have experience teaching ESL and EFL in Canada and the Middle East. I hold an MSC in Computer Assisted Language learning, a M.Ed. in Distance Education, TESL B. Ed., a B.Ed. (OCT), and a variety of TESL relevant certifications from TESL Canada, TESL Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Education. For more articles, learning objects, projects and blog links see


6 thoughts on “Try something different this year, adopt an app!”

  1. I’ve had 100% Smartphone ownership for the past 2 years with my learners. The adult English Language Learners that I’ve been fortunate to have are far more tech -aware today than in the past, however, many are also unaware of the privacy-issues with some digital tools/apps.

    As an instructor, I’m constantly on the lookout for “open educational resources”, gladly trading some personally identifying information (PII) for free resources, but let the instructor beware: if you’re not the consumer, you’re the product. Marketplace did an interesting piece on the kinds of power you give up when you download free apps.

    Regardless, privacy concerns aren’t keeping me from exploring some resources, but I am still careful. Is the tool or app worth it? Or is the app mainly bells and whistles? What’s the app allowing the learners to do that expands their understanding, critical thinking, collaboration, etc?

    To instructors just getting their virtual feet wet, I’d advise to demand more of the apps you chose. Investigate them. Jump into the Twitterverse to see what’s being said about it by other users. Thanks for this post!

    Jen Artan

  2. Great points Jenn. Privacy should concern us all especially if we are requesting that our students download apps that we are unsure of. This is another skill that contemporary educators have to consider. When will it end? 🙁 In 2009, I wrote about tech overload with our profession
    Certainly the privacy issue is turning some of us away from experimenting with apps.

  3. Hello,

    What app(s) would you recommend to capture samples of students’ speaking?

    Thank you,
    Mirjana Acic-Kazinic

  4. Mirjana, sorry for the delay in my response. At the moment, many students can use the Poodl app embedded in Moodle (LearnIT2teach/ edulinc) courses.

    With an Iphone there are many different apps that do a great job of recording student audio in the classroom or on a field trip. In the Extras, app link on a standard IPhone, look for the app “Voice Memos” for a simple voice recorder that allows you to save the audio clip with a name.

    See for several audio recording options.

    all the best,


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