Using Apps and Internet based programs to your bilingual advantage

Working as a translator in the 21st century I often wonder how the translators survived 100 years ago? The Internet has really made our life much easier in terms of availability of information. Some people complain that it’s too much, but to be honest, it’s probably the same people who moan at the end of the day because they have too much work and their desk is a mess, the answer is the same as it’s always been, prioritizing. 

For bilingual families as well as translators the Internet offers as wealth of knowledge and access to language sources that are just impossible or nearly impossible to get in one physical place at once without using any technology. The list is endless, but probably the most popular sources are newspapers online, YouTube, radios and TVs broadcasting online and many more. Of course, a good Google search and a question on a forum will yield the names and webpages that you are looking for your own purposes.

However, one of my favourite ones lately is a nice music program called Spotify. I will speak of this one, because it’s the one I’ve been using, it’s also one of the most popular ones lately, but I am sure that there are many others that do the same thing. Spotify is a computer program available for PC and Mac, and even for your iPhone in the shape of an app! What it does is access a huge database of songs, try it, really it has almost everything, even the most obscure bands you can imagine. Who would have heard of Enrique y Ana except Spanish people born before the 80s? Well, they’ve got it!

Having access to such a wealth of music and songs is amazing, but it’s not really the tool as what you do with it that is the point here. Besides having access (for free) to all of these songs, there are also other recordings available including children’s stories. A search of “cuentos para niños” (children’s fairy-tales)  will bring up several albums of stories that you can then play to your children. You can help them also keep in touch with the cooler side of your culture by accessing instantly the latest hits, or simply bring your phone to a party and play songs from your culture to the people there.

The one drawback of Spotify is that it’s free to a certain extent, to limitless access to the same song you have to pay a subscription, which also includes the right to download the file to your computer, so not too bad. If you don’t like paying, there is YouTube, where you can find many different video and audio files uploaded by different people. Some people promote their teaching business uploading lessons, which are very entertaining and your children will love them.

Other ways of taking advantage of the technology and your children’s weaknesses is console games. Children love them, so if you can’t beat them, join them! I am not one to defend video games making up things like “it helps your reflexes or any other type of lame excuse for spending hours in front of the game, however, not all is bad.

I used to teach English as a foreign language to foreign secondary school students. I had this student who wasn’t finding English extremely easy, however, he did surprised me from time to time with some very good vocabulary when I knew for certain that he wasn’t getting it from school. He confessed that he liked playing a particular game on his console, this game was all in English and part of the action consisted in going to a type of shop and trading things, so there you go, he learnt these words because they were in context, he was interested and really, he just wanted his points on the game!

The point of this being that if you can’t stop your children from spending hours in front of the console, there are some things that will be positive. In games like football, players usually connect their console to the Internet and match up with other players around the world to play against. Why not asking your child to play against somebody from your home country and speak to that person on the headset using your home language? Maybe get the version of the game on your home language?

There are many things you can do to encourage your children to use the home language in context, that is to say using their already existing likes and dislikes rather than manufacturing strange situations that they will hate.

Last but not least, just say that this last point regarding video games and online cooperative games came to me as I saw a comment on Facebook once, somebody complained on how children did not play board-games anymore and they thought they were boring. This person implied that somehow children who liked board-games were in a way at an advantage. Anyway, I do like playing board-games  but I do see that they can be boring to some people and some board games are downright silly. So, the thing is not what is better or worse, technology or traditional, the point is taking advantage of what your children already like, what they are good at, what they do day in day out. So, if they love video games, so be it, we’ll beat them at their own game!


  1. John Peter McCance says:

    Another great article here… I have been trying to use my iPad in class as much a possible for the lower ability learners or fast finishers, to extend their knowledge. It’s amazing watching children who usually fight, work together to take turns.

  2. I’m discoring all sorts of great apps in the iPad App store, which have real depth and capture childrens’ imaginations, including some beautiful interactive storybooks. However, I find it best to find reviews on the web first rather than use the App Store to discover programs – there’s quite a lot of filler on there.

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