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Use Of Smart Phone In Efl English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3217 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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— Use smart phone in EFL (English as a Foreign Language) Learning in Mainland, China


This paper is going to discuss and review the way in which the smart phone can be used to achieve conventional goals of EFL (English as Foreign Language) learning in Mainland, China.

Literature review

Great advances in technology have drawn a totally new image for the modern education, which gives rise to a meaningful convergence between the primary technological influences upon a certain culture and the modern educational system’s operation (Sharples, Taylor & Vavoula, 2005). Either teaching or learning activities are no longer confined to classroom. Mobile learning now has become a popular term in modern education and there is a growing tendency to investigate the intimate relations between mobile technologies and learning (Sharples, Taylor, & Vavoula, G., 2005). According to Kukulska and Pettit (2007), there is a major obstacle of integrating new technologies in teaching and learning due to the lack of specific individual experience of those who are directly involved into teaching and preparation for mobile education. Meanwhile, few relevant researches can be found in mainland China. Thus in view of the significance and the gap, to explore further in this promising area would be helpful to improve mobile EFL learning in mainland China.

Several main characteristics of smart phone are discussed as follow:

2.1. Ubiquity, accessibility, and portability

In view of ubiquity, according to the statistics offered by the Wikipedia (2010), there are 842,044,000 mobile phone users by October of 2010 in China, accounting for 62.9% of total population. (Wikipedia The biggest proportion of ownership lies in urban areas, in which most universities are placed. Undoubtedly, the corresponding proportion of smart phones is rocketing as well. Admittedly, a mobile phone or a smart phone has become a necessity either to adults or students. Such a ubiquity has build up a perfect context for mobile teaching and learning. With respect to those young learners, the great pervasiveness of mobile technology and the well-developed functionality of mobile phones are bound to impose great impact upon their learning strategies (Naismith, 2005).

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In view of accessibility, mobile phones now are easily accessible along with the mobile technology’s development and low-cost manufacturing. On the one hand, in Mainland China, mobile phones can be used in a national range facilitated by adequate technological support and prevalent infrastructures’ construction for mobile communication. On the other hand, the innovation and upgrading of mobile technology has brought the low cost to production and more affordable price to consumers. Meanwhile, the fee to afford mobile phones’ using is acceptable to those young learners. Averagely, for a common domestic call, only 0.2 Yuan (RMB) is needed per minute and the fee for a message sent by SMS (Short Message Service) or MMS (Multimedia Message Service) is even cheaper. Therefore, the frequent use of smart phones is affordable to most learners.

In view of portability, smart phone is probably not as portable as a traditional mobile phone, since a relatively bigger screen is potentially required by smart phone using. However, the rapid upgrading of smart phone enables it become smaller and thinner. Actually, there is no great difference in size between an iphone 4 and a traditional mobile phone. Furthermore, when compared with other portable devices with similar function like a PDA or a laptop, smart phone is absolutely the most portable one.

2.2 Multimedia functionality with multimodality in contextualizing EFL learning

The present smart phone can be defined as a miniature of computers, which are obviously characterized by multimedia. Compared with the conventional mobile phone, smart phone turns out to be an innovative product, which combines the characteristics of PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant) and traditional mobile phones. Namely, apart from the conventional function of voice and text message exchanging, the smart phone is equipped with stronger function of multimedia communication and involves much more internet-based activities. For instance you can make a video call to your family member when away from home or you can upload the video of charming experience instantly to the YouTube during your fantastic tour, if the Internet service is available.

Furthermore, the smart phone can be defined as a platform, at which the information exchange is characterized by genre mixing in multimedia. Consequently, the efficiency of information input of language on students can be enhanced. Undoubtedly, great innovations in technologies has led to a fact that the information input today is conveyed by a combination of varied genres such as visual, audio, text, musical, cultural, etc., all of which can be found more or less in a smart phone. Even though the routine classroom-based EFL teaching and learning in Mainland China does refer to the genre-mixing way by adopting multimedia, the corresponding language teaching activities in the classroom turn out to be more academic and formal, which, to a large extent, could be dull and tedious. For example, the use of multimedia is only confined to PPT presentation or video displaying.

