Blog Post

MILLEE: Using cellphones to teach English

Thanks to Mike Cronin at the Pittsburgh Tribune for his great article about MILLEE, one of our 2008 HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media & Learning competition winners. Read an excerpt below.

(Please note, however, that Sheryl Grant is Director of Social Networking for the Digital Media & Learning competition, and does not head the competition as mentioned in the article. Those credits go to Cathy Davidson, David Theo Goldberg of HASTAC and Craig Wacker at the MacArthur Foundation.)

Cellphones used to teach English

It's like the American equivalent of learning English by playing Grand Theft Auto or Halo.

Matthew Kam, 32, a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist, has developed computer games with audio and visual components that resonate with students learning English in rural India, China and Kenya.

The games will be programmed into low-cost phones and presented so the students can hear and see spoken words and letters, Kam said.

Girls wait for their turn with the phone

"Those responsible for teaching students English in these areas don't know English themselves," Kam said. "In India, we found that even after five years of taking English as a Foreign Language, students still couldn't spell their names."

Knowing English is the marker that differentiates the middle class from lower classes in many countries, Kam said, and opens doors to jobs in fields ranging from customer service to health care.

"English-language skills are key in many countries from which we provide services, including India and China," said Jim Finlaw, a New York-based spokesman for Accenture, a global outsourcing, technology and consulting company.

About 243,000 international medical graduates were working in the United States in 2007, according to the most recent data provided by the American Medical Association in Washington.

Kam won a $238,000 grant last year from the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory and The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to study how students in the Uttar Pradesh of North India used their cell phones.

Click here for the full article.



Reading this article, I started to think about possible future technological advances. While the using a cell phone to teach English is helpful now, will there ever come a time in the future when people communicate solely with digital media? Will the world ever develop a machine that allows words and documents to be easily and instantaneously translated between languages? In this scenario, no one would have to learn a foreign language because the digital device would do all of the work. I don’t necessarily think this kind of innovation would be the best. I just started thinking about English and its prevalence throughout the world, which led me to ideas of how to equally distribute the ability to communicate in languages other than English.


Anonymous (not verified)

first i would like to thank to you for creating exceptional method on learning english as well as enrich vocabulary for the people who are deprived of the light of knowledge because of their poverty and rurality.I am really astonished by the newer and gradual gift of scientist who are lessening our dificulties and easing everything for ourselves.According to your method of english learning,i want to say that it would be so much helpful of rural people of india and china as well as all class of people.By this the people not only can get pleasure but also can improve themselves by learning english words.multimedia mobile phone has brought a great change to the world.By a simple multimedia cell phone we are getting many facitily such as dictionary,pdf file reading, people can read when they want and its bringing speed for the society.