5 Truly Innovative Digital Language Learning Tools for 2020

As more and more digital tools are developed, it is always handy to know which are genuinely useful and innovative for our learners. Thank you to Sarah Bromley, who certainly knows her stuff, for this guest post.

By now most teachers are familiar with the idea of using digital resources such as YouTube videos and online quizzes. Nowadays those things, while still extremely useful, are almost ‘old news’.

What are the emerging innovations that will further revolutionise language learning over the next few years? As the founder of a company that develops digital products for language learning, I like to stay on top of the new and cutting edge tools that are becoming available.

Here are some of the most innovative and interesting tools that I’ve come across over the past year. They’re not really classroom activities – more tools that can support students between lessons, to help them practise or supplement what they learn in the classroom.


Ludwig describes itself as a “sentence search engine” that helps you write better English by giving you contextualized examples taken from reliable sources. Your students can use Ludwig to ‘self-check’ their own use of English. 

What I like about Ludwig is that it has formalised what I have tried to do for years using Google searches. When writing Spanish I sometimes Google a construction to see if I can find a good number of instances of it in high quality Spanish websites, to give me some indication of whether it may be correct. 

Ludwig has made it possible for English learners to do this more easily by only searching reliable sources (mainly newspapers, it seems).

I discovered an interesting use for Ludwig recently. A student said “come to grips with” and I told him we in fact say “get to grips with”. He then pointed out that according to online Cambridge Dictionary, “come to grips with” was acceptable. I didn’t think I’d ever heard it so I suspected it was maybe American English. A search on Ludwig confirmed this by showing that “come to grips with” appeared mostly in American publications.

Go Correct 

Full disclosure – Go Correct was created by me, the author of this article. However, it did win a British Council ELTon award for digital innovation in 2019, so it’s not only me that thinks it’s worthy of a mention! The British Council obviously agree. 

Go Correct uses the ‘chat bot’ functionality in Facebook Messenger to send daily conversation questions. The student replies to the question with a short text or voice message and their reply is corrected by a qualified teacher. The student can also click on a mistake for more information and see statistics about where they make the most mistakes.

Go Correct solves a couple of problems for language learners. One – how to get regular practice producing English. There are so many opportunities online to listen to or read English but if a student doesn’t use English in their daily life, it’s easy to let days or weeks pass without ever writing or speaking it. 

Even if students do have opportunities to use English day to day, most of the time they’re generally understandable so the people they’re speaking to won’t correct them. The idea behind Go Correct is that students can discover their mistakes and learn from them.


WordBit is an app that shows you a new English word every time you unlock your phone. This is clever because it takes an action that we do regularly and turns it into a moment to learn a word in English. I believe it’s well known in psychology that to turn something into a habit, it’s best to attach it to something else that’s already a habit. 

I believe the idea is that we spend (waste?) a lot of time looking at our phones so why not make use of that time to learn more words of English?

After using the app I realised that most of the time I’m unlocking my phone to do something useful or important (eg. check my location on a map) and at those times it was annoying to have to swipe away the vocabulary before I could do the task. If they could make it show the word every time I opened an app that I waste time on (eg. Instagram) then that would be really valuable. Also, I’d like to them to fix a couple of technical problems and curate their word list a bit better – I saw some rather obscure or rarely used words.


Voicebook takes listening practice and makes it more useful. Rather than students simply listening and answering questions about the parts they can understand, Voicebook gently pushes students past their current level of understanding.  

Learners listen to an audio recording and view an empty template of all the words in the recording. They then transcribe the parts they understand and the software reveals the words that the learner couldn’t understand correctly, allowing them to re-listen to these parts and focus on understanding them.

The software is still at an early stage and the interface is currently only available in Italian, however there are several English recordings available which you can filter by CEFR level.


Lingbe takes the traditional idea of a language exchange, democratises it and gives it some structure.

In Lingbe, learners make voice calls with people who are learning their language and they earn credits for the calls they make. They can then spend those credits on calls with people who speak the language they’re learning. 

