Being in an ESL classroom, especially one full of young kids, can make us teachers privy to the latest fashions and trends.
While some may be best confined to the past—bottle flip challenge, anyone?—it’s important to adapt if you don’t want to be left behind.
Technology is one of the biggest examples of this.
Keep up with the latest tech, and you can really help your ESL students to feel engaged in language learning.
I myself have come across a few technologies I feel will shape the ESL classroom of the future.
If they’re usable in today’s classroom, I’ve given tips on ways to utilize them. If they’re not, I’ve looked for more basic alternatives.
Get ready to amaze your students with your tech-savvy lesson plans!
8 Breakthroughs in ESL Technology to Start Using Today
1. Instant Translation
A new instant translation earpiece has just gone on the market. It’s an amazing piece of technology, but could it spell the end for ESL teachers?
Personally, I don’t think so. In the future, we’ll still need language teachers. Instant translation is extremely convenient, but it doesn’t actually make someone speak another language. If the tech really improves, cutting out the present day iterations’ terrible habit of translating literally word-for-word, it can become an incredible tool in the classroom.
Firstly, it could be used sparingly to aid learning by allowing students to translate more complex instructions, helping to simplify the classroom. Imagine an ESL classroom where students are using something akin to Google Glass, the tech instantly translating everything the teacher says into subtitles as the students listen.
The technology could help with the age-old problem of the mixed-level ESL classroom (a teacher’s worst nightmare). Lower-level students could use the tech while their higher-level counterparts would be encouraged not to do so.
Unfortunately, teachers can’t really expect their schools to spend huge amounts on tech that’s still in such a developmental phase. New tech, such as instant translation earpieces, always takes a while to become more affordable. There’s an array of impressive translation tools, however, that can be used in the classroom of today.
In 2014, Google bought Quest Visual, allowing them to incorporate their instant camera translation technique to Google Translate. Point your phone or tablet at a piece of text and it will instantly translate it on your screen.
The tech is nowhere near being perfect, but it can form the basis of a fun translation class. Bring in menus, brochures and other everyday texts in English, then have students play with the translation tool to verify their understanding.
Importantly, this kind of lesson can also help lower-level students learn how seriously flawed online translation services currently are. Many a teacher has sighed as they’ve been handed a piece of homework, clearly written in a native language before being copy and pasted into Google Translate. The flawed nature of this technology, however, can actually help students learn the nuance of language by showing them that understanding a foreign language isn’t as simple as translating it word-for-word.
Video learning is perhaps the cornerstone of language immersion within a modern classroom.
When a language exchange program isn’t a viable option for a classroom, videos can be used to really give ESL students a feel for English and its cultures. They can easily see and hear what an English conversation looks like, whether on the streets of New York, London or Toronto. They can watch the music videos, movies and TV shows that native English speakers watch at home for entertainment.
Not only that, but everyone loves watching videos. It’s a fun and familiar format, and it’s been proven time and time again that videos improve student engagement and information retention.
I’d wager that a lot of our future educational technologies, including video learning, will become seamlessly integrated into the ESL classroom. A parallel could be drawn with the way smart homes are being integrated.
You’ll have touchscreens, digital texts, apps and voice-activated tech tools at your disposal.
With all of this technology being added to the mix, video-based learning apps and websites like FluentU could realistically form a big part of education. You can already plan a whole course around a set of videos. With the advent of online learning and LCD touchscreens, I only see this forming an even greater part in the ESL classroom of the future.
Many universities have movie courses within their language degree curricula, where students are exposed to the best films in their foreign languages.
Movies are simply an excellent way to get an ear for a language and to experience culture. You can watch a film with subtitles, take in the plot and the storyline, and then watch it again without the subtitles. It’s like taking the training wheels off a bike, and it’s extremely effective.
You can start doing this right now with your students. The technology to make this an easier process already exists!
What’s more, FluentU takes the stress out of retaining vocabulary by reminding students when they have to review vocabulary they’ve gone over in their watched videos.
Of course, there are many other nice ESL video resources out there to explore.
The ESL site Movie Segments to Assess Grammar Goals contains hundreds of free grammar-based lesson plans focused around video clips. Innovative Language, meanwhile, provides a huge selection of video and audio lessons for ESL students in the series EnglishClass101.
3. Augmented and Virtual Reality
Though there’s a huge buzz about it, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology hasn’t quite taken off yet.
There’s so much more to it than Pokémon Go. Companies like Magic Leap and Google are on a mission to change the way we interact with the world.
