25 Tech Tips from JALT 2018


  1. Did you know that Google Slides now offers a feature to display automatic closed captions (i.e. it types what you say as you speak!)
  2. John Blake offers a variety of web-based tools for language teachers and learners
  3. Regex101 helps you write regular expressions
  4. Google Sites can be used to store handouts, host video and audio, link to useful websites, and a range of other useful functions
  5. Did you know that it’s possible to slow down and speed up YouTube videos?
  6. Google has a vocabulary learning activity built in to its mobile search portal
  7. Ozdic is a useful collocation dictionary
  8. YouGlish allows students to use YouTube to improve their English pronunciation
  9. The Google Public Data Explorer makes large datasets easy to explore, visualize and communicate
  10. Gapminder produces free teaching resources making the world understandable based on reliable statistics
  11. ToPhonetics allows you to convert English text to IPA phonetic transcription
  12. Clip2Comic (iOS app) is a useful app for converting photos to comics for storytelling and other educational purposes
  13. CNN now produces reading and listening lessons for English learners, including text-to-speech audio and a vocabulary look-up feature…
  14. … while DreamReader provides free English reading practice for learners
  15. PowToon allows you to create engaging animated videos with a library of styles, characters, backgrounds
  16. Unsplash provides free stock photography for any purpose…
  17. …as does Pexels
  18. Cambridge World of Better Learning provides insights, tips and tools for language teachers
  19. Pocket Passport provides flashcards, storyboards, digital quizzes, and other resources for English language teachers
  20. EnglishCentral offers a series of high frequency vocabulary lists to help identify gaps in students’ knowledge, in addition to an online vocabulary level check
  21. Just-in-time learning involves using technology to consume learning materials at any time and in any place
  22. Did you know that MEXT officially promotes the use of ICT for active learning and for increasing the amount of time spent engaging with foreign languages?
  23. Scott Sustenance has developed an innovative system based on “mnemotechnics” (a.k.a. the “keyword method”) for enhancing students’ vocabulary recall ability. Check out his students’ work on his Instagram feed: #kwvocab18
  24. Nearpod provides a variety of real-time activities suitable for language classrooms, including open ended questions, fill-in-the-blanks, matching activities, and more
  25. The Font is an online journal of quality writing on the theme of teaching and learning languages at home and abroad

If you found these tips useful, why not check out the new version of my book, which has been revised, updated and expanded for 2019: 50 Ways to Teach with Technology

Inspirational speakers of English (according to Japanese college students)

I asked my Keio Study Skills students to produce a list of what they considered to be “inspirational public speakers”. The speakers on the list had to be able to speak English, but not necessarily as a first language. The list had to include both male and female speakers. This is the list they came up with:

  • Donald Trump (US President)
  • Malala Yousafzai (Activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate)
  • Hillary Clinton (US politician)
  • Michelle Obama (US politician)
  • Martin Luther King Jr. (US civil rights activist)
  • Mark Zuckerberg (Founder of Facebook)
  • George Bush (ex-US President)
  • Charlie Chaplin (Actor and comedian)
  • Christel Takigawa (Japanese television announcer, Tokyo Olympics spokesperson)
  • Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft)
  • Aung San Suu Kyi (Politician, diplomat, author, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate)
  • J. F. Kennedy (ex-US President)
  • Emma Gonzales (Survivor of Stoneman Douglas High School shooting)
  • Hiroshi Mikitani (CEO of Rakuten)
  • Margaret Thatcher (ex-UK Prime Minister)
  • Winston Churchill (ex-UK Prime Minister)

I pointed out that George Bush was famous for his English grammatical mistakes, and that Donald Trump, while inspirational to many, is probably not the best role model for public speaking. I also couldn’t find a video of Christel Takigawa speaking English (she mainly speaks French and Japanese) so replaced her with a clip of Masato Mizuno, who also spoke in favor of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Other than these unsuitable choices, the list is not a bad selection of different speakers and speaking styles, and it represents both male and female, as well as native and non-native speakers of English.

Of course the reason many of the speakers are on this list is not necessarily because they are inspirational speakers per se, but rather because they have had inspirational experiences, or are conveying an inspirational message, or have achieved a high level of business or political success. The availability heuristic also had an obvious impact on selection of speakers, especially considering the high number of US and UK presidents and Prime Ministers.

