Skip to main content

An Amazon Echo or Google Home in the classroom?

Update: I read that Google Home is available with French language. We have to wait until 2018 for a French language version of the Echo.

****************************************************************************


We succumbed over Christmas and bought an Amazon Echo Dot (the little sister of Alexa with the much smaller speaker). It's a fun digital assistant which will answer simple questions, play music from the radio, Spotify and Amazon, set alarms for you in the kitchen, make lists and more. Its speech recognition is great, even from a distance or when whispering to it close up. The default wake up call is Alexa, so you just say Alexa and then speak away. Its LED spinning light tells you she's listening.

So you can see where I am going with this. For a small outlay, an Amazon account and with a wifi classroom connection, you could set Alexa to your chosen language (only German so far)  and use her as a language learning aid. Note that Alexa is always on and needs no other devices to function apart from the teacher's smartphone with the Alexa app.

When the app is set up you can add specific "skills" (like mini-apps) which allow Alexa to perform further functions. Thee can be accessed via the app.

What could you do? Most of these can be done at intermediate level or above. All of these tasks involve careful listening, sometimes combined with note-taking, translating or summarising.

1. Ask Alexa factual questions in TL and get students to note down or transcribe her answers, e.g. "what is the longest, second longest, what is the highest, how long is..."
2. Practise weather expressions by asking her for the forecast in different locations, e.g. towns in France.
3. Practise distances/measurements by asking her the distance between locations in the chosen country.
4. Set alerts for timed classroom activities.
5. Say good morning to her (she responds with interesting facts about the day). Students can listen and note down what they hear.
6. Set up a news flash briefing (for advanced students only).You can customise news briefings, choosing from a range of sources. Students take notes.
7. Ask for spellings of words. This would work with near-beginners too. Alexa spells put words clearly for you.
8. Ask for definitions of words. Alexa has access to a dictionary. This could be useful when you are stuck for a meaning or could be done as a combined listening/vocab task
9. Ask for biographical information about famous people. Alexa gives brief answers which could be summarised, translated or transcribed.
10. Practise times by setting up a specific skill. These depend on the country and language, but you could search for something like train times.

Note that the Echo with the larger speaker would be better for a large classroom, but you can connect the Dot to an external speaker either by wire or bluetooth. The language delivery is very clear, but with some minor intonation issues.

If you ask Alexa for a translation of a word she says she cannot pronounce but it is recorded in the app (as all answers are).

Am I in the realms of gimmickry here? I'm not sure. Once the Echo is set up it is always on and can be consulted at any time. You'd also have to have clear protocols about its use with students so they don't set it off for amusement or ask dodgy questions if you are out if the room. In addition, the Echo has to be set up through an Amazon account, so you don't want students ordering you things without your knowledge! You might find a copy of The Language Teacher Toolkit waiting for you at home!

The Echo is the best digital assistant you can use from a distance in a room, with Google Home on its way to the UK at some time. In time, when they become more sophisticated, I can imagine them being used routinely in classrooms.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


English 

_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for frenchteacher.net three separate PowerPoint presentations using the same set of 20 pictures (sports). A very good way for you to save time is to reuse the same resource in a number of different ways.

I chose 20 clear, simple, clear and copyright-free images from pixabay.com to produce three presentations on present tense (beginners), near future (post beginner) and perfect tense (post-beginner/low intermediate). Here is one of them:





Below is how I would have taught using this presentation - it won't be everyone's cup of tea, especially of you are not big on choral repetition and PPP (Presentation-Practice-Production), but I'll justify my choice in the plan at each stage. For some readers this will be standard practice.

1. Explain in English that you are going to teach the class how to talk about and understand people talking about sport. By the end of the lesson they will be able to say and understand 20 different sport…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…