Smartphones Drive Language Learning Innovation

Manila Bulletin, August 24, 2009 | Go to article overview

Smartphones Drive Language Learning Innovation


HONG KONG, August 23, 2009 (AFP) - The boom in "smartphones", led by Apple's iPhone, has inspired language learning tools that would have been inconceivable just months ago -- and a Hong Kong firm is leading the charge.Tens of thousands of "apps" -- individual programmes that can be downloaded to the phone and do everything from recognising music playing in a bar to guiding tourists around a city -- have been developed for the iPhone since it was launched in early 2007.The ability to combine audio, video, text and data files with an Internet connection to a central website has helped create a much-improved language learning device, says entrepreneur Chris Lonsdale."The technology allows you to have all the elements in one place and gives you new insights (into how you can learn languages)," said Lonsdale, whose app is a six-month course for Chinese people to learn English.Lonsdale describes himself as "expert in human performance" rather than a teacher and has given advice to clients ranging from golfers to investment bankers trying to make the best use of their abilities.In recent years, Lonsdale -- a fluent Mandarin and Cantonese speaker -- has begun tackling how people learn languages, and developed new techniques to counter the grammar-obsessed method that puts so many people off learning.His work resulted in a course that he says could get you to a reasonable standard of Chinese in just two weeks, and a book, The Third Ear, which combines anecdotes and philosophy with unconventional language-learning techniques.He also developed a range of CDs that combined language learning with music, based on the idea that words can stick in the brain with little effort if they are associated with a catchy tune.But it was when Lonsdale and his team of 12, based mainly in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, realised the potential of the new iPhone that he was able to put his methods into a single "learning machine" app, called Third Ear Kungfu English.Lonsdale hopes it will help people shatter the preconception that language learning is about innate talent."Learning languages is not about talent, it is about method," said the 50-year-old."If you spend two years investing in learning a language and you are still at a low level there is something wrong with the way you are doing it," added Lonsdale, who learned mandarin in six months. …

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