SMARTPHONES in the classroom – integrating the PERSONAL to the UNIVERSAL


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A funny thing happened when the ESL teacher asked her class to take out their smart phones and google the meaning of a new word….no one knew how to do it.

To uncover such a weakness is like discovering that you have been ‘sprung’! How deep does your English learning go? Only to the door of the classroom and beyond then its back to your own language and culture.

With almost everyone in university level education today owning a smartphone, it is mindboggling how little they know about how to use it in terms of a tool for expanding their English. I’m not punishing anyone here, but I am letting all teachers and students know that here we have one of the greatest ESL learning opportunities around.

Smartphones are about as personal as the kind of underwear you have on. Everything that is captured inside that phone is all about you and your personal life, thoughts, and dreams, not to mention your work related information too. The days of it being simply a device to call your friends, family and associates are fading, and today it is a representation of you and your life in every way. But the sad thing is when it comes to helping people learn English, it seems to be left behind.

Well not anymore. I would advocate that every ESL teacher must use the smart phone idea at least once a week if not more in the classroom. Smart phones already have the internet, so there is a good start. Students can check not only the meanings of words but how they sound, their origin, how to use them but also what they look like and so on. The days of the dictionary are slowly fading and Google is taking over.

To miss out on the chance to use smart phones as a learning tool is cutting out 80% of your students world. And if you are a student, not knowing how to use your smart phone in an English way, is lowering your chances of immersing yourself even deeper into your English life.

Some students at our school I notice have a dual life. They do this all through their smart phones. They have all their social media in two groups, ‘my English me’, and ‘my Arabic me’. When they want to connect with friends and family – it’s the ‘my Arabic me’, when they want to build their English it’s ‘my English me’. It’s like they have given themselves a new task, to integrate these two lives successfully. In the ‘my English me’, they refuse to use the Arabic typescript and allow only the English one, and vice versa. They understand that this is something important and if they are serious about learning English, this is how it’s done.  The great thing about this is that for most of them, they picked up this ‘dual life’ idea from their friends, it wasn’t something that was pushed upon them.

So the next time you are sitting with your smart phone (which will be in the next few seconds), take some time to think about how you use it and how you can use it in English too. If you are a teacher or a student, this is not just the future, it is now.

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