English Language Teaching Apps: Positioning Parents and Young Learners

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Dalhousie University]On: 04 October 2014, At: 06:59Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Changing English: Studies in Cultureand EducationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ccen20

    English Language Teaching Apps:Positioning Parents and Young LearnersAlice Chikaa Department of English, City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon,Hong KongPublished online: 04 Aug 2014.

    To cite this article: Alice Chik (2014) English Language Teaching Apps: Positioning Parentsand Young Learners, Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education, 21:3, 252-260, DOI:10.1080/1358684X.2014.929285

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1358684X.2014.929285

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  • English Language Teaching Apps: Positioning Parents and YoungLearners

    Alice Chik*

    Department of English, City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong

    Since the introduction of iPads in 2010, the sales of tablet computers and mobileapplications (apps) have grown exponentially. iPads and other tablets are mar-keted as learning tools, and many apps target learners as young as six monthsold. This article reports on a research project examining the unique features ofEnglish learning apps based on an analysis of 90 app descriptions. Findings sug-gest that most English learning apps are not designed for English as a ForeignLanguage learners, and do not encourage user interaction around the texts. Posi-tioning theory is adopted to show how app developers position themselves, par-ents and learners in the global discourse on technology and English teaching.The use of such apps as extensions or alternatives to classroom-based learningmay have a strong impact for the future of English teaching, and caveats areoffered.

    Keywords: 36 technology; iPad; ESL young learners; parental engagement;ELT pedagogy

    The introduction of the iPad in 2010 reconceptualised the adoption and use ofmobile handheld devices. For many families, iPads and tablet computers are nowessential home entertainment devices. The emerging popularity of touchscreen tabletcomputers has started a revolution in informal mobile-assisted language learning,especially for English Language Teaching (ELT) (Hockly 2013). Among the differ-ent types of tablets, iPad has been the market leader of tablet computers since itsintroduction. iPad has been marketed as a learning device, but an iPad cannot be alearning tool in itself without the support of application software (apps for short).In about three years, more than 900,000 iOS apps have been developed, and a goodportion are labelled educational. As advertised on the Apple App Store, educationapps for Language Development help English as a Second Language (ESL) learn-ers with reading, writing, speaking and vocabulary building (Apple 2013). Apps arethus marketed as easily available and accessible resources for techno-minded teach-ers and parents around the world, and many of these apps target learners as youngas six months old. Given the dramatic rise in the number of English language learn-ers around the world, this could mean that there are more English as a Foreign Lan-guage (EFL) learners using these apps in formal or informal learning contexts thannative speakers (Crystal 2008; Bolton and Graddol 2012). In particular, we focus onapps that target young EFL learners, a growing but under-researched sector in ELT(Banister 2010; Burnett 2010; Nunan 2013). This paper discusses the unique

    *Email: alice.chik@cityu.edu.hk

    2014 The editors of Changing English

    Changing English, 2014Vol. 21, No. 3, 252260, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1358684X.2014.929285

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    mailto:alice.chik@cityu.edu.hkhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1358684X.2014.929285

  • features of these ELT apps and, in extension, the changing discourses of Englishteaching as commercial products in the digital age.

    ELT materials should be evaluated thoroughly before being used with learners,especially materials designed for young learners, and ELT apps should be no excep-tions. Apps are still a relatively new phenomenon in ELT classrooms, and there isno published research on the holistic evaluation of ELT apps as learning materials.For traditional print material evaluation, the first step is the examination of theauthors claims (Pinter 2006). For apps, the developers description, which is arequired piece of information on the Apple App Store, represents the authorsclaims. Littlejohn (2011) suggested three areas for material evaluation: the processof learning (how), the participation (with whom) and content (about what). By thesame token, this article examines the claims about learning, learners and content inELT apps to show how parents and young learners are positioned in learning apps,and in turn, suggests ways parents and teachers can counter and better understandapps as potential learning tools and commercial products.

    Though there are several theories of child development, it is generally acceptedthat language learning, including second language (L2) learning, takes place in con-texts and through interactions with others (for a detailed discussion, see Pinter2011). Research on young ESL learners shows that vocabulary acquisition and dis-course ability acquired from social interaction are the starting points for L2 languagedevelopment (Cameron 2001). The acquisition of vocabulary is important because ithelps young learners to label abstract concepts to connect inner and physical worlds.The development of discourse ability, arising from social interaction with adults andpeers, is the basis for grammar learning. The earlier start in EFL learning stems fromparents beliefs that earlier is better, and the intuitive belief that children have a nat-ural flair for learning a foreign language (Cameron 2003; Pinter 2011). As moreEFL learners start learning English at a younger age, in addition to concerns aboutformal early childhood education, family practices should not be overlooked. Athome, everyday technology use is now spearheading the latest trends in learning(Plowman et al. 2012).

    Published research on roles of technology within first language literacy hasdeveloped along the following three strands (Burnett 2010, 254):

    Technology as deliverer of literacy. Technology as site for interaction around texts. Technology as medium for meaning making.

    The three strands are good starting points for teachers and parents to evaluate theways ELT apps are designed. While there is a call for language teacher education tointegrate technology into ELT, there is no equivalent programme for parents (OHara2011; Dudeney and Hockly 2012; Goodwyn 2013). It has also been found thatyounger learners have more freedom to experiment and be creative with technologyat home than at school (OMara and Laidlaw 2011). When choosing apps, parentsare frequently left to their own devices to get advice from family, friends and themedia, or simply by trial and error. With an over-abundance of choices, looking forthe appropriate learning apps for their children can be overwhelming for parents. Asa result, parents may rely only on the product descriptions supplied by the appdevelopers, which as public information, give all parents access to evaluation.When an app makes a claim in the description, it projects a certain conception of

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  • technology and ELT, thus joining in the public discourse on the topic. FollowingLittlejohns (2011) suggestion on ELT material analysis, it is important to examinenot only the content, but also how learning and learners are represented in thedescription to understand the evolving public discourse. This evaluative frameworkalso aligns with empirical findings on technology and first language literacy (Burnett2010).

    One way we can learn more ab