AR will allow us to visualize anything we can imagine and transpose it into our surroundings. This will be an incredible tool for vocabulary-centred lessons where teachers will be able to describe a piece of vocab before making it manifest itself.
VR, on the other hand, will allow virtual school field trips. Future ESL students will be able to virtually immerse themselves in a culture, teaching them like never before that the value of languages goes far beyond basic communication and verb conjugations.
Augmented reality is the most viable option for today’s classroom, as it’s available in a basic form on anyone’s smartphone.
Though its use of augmented reality is quite basic, a game like Pokémon Go could be used in the classroom. Get students to describe the creatures they’re catching. Aside from engaging with the tech behind something like Pokemon Go, using the subject matter itself to plan a lesson would be one way to engage students when something like this is going viral.
You can also explore other augmented reality tools to add to your classroom. There are plenty out there, including:
The Aurasma augmented reality program is designed to create tantalizing marketing campaigns by blending the physical world with our digital world. It’s a little taste of how interactive any environment, like a classroom, can become.
Unfortunately, Aurasma has discontinued its services, but in case you’re interested, LifeAR has very similar features. The app is available for iOS and Android devices.
The ZooBurst app was relatively short-lived, but it had a fantastic idea. It was created to let students make their own pop-up books with augmented reality.
AR Books exist. There are actual books out there that are designed to incorporate AR, so that students can flip through the pages and interact on their phones or tablets. What ESL student wouldn’t be excited to read a book like that?
4. 3D Printing
3D printing is becoming more advanced every year. They say the technology promises a factory in every home. It’s a technology that’s been around for years, but only recently has it become more readily available to the masses.
While augmented reality will allow us to visualize anything we want in the classroom, 3D printing will be perfect for tactile learners, allowing them to see and feel lifelike models of the things they’re learning about in class. Much like AR, this will make the classroom a much more immersive experience.
The use of realia has long been touted as an effective way to help learners strengthen their vocabulary retention. Take a real-life object and use it to help reinforce your students’ learning of a word or the concept it symbolizes. Scientific research strongly suggests that the way we learn words is much more visual than previously thought.
So what better way to teach English vocabulary than to create any real-life object you want for the classroom?
Some teachers have started using 3D printers in the classroom. Unfortunately though, much like VR technology, the components needed simply don’t come within a typical ESL classroom’s budget.
For teachers who can’t obtain a 3D printer but still want the freedom of creating anything they can think of for the classroom, there’s still a good option. The programs used to design 3D models for printing can still be used to design anything you can think of, and a lot of these are free. Playing with such programs will allow students to be more hands-on and visualize what they’re learning.
On-the-go learning may not be the absolutely most effective way to learn a language—after all, you’re busily running around and distracted by other things—but it’s the most convenient. And it injects learning into moments of the day where there would otherwise be none.
In this modern, technology-reliant world, people are obsessed with getting a thousand things done in a day. With this in mind, it’s likely that there will be a further rise of the mighty language learning app.
You can prepare yourself for this rise by educating yourself. Consider taking a class or two on web and mobile technology use in the classroom, like Integrating Technology in the Classroom from ed2go. This online course teaches you to make use of the technology that you and your students already have, including mobile devices and apps.
There are so many amazing apps that we can use to aid us in the ESL classroom today (see below).
One function that’s likely to progress markedly in the coming years is the “reminder” function already present on many language apps. Currently, these apps remind you when a certain time has passed that you have to work on your language to help you retain the information.
Devices like the Fitbit are designed to analyze our bodies to help keep us motivated on our workouts. Could the same function be applied to learning a language? Maybe apps of the future will be able to track peak learning times and encourage students to work on language retention at these times. A huge amount of research is carried out into the psychology of language retention and this could be integrated into these apps.
In addition, the teaching tools on educational platforms can easily be made smoother, smarter and more intuitive, to the point where you have your entire curriculum stashed safely online, and where you’re able to distribute quizzes, homework and other activities in a digital way.
While telling students to simply download an app and start learning isn’t something I’d advise, there are some great ways these handy apps can be used in the ESL classroom.
FluentU allows the teacher to plan an entire course based on video and audio content. You can even assign videos and exercises to your students, then let FluentU do the grading for you. Students can sign up using the app and look at the course in their own time or in class.
Duolingo, a well-known language-learning app, allows a teacher to have a profile and keep track of student progress on the app.
ClassDojo, meanwhile, is a perfect app for reinforcing good behavior in young ESL students. The app allows each student to create an avatar for themselves in the form of a cartoon monster (think cute and cuddly, “Monsters Inc.” style). Give your students points for good behavior and set awards for reaching point milestones.
