There are two new (or new to me) digital tools to improve language skills.
PlaySay is a free iTunes app. Currently you can only practice Spanish and English pronunciation. The game is simple but genius. You ‘unlock’ phrases by saying them in your native language. You then can hear / practice / record the message in the other language. The game starts in a park and you meet new people, unlocking greetings and basic conversational phrases.
This has awesome potential for using with first year students – or review with other students – for authentic greetings and other conversational dialogue. There is minor ‘risk’ because they would be connecting with a stranger from somewhere else in the world. However the benefits outweigh the risks. The dialogue options are scripted, the recording portion did not let deviations of the text count. The scripted phrases range from basic to funny. So far my favorite exchange has been ¿Qué pasa? (What’s up?) Lo normal. Hablando a extranjeros. (The usual. Talking to strangers). If the students register without connecting to Facebook, they can be mildly anonymous. Of the parents could set up the account and it could be a bonding experience with the iPhone or iPad.
Duolingo is in limited Beta tested, but I highly recommend you put your name on the wait list to try it out. I am challenging myself to learn some French. The options for languages to learn are Spanish, French, and German for English speakers, and English for Spanish speakers. Duolingo combine game aspects and authentic readings that make it an engaging and addicting past time. You have to master or pass each level for new vocab to be unlocked. The grammar is not presented in isolation, it appears in natural context. There are also articles from online sources that are broken down into the focus vocab/grammar areas that you earn points for translating. With the authentic texts you have the option to hover to uncover accepted translations of the word. This keeps the reading comprehensible.