One of the great benefits of learner autonomy is that it allows learners to learn things that interest them without having to constantly rely on their teachers. With this idea in mind, and excited about the many websites and apps available for learning English, I decided to look for a few appealing ones that my advanced learners could use outside the classroom.
My top three websites
Among the many websites that claim to help you with your vocabulary, I found Quizlet. I really like it because you can create your own set of flashcards, or use the ones that are already there. It also has different study modes and games. For example, you can test your memory using games, or study with traditional classroom activities like filling in the gaps, or guessing the word after reading the definition. And an added plus is that it’s available to download as an app to your mobile.
Another website that I really thought was appealing for practising pronunciation and vocabulary is LyricsTraining. Since many of my learners enjoy singing in English, I thought they would like this. You can search for a song, and if you find it, you can watch the video and fill in the lyrics at different speeds and make the task as difficult as you want. You also have the option of competing against other players.
My next find was Lingro, advertised as 'The coolest dictionary known to hombre!' This site provides instant translation in a very easy way to help with reading. All you need to do is to copy and paste the URL of the website you would like to read into their page and all the words become clickable, giving you instant definitions or a translation in your chosen language.
Although my learners showed initial enthusiasm when I introduced these three websites, after a few days they weren’t using them as often as I would have liked. One of the reasons they gave is that all these websites and apps require a connection to the internet and can’t be used offline. Another reason they mentioned is the lack of time to 'play', even if this meant studying in a 'play'' mode. Some others commented on their own favourite websites and apps which they use more regularly.
What I have learned from this experience
Searching for the most useful and appealing digital technologies for my learners has been a valuable activity although I must confess, a rather time-consuming one. Through this experience I have learned that offering learners some choices and showing them examples of tools that are available to improve their language learning is one way of helping them become more independent. However, to make this a truly autonomous activity, teachers should let learners browse the internet, checking the institution’s e-safety policy first, and find the digital tools that learners find most useful and appealing. Encouraging learners to share their findings so everyone gets to know as many different options as possible is also valuable.