6. MOOCs and Online Learning
Could the ESL classroom of the future be, not a physical space, but rather a series of virtually interconnected work spaces around the world?
Professor Daphne Koller, a worldwide champion of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) seems to think so. According to her, the tech is already there for full university degrees to be taken online. “It’s not the technology that’s been the barrier,” she says. Instead, it’s universities worrying about how their international reputations may be affected by such a seismic shift in the system.
The fact is that the education system is set for an incredible upheaval in the near future.
What does this mean? Well, all of the technologies mentioned above will be increasingly available for starters. And what’s more, they may be included as part of an online course. MOOCs will give students the chance to highly personalize their own educations, as well as allowing many more people access to an ESL classroom. The more the merrier!
Although the main way people learn a language is still by attending a physical ESL classroom, there’s an increased demand for Skype lessons. This is mainly coming from people who don’t have the time, money or ability to travel to a language school.
You can even develop your career as an ESL teacher or private ESL tutor online. If you love the idea of working from home, then you can sign up to teach with a virtual school, and meet with all of your students online.
In the traditional, in-person classroom, the best an ESL teacher can do is to incorporate online features into their lessons. This can add an extra dimension to the class. You can stick to textbooks in the classroom, but set up a complementary course online, using apps and video learning services. You could record your lessons and upload them to YouTube for your students to access freely while at home, in case they need to spend more time on the topics.
Some websites kindly provide free English courses that we can utilize in our classrooms. Learn English Online, for example, contains whole lessons that can be completed on school computers. The British Council, meanwhile, provides fantastic resources that can help to complement a teacher’s own lesson plans.
7. LCD Touchscreens
With the future integration of technologies in mind, it’s hard to imagine a future reality where touchscreens of many different shapes and sizes don’t form a large part of our everyday interactions. They will most likely form a huge part of the future ESL classroom.
Touchscreens will simply make lessons seamless. Think of them as being the whiteboard of the future. You calendar, attendance, grading and activities could all be easily stored and accessed here.
So many of us already rely on projectors in the classroom so we can use the internet, make presentations more engaging and show videos during lessons. The ability to work with a large touchscreen instead of a chalkboard or whiteboard will make the whole classroom more interactive. You could have several students using a tablet-like table with a touchscreen, making group work more streamlined and much less clumsy than it currently is.
The beginning of this video below perfectly illustrates how LCD touchscreens could look at the center of an integrated, technology-driven ESL classroom:
We can see how instant translation and video calling is perfectly integrated into the technology. The future of the ESL classroom is something that only belonged in sci-fi a few years ago.
Much like with the other technologies, functioning multi-touch LCD touchscreens already exist in various forms. Durham University, for example, has its SynergyNet project, which is exploring the use of tablet-like tables. The idea is that the classroom of the future will replace wooden desks with a fully interactive multi-touch surface table for each student.
Snowflake Multiteach by Nuiteq, meanwhile, provides an interactive teaching experience that shows we aren’t so far from the future envisioned in the video above. Though the software used on it is mainly comprised of games, it does have some translation software available on it.
Aside from that, we may have to wait a while for the tech to become more advanced. For the time being, we’ll have to make do with websites like ESLgamesplus using the old point-and-click, a concept that weirdly may seem antiquated in a future where touchscreen technology really takes off!
In schools with bigger budgets, ESL classrooms may be able to provide tablets for every student. Now that companies like Samsung are producing some pretty economical tablet options, like the Galaxy Tab E Lite, it’s very possible for some ESL teachers to make the investment—or convince the school board to make the investment—in a few touchscreens for students to share.
It’s exciting to imagine how the ESL classroom will become a seamlessly integrated and engaging place in the future. The ESL teacher of the future may need to be part IT support specialist, but it’s a happy fact that technology will also make many things much easier for the language teacher of the future.
Start employing these technologies now in their early forms, and you’ll be able to watch an amazing evolution in education as it unfolds!
To stay even more on top of the new technology, pay attention to your students—they’re your best resource.
What can they not stop talking about on the playground? What are they buzzing about before class starts? What new app or site are they playing with on their phone that’s distracting them from class?
Take advantage of the mesmerizing and exciting technology that makes your students excited for the future, and they’ll be equally excited to come to your classroom.
And One More Thing...
If you're looking for creative ways to teach English, then you'll love using FluentU in your classroom!
It's got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch regularly. There are tons of great choices there when you're looking for songs for in-class activities.
You'll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids' singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word "searching," they'll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like "fill in the blank."
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it's guaranteed to get your students excited about learning English!
Sign up for a free trial and bring FluentU to your classroom today.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.