You don’t have to arrange a call in advance. The idea is that you go to the app at any time and there will be someone available to talk to. This takes some of the ‘admin’ out of a language exchange. It also means that you don’t need to exchange directly with someone who speaks the language you’re learning – you can earn credit by talking with anyone and spend it on the language you want. This is helpful if an English learner’s native language is not one that’s widely learnt.

While language exchanges are a great idea, they can be time consuming to arrange and I feel Lingbe solves that problem.

What’s missing from this list?

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned any voice recognition applications in this list. This may be surprising because several have appeared over the past couple of years and it is definitely a growing area. However, the voice recognition language learning apps that I’ve tested don’t yet deliver what they promise. 

I found apps such as Elsa and Aivu to be disappointing. There’s still more work needed in this area. I’ve written more about voice recognition for language learning, in this article. I think voice recognition holds the potential to be the next big exciting development in language learning. In fact, it’s something I would love to work on if the opportunity arises.

Video for the Terrified (or just slightly nervous)

In a departure from the usual written form, this week’s guest post is a video from Eric Oscar Wesch from Etacude. If you’ve ever wondered about creating your own videos, but were too terrified or overwhelmed by the tech to start, this post will calm your fears, explain why we should all be doing it and get you started with tech that you probably already own. You’ll be making videos in no time!

Ode to Technophobes

This week’s guest poster is Richard Osborne: podcaster, teacher, teacher trainer and all-round tech-savvy guru. If you struggle with integrating new technology into your teaching, he has some excellent advice, in his own inimitable style…

The global digital transformation has been on my mind these past few days. Yesterday came some of the most perfect examples.

On my way home to my sleepy little country town of Montignac from the big smoke of Perigueux, I thought to myself, “Hey, remember that new car radio you were thinking of buying for your tired old frumpy Opel Meriva, when you immediately opened your phone to look on Amazon like some sort of Mark-Zuckerberg-conditioned drone? Why don’t you take advantage of your being in the big city and go to one of those things… whatya-ma-call-it… a brick-and-mortar store, yes, that’s right.” So I quickly tapped “Norauto” (yes I actually remembered the name of a brick-and-mortar store, showing my age there) into my Waze navigation app on my phone.

Yes, ok, my anti-technology example hinged upon a bloody piece of technology. Otherwise what the hell else would I have done? Should I have wound down my window and asked some poor downtrodden serf walking the streets where the nearest Norauto was? Hoping she’d lift her head from her Instagram long enough to comprehend what I’d said. Waiting patiently for her to unfurl her grand map of Perigueux from her pocket (don’t be ridiculous, girls don’t have pockets) in the rain and start reading me out turns and road numbers? Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but even more ridiculous still is what would have actually happened in this scenario. She’d have simply typed “Norauto” into her own bloody Waze app, probably press some magical button that’d beam that information into my own phone, thus negating the whole process of asking in the first place.

Anyway, back to reality please. Where was I? Oh yes. Being guided by my wonderful Waze app, which is updated live with traffic information from other people who are also using the Waze app (and vice versa. Yes, take my personal information, take it all!), it spontaneously changes my route to avoid traffic jams, speeding towards my mysterious destination.

I was awash with excitement. Would they have the product I sought? Who knows. That’s the fun of it, isn’t it? Driving twenty minutes, spending petrol at €100 a litre, just to arrive at one of these once illustrious institutions of commercial frivolity, and finding they don’t ‘stock’ the product you seek. That state of not knowing is what makes it worth being human, ticking my brain’s anticipation sacks only to experience the full spectrum of crushing disappointment at the phrase, “Ah… sorry Sir, I’ll have to order that part in for you…”

Where was this slightly pungent employee going to order the part from, dear readers? You’ve guessed it. From the bleeding internet of course! Yes, that’s right, brick-and-mortar stores today are basically the physical click-and-collect points of the digital world. I give up. Amazon, here I come! [insert picture of Jeff Bezos laughing smoking a cigar in a tall leather chair please Tamara]

That’s not all. During this ill-advised foray into the good-old-days, I was listening to my favorite French radio station – France Info. Coincidence of all coincidences, they were talking to a representative of the police of Nice about a test the municipality conducted last year of a new facial recognition system using the city’s CCTV cameras.

