MALL (Mobile Assisted Language Learning)

May 31, 2010

Mobile Assisted Language Learning, or “MALL” is creating the same buzz in the new millennium that computer-assisted language learning (CALL) created in the 1990s. MALL is language learning using mobile devices such as:

  • cell (mobile) phones (including the iPhone)
  • MP3 or MP4 players (e.g. iPods)
  • Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) (e.g. Palm Pilot, Blackberry, etc.)

Here are a few articles — all published since 2000 – that I’ve found on MALL:

Chinnery, G. M. (2006). Emerging Technologies: Going to the MALL: Mobile Assisted Language Learning. Language Learning & Technology, 10(1), 9 – 16. Retrieved from

Collins, T. G. (2005). English Class on the Air: Mobile Language Learning with Cell Phones. Paper presented at the Fifth IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT’05). Retrieved from Mobile Assisted Language Learning Applications.   Retrieved May 15, 2010, from

Kukulska-Hulme, A., & Shield, L. (2007). An Overview of Mobile Assisted Language Learning: Can Mobile Devices Support Collaborative Practices in Speaking and Listening. Retrieved May 15 2010, from The Open University, UK:

These are just a few articles that I found. If you have other online resources for MALL to share, please let me know.

Related posts:

Cool Apps for Language Learning

Techno-Tools for the Second Language Teacher


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Short story radio – Excellent listening practice for ESL students.

May 31, 2010

Here’s a nifty resource I found for ESL learners. It’s not directed towards ESL learners, but I think that’s the beauty of it. Short story radio has audio podcasts of original short stories. The readings are done by native speakers, giving the listener exposure to authentic language. Check it out:


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Are you stifling your teachers’ creativity?

May 29, 2010

Educational program leaders and directors have a tough job managing programs. They need to oversee all aspects of program management including operations, human resources, curriculum, scheduling and budgets, just to mention a few things. Most program directors are overworked, underfunded and understaffed. They work like mad just to keep their head’s above water. If that sounds like you, then I have a question for you: In all this hustle and bustle what are you doing to keep your teachers motivated?

Like students, teachers have different gifts and talents. Do you give them opportunity to use those talents? Better yet, do you give them an opportunity to share their expertise with their peers?

Teachers need more than to just deliver content to students. This is especially true if that content is “canned”, that is to say, it’s very structured, rigid and inflexible. I once had a teaching job that I loathed because all the teachers had the same textbook and had to cover exactly the same content every week. We had a week-by-week outline of all the content we had to teach. Tests and assignments were developed by the two head teachers without input from others. All the assignments given in every class, by every teacher were the same. Every teacher had to give the same test on the same day.  Teachers were instructed on grading practices, so that grading would be “simpler and standardized”. Those in charge said it would increase quality.

It was true. It was all very standardized. And I’ll be honest, a monkey could have taught that class. There we were, a group of dynamic, engaged professionals, all of whom had bachelors or master’s degrees, churning out canned classes like robots. I stayed for a while and then resigned. Why? Because by being overly prescriptive about our teaching, the quality didn’t increase. It decreased.

One by one, the most engaged, dynamic and creative teachers all left. Those who stayed did so either because they liked the ease of not having to prepare much or because they were too afraid to look for work elsewhere. In any case, the result was the same. The teachers became disgruntled, disengaged and unhappy.

Now let’s consider another case. At a local college, my friend Val is an ESL teacher. While she has particular objectives in her teaching, she also had an idea about using Reading Circles in her work. She asked for the opportunity to run a reading circle with her fellow teachers at the college. Her superiors said, “Go for it!” The reading circle was a success and her project became hot talk among her peers. She moved on to do an applied research project about using reading circles for ESL and literacy. She was asked to do a presentation at the college about her work. People started talking. Val’s idea began to spread. She has gone on to present at conferences. There’s even a YouTube video about Val’s Reading Circles.

Val was given the opportunity by her superiors to use her creativity and not have it stifled. By being given the chance to explore and develop her ideas and talents, Val went about digging deeper into an area she has an interest in, develop professionally and become a leader in her own right in the area of reading circles for ESL literacy.

Giving teachers a chance to showcase and celebrate their professional expertise achieves 5 things (maybe more):

  • Offers them a chance to share their knowledge and passion with their peers.
  • Motivates them to become self-directed learners themselves as they have the chance to investigate what they’re interested in.
  • Provides recognition from others, both inside and outside your school.
  • Increases the teacher’s commitment to the profession.
  • Raises the profile of your school by highlighting the talented professionals who work with you.

What are you doing to encourage your teachers to use their creativity?


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

5 qualities of the perfect host family

May 25, 2010
Family pillow fight

The perfect host family knows how to have wholesome fun.

Finding super host families for home stay students is key for a successful home stay program. Here are the top things that the best host families do.

1. Act like a family. This may sound obvious, but you really want families who act like a family. They eat dinner together around a table (not in front of the television and not all at different times). They engage in conversation. They may not always agree, but they do listen to one another. They spend evenings and weekends together and understand the value of “family time”.

2. Know that safety and security come first. A good host family understands that it is their responsibility to keep the student they’re hosting safe and secure. This means that they set reasonable rules to help keep the student safe. This may include things like a curfew, checking in with a host parent during late excursions with friends and advice on safety in the local area such as avoiding certain areas of town. An ideal host family understands that having and following safety rules is a good thing.

