There are numerous online tools that can be used in language learning and in second language (L2) classrooms; in fact, it is a focus of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) to find and adapt such tools. From among these many choices, the next two blog posts will introduce ten tools that are available online. These tools can be used in the language classroom to enhance learning, or they could be used by students to supplement their classroom experience. These ten tools come from an extensive list of language learning links that CERCLL has compiled, which you can find on the resource page (available here). Although the links on the resource page are annotated with a brief overview, these posts allow for greater description of a few of the tools. Here are the five of thee tools, with screenshots (Click the title to visit the link):
This free online tool allows users to learn vocabulary within the context of reading. Currently on the site there are bilingual dictionaries for 11 different languages (in 22 combinations, most of which involve English as one of the languages). Using Lingro is very straightforward—simply find an online text and enter its URL where indicated on the Lingro homepage. Below is an example of this, using the Wikipedia article for Star Wars in French. By entering the URL for this page on Lingro, you can click any word in the text to get its translation. In this example I clicked on étoiles and a blue box popped up with the gender, definition, and part of speech:
Lingro also keeps track of words you have clicked on for your benefit and future study. On the website, you can review the words you have clicked on and create word lists with them. You can also view the sentential context for words that you have clicked on. Finally, you can create flashcards with these words. There is also a place on Lingro for users to help build the bilingual dictionaries, since the growth of the site is a collaborative effort.
This site allows language learners to engage in a language exchange, in which two language learners mutually help each other by devoting time to practice each learner’s L2. These language exchanges can take place over Skype, e-mail, chat, or however the two parties decide. Italki offers a search tool for users to look up other users by the language that they speak and the language they are trying to learn. You can also search locations, genders, where speakers are from originally, or filter the results to display only those who are native speakers or have a photo. From this search, you are able to connect with those who match your interests and goals to set up a language exchange. It is also possible to set up a profile about yourself. Most parts of italki are free, but in addition to language exchanges there are also tutors from around the world who offer lessons for a charge. Here is a screenshot from italki:
This tool is very helpful, but it is important to plan for possible technical problems that may arise during these exchanges, and time zones may create difficulty in establishing synchronous (real-time) communication. There are many tools on the internet for finding language exchange partners, and it is worthwhile to explore the advantages and disadvantages of several. For example, some sites have different tools for finding users with similar interests, offer more or less free services, or list more speakers of a given L2. Other sites for exchanges include MyLanguageExchange, InterPals, The Mixxer, Conversation Exchange, SharedTalk, xlingo, and many others.
LyricsTraining is a unique site that offers over three thousand music videos with accompanying lyrics for purposes of practicing L2 listening. It has videos in 7 different languages, and these videos are rated according to the difficulty level of the lyrics. To use this tool, learners watch videos and need to provide all or part of the song lyrics as music videos play, depending on the game difficulty that they select. Their efforts are timed, and they cannot proceed through a song until they enter a lyric correctly; learners are given points based on their times. The words from these songs are stored in a word list for later reference. Here is an example screenshot (using the intermediate level game):
This tool is also built collaboratively, so that users can add music videos and timed lyrics to the site from YouTube. Once their contribution is reviewed, it is added to the site’s selection.
This site offers tools for creating digital stories while choosing from a large selection of beautiful illustrations. Using Storybird, teachers or learners can find meaningful artwork and create a story alongside the pictures. As you create a story, several additional images to choose from appear next to your story. Here is a glimpse of the site:
These stories can be private, browsed by others, or even embedded and shared over social networks. Storybird offers free basic accounts, and has options for educators. This site would especially work well for K-12 students, but it could also be motivating and serve to stimulate creativity and writing skills in older language learners.
Eyercize is a novel way for learners to improve their L2 reading speed and vocabulary recognition; it is a free online tool for practicing speed reading by using sample texts on the site or by copying and pasting other texts. The main feature on the site is a reading pacer, which can be used as a tachistoscope. This reading pacer includes a sidebar with several adjustable settings (so that readers can choose the WPM reading speed, the amount of highlighted words, the number of words surrounding those highlighted, font size, etc.). The tool further collects statistics about each reader’s performance. This is shown in the below screenshot:
In addition to the stand-alone reading pacer, there is also an Eyercize bookmarklet which learners can add to their browser’s toolbar, which allows you to select text on any webpage and then click the bookmark icon to open the speed reader.
In conclusion, it can be overwhelming to be bombarded with so many useful online tools for foreign language learning. This list has provided some choices in this area, and serves as both a springboard to a greater exploration of online tools and an idea-generator for L2 curriculum and independent learning. If these tools are implemented into curriculum, teachers should remember to control the use of the tools, and not let the tools do the teaching.