The police rep couldn’t have said it better, and I paraphrase, “At first we thought this would never work, that you can’t replace a real human police officer when it comes to identifying a suspect in CCTV footage. After the test we’ve absolutely changed our minds. Furthermore, we realised that there are roles where technology can greatly alleviate the work of police officers, and areas where a human officer is absolutely irreplaceable.”

For me these are two examples show what’s happening in our world in terms of fear of technology turning to wondering how we ever did without it. I may be a self-confessed geek who runs head-first towards anything new, throwing caution and common sense to the wind, but there’s not much more to my technological prowess than that. I’ve never taken a training course in technology, I didn’t study computer programming in university. Back in my day (preach, old man) when I was in secondary school, the furthest we got was ‘word processing class’, where we sat and typed out printed texts into Microsoft Word for about 2 hours a week. It was hell, but by God did it teach me to type as fast as a German milkmaid on acid. Yes, I’ve lost you there, let’s move on and pretend that never happened.

The point that I’m very unclearly trying to make it this: Technology should be evaluated for its usefulness throughout the spectrum of human activities, but we must put measures in place to help ease people through the transition without fear leading to being left behind. Language teaching is no exception.

On that same radio show yesterday, a teenager talked about how one of the major changes in her school was that this year students at her school have no paper textbooks anymore. Not one. The state has paid for every single secondary student to have a tablet computer. All school materials are now online. If you’re the reactionary English teacher in one of those schools, clutching your copy of New English File in the supply closet, moistening its decade old pages with your tears, you must be #$%@ing bricking it.

This is why I’m writing this article. I’m looking at you, my nervous language teaching colleague, and I hear you. “I’m rubbish at technology, I’ll never be able to keep up with all these gadgets and doodads, what am I going to do?!” I can tell you, right here and now, you’re wrong. You can absolutely and easily catch up and use any technology you want. You just have to be like me – go running towards the technology head first, to hell with the consequences, to hell with people who think you’re ridiculous and mock you with such zingers as “How can she not even know how to type with all her fingers??” The hidden truth of the internet is: You’re not alone.

My job involves teaching freelance language teachers of all ages in France and abroad about how to use new technology in their language teaching. I can tell you from vast experience that a majority of language teachers, regardless of their age, don’t know how to use the same technologies you currently fear are coming to take your job. It actually surprised me how much this ratio of 5:1 – teachers who are comfortable with technology to teachers who are not – doesn’t change much based on age. I’ve met 60-year-olds who are miles more tech-savvy that some of my 20 -year-old teacher trainees.

In reality, there’s only one thing that separates them: Being able to get over the irrational fear of new things and simply go for it, try the technology out, push buttons and break things, make a mess, and slowly learn how the thing ticks.

Take Google Docs for example. I had a teacher trainee yesterday talking about Microsoft Word documents she’d created that, now she’s teaching at a distance, she’d like to share with her learners. Before she used to send them by email, asking the learners to write their answers in the document and send a copy back, to be corrected and once again sent to the learner. What she ends up with are three versions of the same document in an email chain. This is not in itself a complicated thing to manage, but once she starts doing it with 5, 10, 20 students at a time, it will become a logistical nightmare. She could, in theory, organise her email inbox into folders and be rigorous in storing students’ work in the correct place, but this would almost require as much effort as it would learning how to use Google Docs in the place of Microsoft Word.

The advantage of Google Docs is you can import your existing Word documents directly into your Google Drive and convert them without losing much formatting. Afterwards, you’ll have an original document that can be edited live by one or more of your learners. How they edit it is up to you. They can be given permission to simply ‘comment’ the document, that is to say, they can modify and add text, but the original will not be changed. The teacher can look at the modifications, give corrections in the form of comment replies, then erase them to return to the original unmodified text, ready for the next student to complete. They can equally be allowed to modify the original document as if they were they author. Even then, each modification is stored in a huge list of historical changes, each one able to be consulted and restored if necessary.

This means the teacher will now only have two version of the same document: One master version, stored safely in a private folder, and one duplicate version added to a student’s shared Google Drive folder for editing. Even if you think this is only a minor improvement on the original emailing Microsoft Word documents method, I can tell you that this basic transition into the sort of ‘neo-digital’ realm of using free, web-based software, will open up a world of possibilities for you.

