Free messaging apps in the classroom

Andrew Pollard, Kangwon National University

Quick guide

  • Keywords: Mobile-assisted Language Learning (MALL), spoken fluency, learner autonomy
  • Learner English level: All
  • Learner maturity: Junior high and above
  • Preparation time: 10 minutes
  • Activity time: 10 minutes and 15 minute-extension (may be assigned as homework)
  • Materials: Smart phone, free messaging application

Smart phones are part of contemporary life and mobile-assisted language learning is an area in development; a logical progression is to make use of smart phones to enhance learning opportunities. The activity detailed below is built around free messaging apps such as Naver’s Line (Naver, n.d.) and Kakao Talk (Lee, n.d.), both of which are growing in popularity in Japan and Northeast Asia. These are primarily text messaging apps; however, they can also share audio messages, which is a feature that can be exploited to enhance learning opportunities for spoken fluency.

Step 1: Students and teacher should have smart phones with Line or Kakao Talk installed. If half of students have smart phones, this activity can be modified to suit pair work rather than individual work, which also enhances the communicative aspect.
Step 2: If accessible, a Wi-Fi network will avoid potential data charges. Ensure that students have access to your Line and Kakao Talk ID so they can submit their finished product.
Step 3: Explain to students that they will brainstorm a topic and speak on it for several minutes. Students are advised not to write sentences and not to worry about grammatical accuracy; the goal here is to focus on fluency. They will be sending their recordings to the teacher, which adds extrinsic motivation to the task. A teacher-led demonstration in the students’ L1 is a way of highlighting the focus on fluency.

Step 1: Assign a speech topic in line with the course syllabus. Examples may be a generic topic, such as vacation, or something more syllabus-controlled (e.g., the present perfect + superlative: What is the most memorable thing you have done?).
Step 2: Set a time limit for students to brainstorm on the topic. I suggest 2 minutes as a guideline.
Step 3: Have students record themselves speaking on topic using their brainstorm as a guide. If this task is performed in pairs, you may have the non-speaking partner take notes on their partner’s speech. A 2-3 minute limit is achievable by students of most levels.
Step 4: Students should send their recordings to their teacher immediately after completing the task. This will assist in monitoring the fluency focus and enable the teacher to monitor student production for delayed error correction and revision in a follow-up class.

Once the students have completed their spoken task, they may perform dictation using their recording. Having students perform dictation and following it up with guided self-correction—as in the process of revising a written transcript of their speech—is a way of making use of consciousness-raising and noticing (Schmidt, 2001; Thornbury, 2005).
The goal of this extension is to draw students’ attention to the form of their spoken production in an attempt to find balance on the fluency-accuracy continuum while making them more autonomous learners. The form to be focused on should be in line with the syllabus; depending on the classroom context, it may range from a focus on a specific grammatical point to pronunciation and intonation.

Over the course of the previous 2 years, I have experimented with free messaging apps with my students on a regular basis. The activity detailed here has received positive feedback in terms of its motivating property and its autonomy-building nature. Students who have performed this kind of task on a regular basis have an increased confidence and fluency level when communicating in English.

Lee, J. B. (n.d.). Kakao Talk. Retrieved December 21, 2012, from <>
Naver. (n.d.). Line. Retrieved December 21, 2012, from <>
Schmidt, R. (2001). Attention. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Cognition and second language instruction (pp. 3–32). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thornbury, S. (2005). Uncovering Grammar: How to Help Grammar Emerge. Oxford: Macmillan Education.