As technology surges in use, it’s increasingly reaching every area of our lives.
Your classroom is next—that is, if technology hasn’t gotten there already!
Times are changing quicker than we realize, leaving us language educators with no option but to board the tech train or get stuck behind the times.
It can also provide students with a respite from customary classroom activities while still encouraging and reinforcing learning.
Oh, and they’re all free or extremely affordable.
So, why shouldn’t you start upgrading your teaching and experimenting with the highest-rated apps for language educators? It’s a no-brainer!
The Benefits of Using Apps in Your Language Teaching
First, let’s explore some ways incorporating apps in lessons benefits both students and teachers.
Apps can enhance student engagement
Technology is always a welcome addition in any classroom, in the same way technology is welcome in the world at large when it betters people’s lives. It has applications across the board from healthcare and science to education and personal finance. Whatever you need to learn or teach, there’s probably an app for that.
Students really enjoy incorporating technology in their language learning routines, often preferring it to conventional reading, writing and classroom activities.
That said, you might think that technology in the classroom would be a major distraction—something that hinders learning rather than maintaining student focus. Well, you’d be correct in the assertion that the constant distractions caused by widespread technology have been found to lower student attention spans.
But, weirdly enough, language learning and teaching apps let you harness this gravitational power of technology for good. Let students take a break to get lost in a round of fun app learning when they’re getting restless, and they’ll be productive with their language while indulging in the use of their favorite technology.
Apps add a whole new dimension to learning
Using apps in the classroom adds a whole new dimension to student learning by reinforcing the material and allowing students to experience language through fresh, uncharted and interactive means, beyond the pen, paper and textbook. This is a novel idea for students as much as it is for teachers—they’ve probably never had a real reason to use their gadgets in class before. And that novelty is great at inspiring excitement and enthusiasm for learning.
Apps make learning more easily accessible
With the easy accessibility of apps, they can be used both inside and outside of the classroom.
Apps are easy to use for both students and teachers, and they require minimal time. For example, if students are waiting in a line, why not encourage them to study for a few minutes on apps they’ve been learning with in class? We’ve all had students overuse the excuse, “I left my notebook and books,” so this way they can maximize their free time, increase their productivity and lose the excuses!
Of course, many students don’t have access to smartphones, computers or tablets due to their economic circumstances, so use your own discretion here. It comes down to your classroom and your students.
Apps can ease the challenges of classroom management
Now there are many apps out there that make our lives easier. These allow us to focus more on teaching and less on attendance, grading and other little things we need to keep track of that take us away from teaching time. Since I know this is a priority for many educators, this is the focus of the second half of my recommended apps list below, starting with the seventh app on the list.
12 Killer Apps for Language Educators
1. Study Blue
We all have experienced student boredom and at times discontent with conventional flashcards. Here’s the app responsible for revolutionizing this study tool so students memorize vocabulary, phrases and grammatical concepts more effectually, as well as mastering other studying skills.
If you’re working from a textbook, you can upload all the vocabulary, phrases and grammatical concepts to the app as you’d like. Students will then be responsible for creating and using their in-app flashcards based on what you upload as study tools for their assignments and tests.
One of its unique perks is its ability to appraise students’ pronunciation of each word in the app with its audio capabilities.
Don’t take my word for it; check out this educator’s Study Blue review.
2. Head’s Up!
Android | iPhone
Watch Sofia Vergara from “Modern Family” and Ellen DeGeneres play Head’s Up live on her show. In this game (called Adivinando or “guessing” in Spanish), one student has a word that they’re trying to guess by listening as another student describes it. This game helps students build speaking confidence and encourages them to use adjectives, synonyms and antonyms. Not to mention, it lets students have fun and be creative. It’s guaranteed to engender risas (laughs) while students creatively practice vocab.
It even works great for educators of other languages beyond English and Spanish. Students simply rest the word on the app against their forehead and the other student describes it in the target language until they get it right. Depending on skill level, students can use body language and keep a dictionary handy (as long as they don’t give away the actual target word). There are many fun categories suitable across the ages and learning contexts.
