Thursday, March 12, 2015

Reinforce listening and pronunciation with the Google Chrome extension Read & Write

As a Spanish teacher I am always looking for new ways that my students can practice their oral/aural proficiency. One of my new favorite tools to use with my students is the Read & Write Google Chrome extension. This tool allows for students to have text read to them in Spanish as well as the option for an accent from Spain or Mexico. This has been an incredible way for students to practice their listening as well as learn about the differences in pronunciation between a speaker from Mexico and Spain. Read & Write is an incredible tool to help out students in many languages with their reading and listening skills.

Read & Write is simple to use and can be used on any text from the web to have it read aloud to the reader. Along with English and Spanish it also can read Brazilian Portuguese, Portuguese, French, Dutch, German, Italian, Indonesian, Swedish and Polish. Any article from the internet or Google Doc assignment can work with Read & Write. Here is how Read and Write can look in a news article.
By highlighting text from an article and pressing the "play" button from Read & Write the text will be read with a voice in the chosen language. Using the settings menu you are able to select the voice that you would like the text read in. The students can also select the speed at which the text is read which is a great tool for new language learners.

For student assignments I create Google Docs with the questions the students are learning and then instruct them how to use Read & Write to practice their pronunciation while answering the questions. Here is a video of one of my students practicing their assignment with Read & Write.

How to install Read & Write:

To use Read & Write in a Google Doc the first step is to install the Google Chrome Extension from the Chrome Web Store

Once installed the extension will reside on the top right of your Chrome browser and will look like a purple puzzle piece.

The extension will now work in any webpage by simply clicking the puzzle piece and highlighting text to read. 

Change the voice from the gear icon. From here click on voice and browse the different languages and accents that the text can be read back in. 

For use in Google Docs:

To use Read & Write in a Google Doc you will click the puzzle piece and then click the additional puzzle piece which will be hanging below the web address bar. Read & Write will ask for an additional permission to run in Docs after it is clicked. 

How is your Spanish pronunciation? Try the new Google Docs Add-On, and see if it understands your accent.

I recently came across the Google Docs Add On Speech Recognition and have so far found it as an incredible tool especially for language learning. The Add On uses the same technology that Google uses on its homepage for speech recognition. This means that it is good and getting better each day.  What is most impressive to me about the Add On is the amount of languages and even accents that it has to choose from.  Go ahead and try it, I'm sure your curious about your own accent!  It has an incredible amount of accents to use, especially for Spanish.

This add-on has really helped me develop a whole new layer to my Spanish classes. My students can correctly answer questions and speak spanish. But now they can make sure they don't sound like Keanu Reeves in Point Break. (One of the great movies of all time none the less). The Add-On will not work if you don't put effort into your pronunciation, and this has really done an incredible job giving individual students valuable feedback to how they are speaking.  I have already noticed students who at first could not get a single word to work, are now after some practice doing whole sentences and really speaking with a better accent. 

The add-on also has an added bonus in that it will not spell out adult language!  This is actually a lot of fun and I recommend you give this a try with the same crowd of friends you usually play cards against humanity with. All you will see though is the first letter followed by stars like this s***  .So this Add-On will prevent foul mouth students from at least speaking any poor language on their docs.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!  The Add-On is only for Google Docs and can be found at the bottom of the Add-On list.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Language teachers need to embrace, instead of fear Google translate.

Just recently Google Translate has released new, and exciting updates. The app can now translate written words by hovering the phone over the text. The app can also now listen and type out a translation to a conversation. Both of these features are incredible to witness and if you have not tried them out yet, you really should. There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that this app will only continue to improve and innovate. As a language teacher I do not fear the app making language teachers irrelevant. Instead I see it as a way to make us more productive and increase how much our students can learn each class.  Instead of looking at the negative aspects of the App such as it's limitations with translating whole documents correctly and with colloquial phrases, here are some of the huge positives.

First of all language teachers should be rejoicing that we no longer have to carry around dictionaries for our students.  Dictionaries are an incredible tool to learn new vocabulary, but Google Translate gives you that and more. While I have very fond memories traveling around Valencia, Spain with my Spanish-English dictionary, I am well aware that I could have done so much more if I had my Google Translate app with me.  The app is far superior to your basic dictionary in so many ways.  It exists on my smartphone which means I carry it all the time and it weighs much less than a dictionary.  It allows you to save and star all important words for easy reference later on.  You also can hear back words or speak the word which allows you to practice your pronunciation as well as listening.

The App and web form allows students to access it in any classroom with internet access.  1:1 or BYOD settings now provide each and every student with a free dictionary to use at no extra cost.

The app teaches students how to use the latest translating technology as a resource to improve their learning.  If students use the app correctly for translating single words they can expand their vocabulary at a rapid pace.  Students can check their spelling, find out where accents go, as well as get a list of similar words all by using the app.

A quick dictionary, spelling, and thesaurus all in one app can now free class time up to more language practice.  Teachers have to adapt to how they can now use this extra time saved in class to expand on vocabulary and further challenge students.  The reality is that students are using the app, and they are going to continue to keep using it no matter how often we tell them "it makes mistakes."  Instead I believe the focus needs to be turned to how to effectively teach students how to use Google Translate as the incredible resource it is, one that can really benefit learners of a new language, and one that is not about to make language teachers irrelevant.