I have recently read an article in the Oxford University Press ELT blog about Gamified Language Education E-tivities (GLEE). These are modified language activities in the form of digital games.
To summarize the article, GLEEs are very useful and have verifiable benefits when learning a language. I have some personal experience on the topic.
I have been using one of these GLEEs that are available for free online. It is quite popular so I guess you already know it. I’m talking about Duolingo. If you have never heard about it just keep reading (a short review at the end), but before…
What’s so Special About Using GLEE’s?
I’ll keep referring to the article mentioned above (you can read it here). So, according to the author, the main benefits of Gamified Language Educational E-ctivities are that:
GLEEs are fun
This is the most obvious benefit of using any kind of game in a classroom environment. In the case of GLEEs, fun means that students have pleasurable and/or entertaining time while learning, so it is meaningfully fun.
GLEEs are motivational tools
Don’t confuse fun with motivational. You can have a fun time by doing something for a short moment but probably stop doing it after a while. If the activity is motivational it takes fun to a new level since you will feel attracted to doing it more often and for longer. GLEEs are motivational tools that foster student’s autonomy, competence and relatedness.
GLEEs are great for repetition and feedback
The fact that students can do the activities as many times as they want (and effective GLEEs should have this feature) allows them to practice their weak areas or key points in a lesson. Besides, these e-ctivities provide feedback in the form of pop up messages, smilies or characters that let students know if they are doing right or wrong.
GLEEs enable noticing
Noticing is a very important part in language learning and GLEEs allow students to notice language structures and patterns when playing. This is true especially for games where the player have to choose one sentence or phrase from different options in order to advance in the game.
I’m sure there are more benefits to GLEEs but, since they are fairly new, there’s not enough research yet to back them up (at least not that I know about. Please, correct me if I’m wrong).
Now, my Duolingo review
Duolingo is more than a website that offers free language lessons. It is one of the most famous Gamified Language Education E-tivities. Students earn points and advance new levels as they learn the target language. Their approach to learning is very active. Students have to play which allows learning by doing (Did I say in a fun way?).
The languages you can study at Duolingo are: Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, German and English for Spanish speakers.
What’s special about Duolingo?
My students have played a little with the website. They like it. They find it very fun, entertaining and helpful when it comes to learning and (remembering) vocabulary better. Access to internet is very limited in our school so we cannot use this website as often as we would like . Besides, since the school is in a rural area the students don’t have internet at home. Yet we find the time and resources to play at Duolingo from time to time.
Ok. Back to the tool. There are several features that students like about this website. The ones they talk more about are:
- Its game-like environment makes it a very fun and engaging experience. No need to explain this a lot. Students like to play and have fun. They are familiar with video and online games so they would prefer playing Duolingo than attending a traditional class.
- Its progressive approach lets you advance at your own pace. You don’t need to finish anything at a set deadline. You are free to play whenever and wherever you want. You can measure your advancements quite easily (and progressively).
- It’s a memory boosting tool. You will remember words more easily when studying with Duolingo (or any tool like this). The words will just stick in your mind faster.
- You can display badges of the levels you conquered, just to brag a bit These badges can be posted to your Facebook wall so your friends can see your advancement.
- You can follow your friends so you can see how they are doing, and they can see your performance as well.
- Finally, it is free.
There are more pros to Duolingo and very important sources like EducationNews.org and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have also noticed it. However I will keep only the ones above since they were stated by my students and not by a teacher, researcher or a paid website review.
Are there any cons to Duolingo?
Yes, unfortunately it is not 100% perfect and I’m sure everybody will agree with me. I don’t like the fact that student’s first language is used a lot in the explanations of the activities. If you are studying English plenty of the instruction will be in Spanish or Portuguese. For the rest of languages the instructions are in English.
This is good at the beginning but, as students progress, instructions should be in the target language. So they should decrease the appearance of the first language progressively until it is totally nonexistent. At least, it should be an option.
The fact that it is 100% web-based can be a disadvantage in some cases. My students, for example, can’t use it a lot since there is no way to use it without internet access. The website has an iPhone app but, which public school students in Colombia use iPhones?
Edit: they launched and Android app which is good news, in my opinion.
How To Use Duolingo As Part Of Your Teaching Practice?
Duolingo has multiple advantages for language learners. Great! But how can a teacher use it as part of their teaching? At what moment? How? And Why? I have come up with a couple of ideas for you:
Idea # 1: Have a contest and reward winners
I tried this with relative success. I wish all my students had access to internet or were more interested in using it. But I can’t regret because most of them were excited about using the internet in their English class, especially since I offered extra grades for every student actively using Duolingo. Many of them did. If internet access is easy in your school then try this, please (and let us know how it goes in the comments)
Idea #2: Use the test feature
Duolingo has a test feature so anyone can skip a lesson provided that they already know the topic very well. Ask your students to take the test if they feel comfortable with their level and the difficulty of the lesson. Use their results as a measure of their knowledge.
Idea #3: Use it since the beginning
The English lessons start from the most basics topics and vocabulary items. So if your students are starting out it is a good idea to assign Duolingo lessons as part of their progress.
Idea # 4: Assign them as homework
Simple, isn’t it? You just tell your students that they should take as many lessons until they reach a specific level. Give them enough time if they are starting or if they haven’t passed many levels.
Idea # 5: You tell me
Please tell us in the comment section below what you think about this kind of tools and the possibilities to use it in a class setting. Have you ever used Duolingo or any other GLEE? Did you like it? What about your students?
Looking forward to your replies!
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