For example, you can experiment with the Google Docs extension Kaizena (plugin available from the ‘Chrome Store’ in Google’s Chrome web browser). This plugin allows you and your learners to not only edit documents together, but add self-recorded spontaneous audio comments to parts of the text. Imagine the possibilities for replying to production questions that up to now could only be completed using writing skills? Suddenly, “Use the present perfect to describe a recent holiday you had,” can be answered as a speaking activity – for homework. This was an absolutely mind-blowing experience for me the first time I tried it, and now I encourage my learners to record themselves as frequently as possible in preference to writing their answers to my own homework activities.

Why not move on to experiment with Google Drawings, Google Sheets or Google Slides? These are an online whiteboard (admittedly very basic), an online Microsoft Excel and an online Microsoft Powerpoint respectively. Every application is free, and you can add links between individual documents through the ‘add link’ function which searches through your existing file from any of the other platforms. Why not branch out from Google, and experiment with Quizlet, Memrise, and Padlet? These are a flash-card quiz application, a spaced-interval vocabulary memorisation application, and a social link sharing board respectively.

I could go on, but my objective here is not to overload your brain with the possibilities of technology. I know there’s a point where I’ll scare you off. If you can even experiment with just Google Drive and Google Docs, I’ll be happy. These could be your first personal challenges of confidently charging towards new technologies, spending a good hour testing each of them, pushing all the buttons trying to make it make you a cup of coffee, to know in the end what it can and can’t do, where the bugs are, where it works well and where it doesn’t. In doing so, you’ll remove all embarrassment from future use of such technology with your students. Through one hour of simply imitating the autodidact baby smashing, chewing and throwing a new toy around to learn entirely through doing, I guarantee you’ll know more than 90% of the people you intend to use it with.

Ed Tech – The Journey or the Destination?

I recently read a post which was, basically, a teacher evangelising about using technology in the classroom. She said ‘I am passionate about my mission to get all of our teachers to embrace technology’ (or words to that effect). In the same week I read a post that was entitled ‘How to Ace Your Next Observation Lesson’, the first idea was to include ‘some sort of’ tech. apparently lesson observers just go nuts for that sort of thing. But why?

Are these people suggesting that all tech is good? That having tech in your lesson somewhere automatically elevates a mediocre lesson to a great lesson? It would seem so. I remember being told by the supposedly expert teaching team at the FE college I was working in a few years ago, that I should ‘use Face Book’ with my learners between classes. It is worth bearing in mind both that the learners in question were adult pre A1 level and that I had never used Face Book. There was no explanation as to HOW I should (or even could) use it, nor WHY it was apparently such an amazing idea to supplement their learning this way. It seemed that they just thought that tech was good, tech was modern, tech was the sign of a progressive learning environment, tech made everything better (and don’t get me started on the lesson observations that were marked down because I didn’t use the interactive features of the whiteboard…).

Using technology in and between lessons has to be done to improve the overall experience for our learners. Using tech for the sake of it doesn’t help anyone. We may see an interesting idea while tumbling down the internet rabbit hole and think ‘hmm, that looks fun I’ll use it my class’ – but first we should ask ourselves – WHY should we use it? HOW will it help our learners? WHERE does it fit with our lesson? and ARE our learners able to use it?

The SAMR model (Puentedura) takes these questions one step further and gets us to evaluate the tech by its application and purpose.

To better familiarise yourself with the whole SAMR approach there is an excellent video here. The basic idea is to reflect on why the tech is being used, is it merely as an adjunct? (such as replacing pen and paper with a screen and keyboard) or does it allow us to achieve something that would previously have been inconceivable? (like collaborating on a podcast with students from a school in a different country). The SAMR model also ensures that we consider the use of the tech in question, is it just for fun (which is not necessarily a bad thing – ‘brain breaks’ can aid learning) or is there a pedagogical purpose?

We need to be picky when it comes to tech, we need to evaluate what it is and why we are using it. There are loads of fantastic apps, programmes and software available out there – but we have to be sure that we are adding value to the learning experience with them, not just ‘teching’ for the sake of it.


Ruben R. Puentedura. Transformation, Technology, and Education. (2006)