I made a short compilation video featuring some of the speakers from the list to help inspire students for their own presentations:

35 Tech Tips from JALT CALL 2018


  1. Class Marker is an online testing and quiz making website for business and education.
  2. LearnMatch combines social language learning and gamification through the medium of football matches.
  3. English Attack immerses students in authentic English, and features motivational exercises and games.
  4. Minimally invasive education (MIE) is a form of learning in which children operate in unsupervised environments.
  5. Clova is an intelligent personal assistant for Android and iOS operating systems developed by LINE.
  6. Newsela allows students to read the news at various levels of difficulty. It has over 6000 articles at 5 reading levels. Free and paid versions available.
  7. According to Caught in the Net author K. S. Young, internet addiction is “real” and has “devastating effects on the lives of addicts and their families”.
  8. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method which breaks down work into short intervals separated by short breaks.
  9. Flixel allows you to make beautiful moving photographs (cinemagraphs) to captivate your audience.
  10. Linguamarina offers YouTube videos with helpful language lessons and advice for those wanting to emigrate to the USA.
  11. Kahoot! is a free game-based learning platform that makes it fun to learn any subject, in any language, on any device.
  12. Correct.app offers automated grammatical feedback on student writing, and covers a variety of typical English learner errors.
  13. Duolingo uses the Grammar Translation Method of language teaching, which most Japanese learners of English are familiar with from their high school days. It can be used as an effective supplement to more communicative in-class learning techniques.
  14. Dedoose is a cross-platform app for analyzing qualitative and mixed methods research with text, photos, audio, videos, spreadsheet data and more.
  15. The Extensive Reading Foundation is a not-for-profit, charitable organization whose purpose is to support and promote extensive reading.
  16. Yomiyasusa Levels (YL) are a newly established way to measure the reading level of English books.
  17. Shigoto no Kiso Eigo is an NHK educational television series for learning English.
  18. Elemenglish.org is a course designed for elementary school teachers who want to improve their command of classroom English.
  19. Softbank’s Nao Robot can be used to teach second languages
  20. …while Musio Edge can speak “memorable and natural” English.
  21. James Paul Gee argues that good video game-based learning should be “pleasantly frustrating”.
  22. Sounds (iOS/Android app) helps you study, practise and play with pronunciation wherever you are…
  23. …while Sounds of Speech (iOS/Android app) provides a comprehensive understanding of how each of the speech sounds of American English is formed…
  24. …and Phonetics Focus (iOS app) provides 20 fun English phonetics/pronunciation practice activities and resources.
  25. Spaceteam ESL (iOS/Android app) is a fun English learning game you play with your friends and classmates using phones or tablets.
  26. ReadTheory provides free reading comprehension and writing exercises sure to improve your critical thinking skills…
  27. …while Mreader allows teachers (and students) to verify that they have read and understood their reading.
  28. Write & Improve is a free service for learners of English to practise their written English.
  29. Memrise allows you to learn a new language with games, chatbots and over 30000 native speaker videos.
  30. AntConc is a freeware corpus analysis toolkit for concordancing and text analysis…
  31. …while TAASSC is an advanced syntactic analysis tool which measures a number of indices related to syntactic development.
  32. The new version of Word Engine promises to help students quickly increase their TOEFL, TOEIC and IELTS scores.
  33. The Tatoeba Project is a free and collaborative sentence translation database…
  34. …and Charles Kelly offers a variety of ways for Japanese learners of English to interact with the database.
  35. Apps 4 EFL is a Web-Based Language Learning (WBLL) platform for teachers and students of English as a Foreign Language (EFL/ESL). It utilizes creative commons data and open web technologies to facilitate engaging online study.

If you found these tips useful, why not check out the new version of my book, which has been revised, updated and expanded for 2019: 50 Ways to Teach with Technology

Apps 4 EFL 4-week certified course with iTDi

I’m thrilled to be delivering a 4-week certified course on my Web-based Language Learning (WBLL) platform Apps 4 EFL with the International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi) in March 2018:

Become iTDi certified as an Apps 4 EFL teacher in March 2018 with Apps 4 EFL Designer & Developer Paul Raine, whose website offers over 30 versatile web-apps, covering listening, reading, speaking, writing, and vocabulary. In this four-week course, you’ll learn how to get students set up with the site, track their progress, assign tasks, download data for easy integration into grade sheets, and much more. Participants will be challenged weekly to try out his apps and share how they would increase and decrease levels of difficulty within their context for their students.