3. Include the student in family life. The ideal host family thinks of their home stay student as part of the family. They include the student in dinner conversations, family outings and activities. The ideal host family never lets on that they’re being paid to host a student. Instead, they see their role as both giving and receiving. In addition to the fee they receive to billet the student, they also receive a tremendous opportunity to learn about another culture, as well as the chance to learn how to house international guests. In turn, they give their student the opportunity to experience life as part of their own family, offering a safe place to live, support, encouragement, opportunities to learn new things in the informal setting of the family unit.

4. Know when not to include the home stay student. This may sound counter-intuitive but one difference between a good host family and a great host family is that great host families know when not to include the home stay student. They understand that while they want to make the host student feel like part of the family, they also keep in mind they they are still a guest. All families have their ups and downs. Great host families don’t burden their home stay students with things like obligatory visits to the hospital to see a terminally ill grand parent. They also avoid having heated arguments in front of the home stay student. Ideal host families shield their home stay student from distressing experiences, understanding that the student is experiencing his or her own stress from culture shock, missing their own family back home and stress from school. While it is normal for family members to disagree from time to time, the best host families understand that “domestic drama” does not make for a pleasant home stay experience.

5. Know how to have good wholesome fun. Families who do activities together such as play board games, enjoy sports, go for walks and have family gatherings such as dinners and birthday parties are ideal. Together, these create long-lasting happy and warm memories. Your best home stay families strike a balance between work (including school work), responsibilities around the house and time to relax and have some fun together as as a family. These families understand that spending time together doing fun activities creates opportunities for sharing, laughter and positive bonding. And that in the end, happy memories are the best souvenir the student can take with them when they leave.

Related posts:

Sample Host Family Application

How to Find the Perfect Host Family


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

How to find the perfect host family

May 20, 2010

Lots of families want to host foreign students. But not all of them want to do it for the right reasons. How do you find excellent home stay families? Here are a few tips.

Offer a Prospective Host Family Information Session about your school. Host families should know what a typical school day is like, what kinds of things the students will be learning and what type of extra-curricular activities you offer. Having them tour the school and meet a few key staff members will give them a sense of how the school operates. You can make this mandatory for prospective host families. The way to do that is to schedule Prospective Host Family Information Sessions on a regular basis – say once a semester or even once a month. Hand out the Host Family Application Package at the Information Session. If families want to apply to host a student, an adult member of the family must attend the information session because that’s when and where the application packages are handed out. If a family can’t be bothered to attend an information session, you probably don’t want them hosting a student.

At this meeting, outline your expectations of the host families. Typical expectations are:

  • Provide 2-3 well-balanced nutritious meals.
  • Provide laundry-facilities that are not coin operated.
  • Provide clean linens (towels, face clothes and bed linens).
  • Spend time with the student practicing the language they’re learning every day.
  • Invite (but don’t oblige) the student to take part in family activities.

Have them fill out an application. In addition to the usual name, phone number and address, the application should ask:

  • How many children are in the home – including their names and ages
  • If they have pets and if so, how many and what kind
  • Why they’d like to be a host family. (Hint: If they respond, “Because we need the money”, think twice before accepting them as a family for one of  your students.)
  • What types of foods do they eat?
  • What kinds of activities do they like to do?

Asking questions like these will help you match students with families. For example, you don’t want to pair a student who is allergic to dogs with a family of dog enthusiasts. Vegetarian students may be well matched with a family that doesn’t eat much meat. A host family that loves to go geocaching may be the perfect fit for a techie student who loves the outdoors. You get the idea.

Request references. Your application form should also include a spot for the names of two or three references, as well as their contact information. References should not be other family members. Examples of good references include pastors, family doctors, work colleagues and even family friends. The reference check doesn’t have to be intensive, but it is part of your due diligence in selecting families. You want to ask these references questions such as:

  • How do you know this family?
  • What kind of people are they?
  • Do you think they’d be good hosts for an international student? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • Would be comfortable allowing your son or daughter to live with them? Why or why not?

Request a police checks for all adult members of the household. Sound harsh? Not really. More and more schools and non-profit organizations are requesting police checks from their staff and volunteers. Check with your local police station about how to get police checks done. If there’s a form to fill out, include a copy in your host family application package as a courtesy. A speeding ticket or other minor offense may not disqualify them as a host family, but if you don’t check, you may not know the whole picture. Who pays for these checks? The host family does.

Conduct a home inspection. So, the host family has attended your information session. Their application looks good. Their references were glowing. Their police check is clean. Everything looks good. But to be sure, send a staff member to inspect the home. Garbage and old tires piled on the front porch is not a good sign. (And yes, I’ve actually seen this.) Inspect the home as if you were the student arriving from another country. The host family needs to provide:

  • A private bedroom for the student. This may seem obvious, but that room should have a door that closes. Curtains are not an acceptable “door”.
  • A window. Basement bedrooms without windows are not only dark, they are a fire hazard.
  • Somewhere to store clothing and other personal belongings. A closest stacked with old linens with no room for the student’s belongings is unacceptable.
  • A desk and chair for studying.
  • A clean bed, with linens.

There are no guarantees that following these steps will get you the perfect host family every time, but they’ll certainly help you eliminate those who are just in it for the money, or who think of foreign students as extra help around the house.

Related posts:

5 qualities of the perfect host family

Sample Host Family Application


Share or Tweet this post: How to find the perfect host family

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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