EFL learning by the smart phone is indisputably characterized by multimodality as well. The present smart phone even can be more powerful since there are many well-developed functions such as podcasting making, Multimedia Message Service, and so on. For instance, the research on vocabulary study conducted by Chen, Hsieh, and Kinshuk (2008) found that the learners, whose verbal is lower and visual ability is higher, also can be effective in retaining vocabulary since their vocabulary study is assisted by the pictorial annotation. For language acquisition, multi-dimensional information input can reconstruct the authentic target language context, which definitely brings about more effective language learning than the single-dimensional input, since the teaching episode should resemble to an authentic activity existing in the students’ relevant workplace or professional life (Herrington & Herrington, 2006). Namely, if the input information is contextualized in a multimodal way, the receiver would absorb it in a more systematic way, mainly assisted by the interaction among different genres conveying information. For example, in teaching descriptive skills of English, an abstract and monotonous description in text language about the procedure how a bicycle can work normally can be easily understood if assisted by the corresponding video illustration like video capturing and audio recording for the introduction, which is the very platform the smart phone can provide.

2.2.1 The application of multimedia functionality with multimodality of smart phone to EFL learning

The multimedia functionality with multimodality is the greatest and most practical advantage for using the smart phone in EFL learning, based on which varied creative teaching methods can be designed. One of the most important applications in EFL learning is students-generated digital video task, especially in a narrative way. A narrative is defined as a specific process of describing a story, which represents people, event, and objects (Mulholland & Collins, 2002). In the process, varied language knowledge and skills are required and displayed. The BECTA (British Educational Communications Agency)’s Digital Video Pilot Project in 2002 claimed that the production of digital video, which can be easily done by a smart phone, is also regarded as a narrative creation supported by the thriving of digital technology, and furthermore, the project also found that the application of digital video considerably motivates the learners, and their self-expression as well as creativity are encouraged by successful digital-video film making (Reid, Burn, & Parker, 2002). Then in view of EFL learning, for example, the students in Herrington’s research (2009) were required to make a short movie as a teaching episode mainly by their smart phones to illustrate an adult education skill. The multimedia functionality was highlighted since the assignment in the research required students to explore many skills of video and audio capturing, and then edit them in a logical sequence to be a qualified narrative by smart phone and computer. Although the majority of them found it overwhelming at the beginning, in the conclusion they strongly agreed that the affordances of multimedia functionality of a smart phone are of great help to task fulfillment in teaching.

Apart from the students-generated digital video tasks, the multimedia functionality with multimodality of smart phones also can be used in another different way. There is a research conducted by Thornton and Houser (2005). In this research, video and some web materials by smart phones are used to help Japanese students to learn English idioms, which was called “vidioms” by Thornton and Houser (2005, p. 223). Specifically, Idioms were defined in Japanese firstly. Then, the corresponding computer animation of the idiom and the English definition would appear on the smart phone screen together, all of which required the access to the Internet. Namely, it is obvious that a multi-dimensional language teaching and learning context was formed by using the multimedia functionality of the smart phone.

Meanwhile, learning by smart phone can arouse learners’ strong interest to explore and learn more by him or her as well. For instance, in Herrington’s research (2009) mentioned above, all research participants were willing to explore the multimedia functionality in their smart phones by themselves at the beginning mainly due to individual curiosity about this novel handheld device. Thus EFL learning is not a reluctant thing anymore due to the involvement of this interesting handheld device. Comparatively, the classroom learning, the media is pre-determined by the teacher and students are confined to receive to the information input passively. Now it is obvious that the smart phone can offer a more interesting alternative for students to absorb the information more willingly. Additionally, the mobility of smart phone allows that students easily turn to their portal and handheld smart phones whenever an eagerness to learn strikes upon their mind, which is also affirmed by the Herrington’s research (2009).

2.2.2 EFL learning by SMS (Short Message Service) or MMS (Multimedia Message Service) of smart phone

Apart from the application of smart phones’ multimedia functionality to EFL language learning, the most prevalent use of smart phone in EFL learning is mainly related to vocabulary acquisition by SMS or MMS, which can be regarded as a novel and interesting teaching method since it can stir up students’ motivation for learning. For example, a research conducted by Thornton and Houser (2001) required learners to learn five English words each week by mobile phone. The mini-lessons are sent to learners three times a day by SMS. It is quite inspirational for us to see that in the result of this research, 88% students studied the assignments actively every day and preferred this way to study vocabulary.

Some researches (e.g. Browne & Culligan, 2008; Chen, Hsieh, & Kinshuk, 2008) on studying English vocabulary have been conducted as well and the procedure of this kind research is quite similar:

Teachers should prepare a data base about English vocabulary or simple multimedia-items by computer in advance, which are sent to student’s smart phone daily for vocabulary learning in way of flashcards by SMS or MMS. The research findings showed both the novelty of learning method and multimodality (especially in MMS) contributed to the effective vocabulary acquisition.


Some EFL teachers in classrooms of mainland China may worry that the adoption of excessively colorful genre-mixing ways for teaching, to some extent, may distract learners from the main learning task. There are also some researchers argued that mobile or smart phones are considered to impose a disruptive influence on classroom activities by many teachers (Milfsud, 2002) simply because those handheld multi-functional digital devices are more attractive and interesting than the gentlemen or lady standing on the stage in the front of classroom. This perspective seems to be quite reasonable because admittedly, the multimedia characteristics embedded in the smart phone turn out to be more entertaining rather than educational.