This may be the most frequently used go-to language learning apps students already have on their phones. How can it help in the classroom, you ask? One great way to use this in the classroom is to provide students with an excerpt, any excerpt, possibly one based on current class topics, (I recommend shorter than 4 sentences for simplicity and with content they’re likely to understand). Then have students translate the text via Google Translate.
The next step is the most educational, led a discussion about the quality of the app’s translation. What phrases and words were translated well? Which ones don’t fit? Which grammatical concepts is the app not sophisticated enough to understand?
This should teach them many nuances and complexities of language learning, as well as translation! This in-class activity will make it clear that this app mainly functions well only on a word-by-word translation configuration, so it’s crucial to be vigilant when translating full sentences, phrases, idioms. sayings and more.
Language learners across the globe use Duolingo as an autonomous language guide. Duolingo contains lessons that integrate conversation, vocabulary, speaking and listening skills. At the end of each section, students are tested on the relevant skills, and then the results show what parts students are excelling in, as well as where they could use more practice.
It also is helpful in classrooms with students of varying skill levels. When the more advanced students finish their work early, they can stay productive by advancing to the subsequent levels in Duolingo, similar to a video-game. Video-gaming and learning simultaneously! I’m sure you well know that this can significantly incentivize students!
Bonus: There’s also a friendly little automated bird that accompanies with each student during all of the lessons. It also sends users email reminders to put in their daily 5 to 10 minutes of study time. If these reminders are ignored after a while, the poor bird finally caves and says, “these emails don’t seem to be working. I’ll stop for now.” Ha! One student told me this response actually encourage her to study!
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, commercials, news, cartoons and inspiring talks—and turns them into language immersion experiences. Unlike more conventional apps, FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease your students into language and culture over time. They’ll learn language as it’s spoken in real life by native speakers.
FluentU has a huge collection of authentic language videos that native speakers in each language actually watch regularly. This is content that’s known internationally for its quality and entertainment value. Students get excited when they see their favorite clips appear in the classroom.
But it doesn’t just stop with great videos. On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and come with built-in language lessons. These videos are also carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocab lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like flashcards and fun “fill in the blank” exercises.
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects, as well as homework. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about learning languages!
This game is not only helpful for encouraging word formation, but it’s also a wonderful way to introduce a culture into the classroom, since millions play Words With Friends daily. In this automated scrabble-like game, students spell out words for points adhering to certain parameters.
A fun way to integrate this game into the classroom is by holding a Words With Friends championship. Have students play with each other in several rounds; the student with the highest score move on to the next round and eventually become the Words With Friends classroom champion. Quite an engaging way to practice spelling and vocab!
Evernote is primarily helpful with organizing language course content digitally. From planning a course, to delivering a lesson plan and to capturing feedback after class (before, during and after!), you can plan your classes with tags. Tags are a great way to structure your classes weekly or by class. For example, if you know that there’s certain content to be taught during the sixth week, then for all related content you can use the tag “week 6.” Once this is in place, you can keep adding additional tags as the semester progresses.
During class you can share a digital notebook with your students: After you create it, it uploads automatically to their Evernote app. In accord, anything you add can be viewed immediately by students, sort of like a teaching cloud similar to Apple’s iCloud, Dropbox and Google Drive. You can also do whiteboard photos by taking snapshots of the whiteboard and uploading them for later use. Take a pic of the whiteboard before and after class for an accurate time-stamped snapshot of what you were working on, on any given class day.
After class you can streamline grading by scanning graded tests, including scantrons, and add them to Evernote. You can then enter them into your in-app spreadsheet when you have time.
Here’s another online virtual classroom platform, most useful for tests and discussion forums. Educators can redact a quiz, upload it to the app for students to take on their their phones or tablets. The structure is already conveniently in place for multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank. All they need to do is enter the in-app code specific to that quiz. Students’ responses update immediately, enabling a comprehensive understanding of each student’s performance, and the class’s aggregate performance as a whole.
