Multiple tools are now available for teachers who wants to improve the efficiency of their teaching. One of them is directly answers a need that students have, which is feedback on their speaking skills. As a teacher, unless you do an oral presentation every course, you can’t truly evaluate and give complete feedback to every student on a regular basis because the courses only last 60 minutes. Speaking is one of the most important, if not the most important thing that students need to acquire in English. One of the solution you would say is to ask other students to evaluate their peers on the proficiency of their speaking, but unless your students are native speakers, they won’t be able to really tell if the pronunciation was right or not. So, we have to look for other alternatives and one of those is SpeakingPal.
Available on Itunes and Google Play, SpeakingPal is an app that consists of video scenarios such as asking for directions, searching a book at the library or asking for information at the bank. When you begin a scenario, a virtual speaker will act, for example, as the cashier of a bank. He will ask you questions about your bank account and you will have to respond with one of the provided answers on the screen. Every answer will be analysed and an evaluation with a color-coded bar will be given (ex : green means that the pronunciation was very good, yellow means that it was average and red means that you have work to do). The sentences that didn’t go very well can be done again and you’ll also see which words were well pronounced and which not. There is even a native speaker on the screen who can show you the perfect pronunciation. The average length for a scenario is about 2 minutes. So, as you see, the app will improve the student’s skills because he will practice, but also because he’ll receive feedback.
The Usa Today said about the app that “because it’s free to try, SpeakingPal is an ideal download for those who’d like to practice speaking English in real-world scenarios and receive immediate feedback. If you can get past the cheesy humor, this app should help those wishing to improve their English-speaking skills via their tablet or smartphone.” As a future teacher, I can already see myself in a classroom or a computer lab, asking my students to open the app and do different scenarios. It will help them to improve their pronunciation faster because they will directly see on the screen which words are difficult for them and how they can improve their pronunciation (by following the native speaker on the screen). It will also show them real-life situations in which they will have to speak English throughout their lives. It is true that, in a perfect world, I would sit with every single students and listen carefully to the way they pronounce the “ed” at the end of the past of regular verbs or how they say “hippopotamus”, but since cloning is not available yet and I still have 25 student in front of me, I need to find another way to teach my material and it is one of those. Furthermore, the app seems to work pretty well in loudly places such as a classroom like you can see in this video. So, once again, it will be easy to adapt it in a classroom where everybody talks at the same time.
Like I said, I really think that it is a very good app, but it is not a perfect solution. Right now, I don’t know if I’ll have a job in private school in which the students have more costly material or in a public school in which I’ll be confronted to some poorer students who barely have a pencil and an eraser. Using SpeakingPal will require a tablet such as an Ipad or a Nexus 7, so the type of school that I will teach in will influence greatly the possibility to use it or not. However, if it is possible, the use of Ipad or any tablet can be very interesting if well controlled. We need to make sure that, as a teacher our students will go on the right app and not on Candy Crush or Angry Birds. The use of Ipads, for example, will catch their attention more than a piece of paper. They will pay more attention to what we are trying to teach them. Ashley Wainwright, a writer for SecurEdge Blog, adds on the effect of Ipad in the classroom that “teachers can reinforce what is being taught with the iPads allowing student to practice certain skills at their own level and pace.” Every student will be able to learn at his own rhythm and it will lower their anxiety to make mistakes.
Futhermore, as Tim Gifford, a writer for EltJam.com, notes in reference to SpeakingPal that the “Speaking sections’ of lesson spreads were (traditionally) opportunities for the learners to practise putting the grammatical components together in substitution drills and exchanges. Sure, that’s saying out loud what the lesson has been designed to ‘teach’, but it’s not speaking. By ‘speaking’ I’m referring to a spontaneous, need-driven utterance that invites an interaction.” It is a really good point. A teacher cannot use this app to evaluate the Competency 1 which is the ability to talk orally in English because the students won’t have to opportunity to use the vocabulary or the grammar rules that they learned previously, but they will be able to improve one very important feature of speaking which is the pronunciation. The App is not better than working in teams or discussing about a specific topic because it doesn’t involve real people. Fictional conversation will never replace real-life conversation between friends, but does your friend can tell you exactly if your sentences are well pronounced?Not really in the majority of cases. Tim Gilfford also raises a very good point in saying that “it’s missing out on the fundamentals when it comes to speaking practice, however; the spontaneity and support that are critical in helping a learner to recognise and respond to shortfalls in their productive abilities.”
Finally, as you see, the use of technologies such as SpeakingPal can really be enriching for your students because they will be able to improve specific skills in English. As long as the teacher knows how the app or the technology works, there is no problem to bring it in our schools.
For complete overview of the app, there is the link !