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"Ioan Alexandru" Secondary School, Sinpaul, Cluj
Keywords: mobile devices, MALL, apps, interaction, integrate, technology
Abstract: One of the most recent changes in English language teaching has been the use of mobile devices. The present article is an introduction to mobile-assisted language learning (MALL) and some it offers some practical ideas for using mobile technology in class. These devices can definitely be a great resource and teachers need to know the best ways of using them before they can introduce their students to mobile-assisted language learning.

Mobile-assisted language learning, a successor of computer-assisted language learning, is a new phase in second and foreign language learning. I have chosen to focus on this aspect due to the increasing interest that students show in using mobile devices in order to practise languages and the relevance of these devices in today’s context.
We live in really interesting times concerning technology. Computers are an extremely valuable resource in language learning and a lot has been written on computer-assisted language learning. However, at the moment we will try to move beyond, and find out more about mobile-assisted language learning because, as many researchers have concluded, ”we need to re-conceptualize learning for the mobile age” (Sharples and al, 2005).
Mobile devices include smartphones, palmtops, PDAs, tablet PCs, laptop computers and personal media players. However, I will focus mainly on the usage of the mobile phone in language classes. Even though many of our students have tablets, the most accessible resource at the moment is the mobile phone.
Mobile learning is a young field but there is a lot of research on this topic. As mobile devices become more powerful, cheaper, easier to use, the study of mobile-assisted language learning becomes a necessity. “MALL offers to all learners an unprecedented range of learning possibilities that expand outside the limitations of traditional learning spaces.” MALL can be successfully used outside the classroom, as well as in the classroom and in resource-poor environments. The potential of MALL is enormous and by studying this field, we can learn how to make the most out of it. However, there are a lot of pitfalls along the way that we must be aware of. We shall look at key aspects of mobile-assisted language learning and examples of activities.
MALL offers us the great advantage of transcending time and place boundaries, and thus allowing us to interact with peers from another part of the world, as well as accessing learning material. However, with the new research in MALL, new techniques are implemented in order to make us benefit from these new devices.
What is MALL?
Mobile-assisted Language Learning is an approach to language learning that is assisted or enhanced through the use of handheld mobile devices.
“M-learning researchers are still debating the definition of mobile learning. However, they appear to agree that m-learning should not be equated to merely learning with mobile devices. Moving away from technological determinism of the earlier definitions of mobile learning, mobile language learning can be viewed as learning across physical and virtual contexts which is enabled and supported by highly portable devices (both handheld and wearable) as well as communication and social network technologies. The mobility of the learner across contexts (Kukulska-Hulme et al, 2011), combined with access to people and resources (both of these residing locally on the device and those on the Web), to digital tools (including build-in device capabilities, native and web-based apps), as well as supports and scaffolds mediated by mobile devices, form the core of mobile-language learning.”
Regarding mobile learning, researchers have outlined two mechanisms: pull learning and push learning. In push learning, an outside authority/source selects the content for the learner, whereas in pull learning the students need to take the initiative (for instance, access a mobile app, a web-based app, etc.).
Training learners to use mobile devices efficiently means training the teachers. This means technical training (how to use it), strategic training (what to do with it) and pedagogical training (why to use it). When students know how an app works and why it is necessary to use it, they use it in a more efficient way.
Brief history of MALL
In order to understand where we are now, we must look back at when MALL started. The history of MALL goes back to 1972 when Alan Kay outlined a Dynabook, a mobile, hand-held device, a personal computer for children that is thin, light, with a flat screen display, keyboard and rechargeable batteries. The model was never released commercially. The project Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (1991) involving teachers working in high-tech classrooms was the first attempt to study the impact of technology on student achievement.
The birth of the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) gave rise to MALL. PDAs were popular in the 1990s and they are the precursors to smartphones. The PDA was a business tool, not designed for teaching and its uses included address book storage, note-entering, cellular phone function and fax sender. A PDA was referred to as a pocket computer or a palmtop.
