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Location-triggered language learning in a smart city using mobile technologies: a field study

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Rebecca Ferguson
17 May 2016

Alice Peasgood and Mark Gaved

Language learning is a global challenge, due to increased migration. It is a significant issue, because mastering the host language supports employability and social integration. The development of networked digital technologies enable the integration of location-triggered language support into the everyday routines of citizens. We report upon the innovative use of bluetooth beacons to trigger location-specific language support via a smartphone app.

The paper draws upon findings from a field study in which English language learners used a custom built app in locations around Milton Keynes. The SALSA project used bluetooth beacons installed at key locations to prompt a learning scenario relevant to each location. These scenarios included audio dialogue, vocabulary and grammar exercises. Once triggered, learners could choose whether to use the app at the location or review the content later. The participant group encompassed several languages and a range of abilities regarding both English, and smartphone use.

We argue that learners' prior experience of both smartphone use and language learning influenced their interaction with the system. Data from pre-interviews showed that many learners had established location-based habits, e.g. preferring to learn from mobile on the bus because time is available or needing somewhere quiet. Many participants opted to explore the content elsewhere than the triggering location. Other influences included social factors, e.g. not wishing to appear rude by using the phone during a conversation, or not using the phone in public for fear of theft. Some learners did use the content at the location, often through curiosity, which was a motivating factor for learning. Some types of content were more amendable to location-based learning than others, e.g. vocabulary rather than grammar.

We conclude by suggesting how the design of location-triggered technologies to support language learning may take into account these complex and nuanced social influences to be effective.

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Katherine Anderton
1:41pm 20 June 2016


Very interesting application - potential usage with the aiding of refugees attempting to access safe zones and support facilities in European cities.

Similar to Foursquare which uses GPS to provide information about restaurants and shops in your vicinity.

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