Furthermore, it must be admitted that there are some obvious limitations for using the smart phone in language teaching highlighted by Wang & Higgins (2005):

Firstly, there is a kind of learners’ psychological resistance since learning by smart phone mainly requires private time. Secondly, young students may lack of self-discipline since there is no teachers’ supervision. Thirdly, the following assessment after the teaching is difficult since teaching by smart phone, to a large extent, tends to elicit a great variety of individual performance. Finally, too much time spent on smart phone learning may cause impairment on learners’ health, etc. No one can deny those limitations are realistic and impede the wide-spread use of smart phone in language teaching. However, it is also indisputable that the language teaching could be better if we combine or absorb the main advantages of smart phone mentioned above with the conventional pedagogy rather than rely on smart phone too much in teaching.

After all, young students seem to be easily immersive into the world contextualized by smart phones. Therefore it is of great necessity for educators to take into account this new mobile device seriously since there is a great possibility to conduct novel and creative educational activities by it.

The conventional EFL learning is usually criticized in terms of imposing the burden of learning by rote on students. Students are often monotonously required to recite much knowledge, which usually bores and annoys them. The smart phone can provide a more interesting context, in which students’ interest of learning can be easily refreshed by so many new elements and genres.


The review revealed that smart phone absolutely has brought a significant impact upon EFL learning today mainly due to its great convenience of using and the multimedia functionality with multimodality of information conveying. Meanwhile, in view of smart phone’s limitations discussed above and the specific EFL learning context in mainland China, the optimal way to explore the further application to EFL learning with this fantastic handheld device should be more related to extracurricular learning activities since the over-loaded learning activities during the limited class periods. Namely, in mainland China, EFL learning by smart phones should be advocated as a very effective alternative of conventional assignments after school since it is a interesting and creative supplement to the conventional class-room based learning, by which, students can practice what they have learnt in class in a mobile and multimedia language context.

Activity 1: Be our best seller!

Language learning assignment design:

Students are required to choose a product, which they are most interested in. For example, they can choose a totally new and creative toy, like a mini- robot or even a very conventional one like Hello Kitty would be acceptableŠ. Then they are required to make their own charming advertisement to sell the product. During the process, the student make full introduction of this product such as the description of physical appearance, operation tutorials, etc.

Target learner:

Freshmen of universities in mainland, China (Non-English majors)

Task arrangement:

It is mainly an individual work. However if the assistance is needed, you can turn to your friends or classmates.

Make sure what product (a cool toy, an amazing device, a new-style watch, etc.) is your favorite one and most interested.

Then try your best to make your advertisement. The advertisement must include:

your video recording about the product;

your oral introduction about your product (Of course in English);

c. your slogan for the advertisement ONLY IN ONE sentence. You must draw the audience’s attention to it in your video in whatever way you like.

4. Upload your work to the Youtube and provide your link for the teacher and classmates.

Activity goals:

To improve students’ oral English skills: description for the product’s appearance and function…

To encourage students to be more creative:

To make students acquainted with genre mixing use and multi-literacy: there are video record, photographing, test message in slogan design, etc.


Language proficiency—teacher

Creativity and performance— vote by classmates

Activity 2:

In popular culture, young learners always tend to show what their unique individuality is. Smart phones should be the most accessible resources to create their own fashion. Specifically, young learners tend to communicate with each other very frequently by SMS (short message service) or MMS (multi-media message service) in their mobile phones.

Here I tend to focus mainly on text messages in SMS.

When those teenagers communicate by SMS, there are always interesting “special codes” in their information, which cannot be recognized or understood by outsiders like parents. Some researchers argued that this kind of text messaging can be detrimental to learning of standard English since the text message is mainly compose in a phonetic- spelling way and lacks of punctuation. However, when used as the following activity, this text messaging can be diagnostic for students’ defects in grammar.

Activity 2: I got your code!

There are several English sentences written in the popular text message language among youngsters, which will be sent to students’ smart phones by the teacher. (You may not recognize all but you are familiar with some of them). Students are required to figure out the meaning of every word and translate them in to normal and complete English sentences with correct grammar.

Target learner:

Freshmen of junior high school, Mainland, China.

Task arrangement:

Make sure there are 5 sentences sent to your smart phone by the teacher;

Translate those sentences into normal and complete English sentences with correct grammar;

Send your work to teacher’s E-mail by your smart phone.


Teacher will pay more attention to grammar and sentence structure.


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