2007 saw that of Amazon Kindle and iPhone and in 2010 the Apple iPad was released. This period also saw the emergence of e-dictionaries and MP3 players.
What was previously done with a PDA, a basic mobile phone and an MP3 player is now possible using a smartphone.
There are over 345 implementation studies, which remain marginal to the curriculum, not integrated into the curriculum.
Features of mobile learning
Students and teachers are active participants in the process of language learning. We do not learn directly from computers, but mediated by the thinking process. Active participation means that students take responsibility for their own learning and that teachers enable learning.
Learners can become overwhelmed by the amount of information and learning tools and for this reason they need support. Teachers can direct them to valid content and guide them by suggesting learning strategies. But, students must also show enough maturity and responsibility for this approach to work. “Mobile learners may have to exhibit higher levels of self-regulation, which does offer learner’s choices and, at the same time, may involve goal setting, self-monitoring, self-assessment, and coordination of mental functions, self-efficacy and help seeking.” Thus, in a classroom environment that incorporates mobile learning students need to show more autonomy, self-regulation and independence.
By using these devices, students can “create and share multimodal texts, communicate spontaneously with people anywhere in the world, capture language use outside the classroom, analyze their own learning production and learning needs, construct artefacts and share them with others and provide evidence of progress gathered across in a range of settings, in a variety of media.
Even if not all learners have mobile devices, the activities can be made successful by working in pairs or small groups. We must, however, take into consideration that reading or listening activities may require each student using a device. Through MALL, students can communicate with their peers or teachers, at any time, outside the class.
Examples of Classroom Applications of MALL
MALL includes educational apps, eBooks and eLibraries, course management systems, audio, video and pictures, QR codes and social media. With educational apps on the rise, most of which are free, we as educators can only support learning English with technology. We must, of course, bear in mind that many of these apps come from unreliable sources and provide low quality.
When we devise activities for our learners, we must take into account the main features of mobile phones: camera (video and photos), voice recorder, calendar, QR codes, mp3/video player, maps, notes, eBook reader and, of course, the internet browser.
Many of the ideas below were presented by Amy Lightfoot, multimedia ELT materials writer and trainer, in the British Council seminar “A beginner’s guide to mobile learning in English language teaching”.

Describing pictures
One simple activity that we can do with our students is to ask them to look for a photo that they enjoy, in their Photo Gallery and describe it to their speaking partner (who is in the photo, where it was taken, when it was taken, etc.). This activity generates a lot of speaking and it can even work in a low-resource class.
Students can also use pictures to talk to their partners about what they did the previous weekend, in summer, etc. The students are more engaged when they share personal images with others.
Taking pictures
We can encourage our learners to take photos of menus, street signs, advertisements or posters in English and read them carefully. Students can also try to spot spelling errors or incorrect use of apostrophe (‘s).
Recording conversations/words
The voice recorder is now a substitute for the portable cassette recorder. An idea for a simple activity that we can do is get the students record themselves speaking, whether it is for short dialogues with their partners or words. Students can then listen to themselves and become more aware of their mistakes.
Capturing communicative situations on camera
The camera is a valuable resource and, just like the audio recorder, we can use it for role-plays or capturing communicative situations. Afterwards, the language can be analyzed in small groups or with the whole class.
Using the map feature of mobile phones
Another speaking activity is for the lesson on Giving directions in a town/city. Students can use the map feature of their mobile phones and explain another student how to get from a certain location to another, in their city. The activity is more engaging than giving the students a random map in the textbook.
Describing people
You can ask students to write a description of someone they are following on social media. They can explain the reasons why they are following that person and what they admire about that person.
Using QR codes for reading activities
QR codes are becoming increasingly popular. What a QR code does is bring up a website link that it is connected to or a text for students to read. In order to use QR codes, the phone needs to have a QR code reader and a camera. The teacher can simply display the QR code in the classroom and the learners can scan it and be directed to the text or grammar exercise. Another way to use QR codes is to hide pieces of paper with QR codes in the school and have students search for them, scan them and read the text they are directed to.