Yes to engaging lessons – but let’s not forget that learning requires discipline

Recently, I have started to wonder whether, as a profession, we have spent so much time and energy trying to make lessons and materials “engaging” and “motivational”, that we’ve forgotten a basic truth: learning requires dedication and discipline.

Perusing Twitter, browsing teachers’ blogs, and checking out the latest ELTon award recipients, the level of innovation in ELT never ceases to amaze. It’s great to be involved in imaginative projects to help inspire and motivate learners (I’ve been privileged to be involved in a few myself). But sometimes, I get the impression that we go much further than meeting our learners “half way” – and that this can have a detrimental effect on learning.

During the past academic year, I have encountered a surprising number of students with a shockingly poor attitude toward learning in general, and learning a language in particular. Here are some of the behaviors I have regularly observed:

  • falling asleep during class (in the worst case, during a pair conversation!)
  • regularly forgetting to bring essential items, such as text books and stationary
  • frequently missing classes or arriving late
  • constant use of L1 in speaking exercises
  • lack of a basic level of respect for other students or the teacher
  • lack of willingness to do more than the absolute minimum to pass the class
  • failure to ask for help or support when required
  • failure to follow clear and simple instructions

Now, we could easily come up with several innovative solutions to any of these problems. Regarding students sleeping in class, we might envisage the following kind of reply leaping readily from an experienced ELT educator:

If students are falling asleep, could it be because the lesson is not motivating enough? Could students be encouraged to stand up, move around, take part in some Total Physical Response (TPR) activities?

Or regarding students forgetting materials, perhaps something like this:

If students are failing to bring their text books, is it because they find them uninteresting? Could the teacher utilize more relevant (perhaps authentic) materials in the classroom? Do students even need to use stationary when smart phones can be employed for so many productive language activities?

Likewise, several perfectly credible explanations could be forthcoming. Perhaps regarding lateness and absence, it might be noted that:

Students can be very busy with other commitments: part-time jobs, family issues, club activities, it all adds up. When we couple this with the fact that some students may have little or no interest in attending compulsory English classes, is it any wonder that they miss so many lessons?

Now, I’m not saying that such explanations and solutions aren’t useful or valid – clearly they are. But part of me feels like they are somewhat missing the point. They tend to either put the onus back on the teacher, or find a reason to excuse the learner, or both.

Again, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t attempt to understand and accommodate the issues students face in their daily lives. Clearly we should, and we do. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do our utmost to deliver engaging, motivational, relevant, principled, and effective lessons. Clearly we should, and we do.

But learning in general, and learning a language in particular, isn’t a passive endeavor. It’s not a treatment that can be administered to recipients regardless of their willingness to receive it. Sure, a student might be able to pass the class by doing the absolute minimum required of them. By attending the absolute minimum required number of lessons. By writing the absolute minimum number of words. By uttering the absolute minimum amount of L2. But doing so is not the way to learn a language, and will at best produce a superficial ability useful only in the most contrived circumstances.

Now, if we revisit the undesirable behaviors listed earlier, and see what effect flipping them around might have:

  • not only staying awake in class, but being a proactive and enthusiastic learner for the duration of the class
  • not only bringing essential items, but also bringing additional useful items such as electronic dictionaries, phrase books, graded readers, etc
  • not only attending every class on time, but also participating in extra-curricular language learning opportunities such as conversation circles or writing clinics
  • making extensive and exclusive use of L2 in speaking exercises
  • exhibiting a level of respect for other students and the teacher that fosters a truly cooperative learning environment
  • having a determination and desire not only to pass the class with flying colors, but to go beyond the curriculum, to pursue one’s own learning needs and interests
  • asking for help or support when required, and ensuring one’s own understanding is accurate and complete
  • not only following instructions, but also helping others who do not understand

If we add to this list some additional habits often followed by successful language learners, we could draw an even more compelling picture:

  • developing a habit of regular study
  • reviewing previously studied material before moving onto new material
  • being exposed to extensive input and producing extensive output
  • pushing oneself to take risks in L2
  • treating mistakes as learning opportunities
  • spending time in immersive L2 environments

Now, I’m not saying that it’s easy or convenient to do all (or any) of these things. But it would be hard to believe that any student who did all (or even some) of these things could fail to improve their language ability.

The important point here is that these are actions to be taken by the learner. Not the teacher, or the materials writer. These are habits to be fostered by the learner. Not the tutor, or the author.

These habits require dedication and discipline on the part of the learner.

And that is something we may like to remind ourselves of when devising our next compelling, interactive, tech-powered, multi-modal, motivational learning experience.