The results can be emailed to you or whomever immediately, and you can compare all students’ performances across metrics such as response time and correctness, and give them instant in-app feedback. It’s great for games, vocab tests and most importantly motivating both parties, us educators and our students! It seems like students are loving it too!
This is my preferred app if I either don’t want my students to be on their devices for that day or class activity, or if they don’t have their own devices. It enables us to appraise students using the app’s paper cards, via your own device.
The most convenient way to use it is to create multiple-choice questions before class starts. You ask a question and students raise the answer in the air with their cards. This is what enables the app’s special magical feature. With merely the device’s camera, you scan the raised hands (each student is linked to their Plickers car’s number) for an instant count of all your students’ in-class answers.
Especially magical is that it can see how each student answered, allowing us to quickly gauge who is and isn’t understanding the class material and how challenging it is. We can then project the class responses (graph-mode is most useful here) on the whiteboard so students get an idea too.
This is the simplest, yet arguably most practical and useful of all the apps here. It fixes a common classroom problem. We all know what it’s like to propose a question to the class, especially one that we know is thoughtful enough to provoke educational dialogue, only to find that no student raises their hand. So what do we do in the face of their blind stares?
Instead of using popsicle sticks or a bingo-type random choosing of labels with students’ names, we can create an in-app virtual class list with all students’ names. Talk about environmental friendliness and convenience; with the app open, just tap or shake the screen to randomly assign a student to answer. When a student is chosen, they fall into the “used” category so you don’t call on them twice. If you do want to call on them again, you can simply “reset” their stick so their name can still be randomly chosen.
What I find most useful is that students can also be sorted according to their aptitude (based on Bloom’s taxonomy) in the target language. The app is smart, in that it learns to link students to the questions most fitting to their name and aptitude with time and use. What’s cool is that you can act like your student selection is random, when in reality you’re strategically challenging each student based on their unique learning curve. Unfortunately this app isn’t free, but it’s cheap. It only costs $2 to $4 depending on whether it’s through iOS, Amazon or Google Play.
Sick of passing around an attendance sheet everyday for every class? This is a great opportunity to go paperless, particularly with classroom management. It tracks students’ attendance across various classes. But that’s not all.
The app is more than a digital class record. You can track where each student sits, back up any important class material to the Dropbox digital cloud, make behavior notes for each student, manage a digital gradebook, redact student progress reports, quite easily. I like its calendar, which helps you track each lesson at each time in the day, which students are absent, their participation, and behavior ratings! We’ve all forgotten a student’s name, so all the in-app data is linked to their photo! This clearly makes our job easier.
Your time is precious, so ideally you spend it more on teaching and less on classroom management! I think TeacherKit can make a big difference here.
12. Too Noisy
Tired of reminding your students to “quiet down?” This app shows how loud it is in the room at any given moment, projected visually! Quite simple and useful.
As long as students are within the preferred noise level, which you choose in the setting modes, the cartoon face is happy and the car-like meter is in the green. If the noise goes over the threshold, the meter goes into the red and the face angry. You can customize it by adjusting its sensitivity and setting it to silent mode, during tests, for example. You can also “dampen” the meter’s sensitivity, if the class is doing a group activity for example, in which they’re supposed to converse. when they’re in groups as well, each one can have their own meter too on too to modulate their own noise level.
The simple version is free, while the pro $3 version tracks more background noise and has no ads.
As a language educator, you play an undoubtedly fundamental role in an increasingly global, diverse and multilingual society. It’s up to us to develop the language acumen of our students with fun and creativity, ultimately turning out happy, engaged and highly dedicated students!
I hope you found these apps helpful in your classroom. What would be better than checking these out to keep you “on top of your game,” and add more tools to your teacher’s tool box?!
Jason Linder, MA, is a doctoral student and intensely passionate Spanish tutor and blog writer. In his free time, he enjoys Telenovelas, traveling around Latin America, meditation, yoga, exercise, reading and writing. Learn more about his free Spanish learning resources and tutoring.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach languages with real-world videos.