Students can use the calendar on their mobile phone in order to record what they have to do for homework or keep a record of their topics and deadlines.
Watching videos
There are good videos on grammar issues, often explaining grammar in an entertaining way. They are available on teaching English websites, such as the one from British Council. Another way to use videos is for teaching Culture and civilization, and we can use biographical films on the life of a writer or video presentations of cities in the UK.
Circular writing
This activity could make writing more enjoyable for students who do not enjoy writing. Students can write short stories using the text message function. One student starts the activity with a sentence and sends it to the next student who writes another sentence and so on. A story is created and the teacher can help by giving feedback and suggestions.
Writing an article on a blog
As a writing activity, students can post an article on their own blog about different topics, such as family and personal interests, visiting places, their pets, etc.
Selecting mobile apps
In order to choose the most suitable apps for our students, we need to do some research first. On the Internet you can already find a lot of reviews for language learning apps. However, it can take a lot of time to find suitable apps. By participating in teacher-training courses and seminars we can find out about new mobile apps which match our students’ needs.
The role of the teacher
With so many available resources, what is the teacher’s role? Mobile learning is additive- it does not replace the classroom or the teacher, but it gives more opportunities for language practice.
Given the multitude of educational apps available, the teacher can be a guide in recommending the most appropriate materials: apps or websites. We need to become familiar with the apps ourselves before we can recommend them to our students.
The teacher will plan the course, set the class policies, rules and regulations.
The teacher will also need to vary activities and teaching methods in order to increase students’ motivation and activity. Variation means challenge for the teacher and prevents monotony.
Another important role of the teacher is that of facilitator. That means that he/she will not be the one who controls learning activities, giving the students a bit of space for creativity. This depends on the age of the learners, being more suitable for upper-intermediate and advanced learners.
In conclusion, the main factors which support mobile learning are increasing mobile phone ownership among students, a positive attitude towards mobile devices, integrating real life communication into English learning, facilitation of student to student interaction and the possibility of fast content creation. For these reasons, teachers should look at ways of integrating these devices into the classroom setting and make students practice English as a foreign language.
There are also problems regarding the use of mobile devices in language learning, such as disruptions, both within and outside the mobile device. If a class is not used to ICT, it should be introduced gradually and with concise explanations on how to use it and why it is necessary. Moreover, as teachers, we must engage with mobile technology ourselves before implementing it into the classroom.
Despite the skepticism of some teachers, there are ways in which we can benefit from the resources of technology. Besides English skills, mobile and computer devices develop 21st century skills, which are vital in our working, social and personal lives.

Lightfoot, Amy 2015, A beginner’s guide to mobile learning in English language teaching, video recording, YouTube, viewed 1st July 2017, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvNZ8_iyiYc>
Norton (2014), “How students can use mobiles to learn English” available at https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/teaching-tips-how-students-can-use-mobiles-to-learnenglish
Palalas & Ally (2016), The International Handbook of Mobile-assisted Language Learning, Beijing: China Central Radio & TV University Press Co., Ltd.
Pegrum, M. (2014). Mobile learning: Language, literacies, and cultures. Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Hockly & Dudeney (2007). How to teach English with technology. Essex, UK : Pearson.
Harmer, Jeremy (1998). How to Teach English: An Introduction to the Practice of English Language Teaching. Harlow: Longman.
Blake, R. J. (2008). Brave new digital classroom: Technology and foreign language learning. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press
Professor Glenn Stockwell: Mobile Learning for Language Learning – Trends, issues and way forward, video recording, YouTube, viewed on 30th June 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_0rRXHWsb0>



Lorena-Diana Turc graduated from the Babes-Bolyay University, Cluj-Napoca in 2010 and has been teaching English to students of all ages and cultural backgrounds. She holds a Master’s degree in British Cultural Studies. She has participated in courses, seminars, workshops and conferences offered by the British Council, Macmillan, Oxford University Press, etc.