Review by James Denby, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2017
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Speak - Practice Your English

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Language app's focus on accent correction has limited classroom use

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration

Subjects
  • English Language Learning
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
9-12
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Pros: Students get immediate feedback on speech.

Cons: Has a narrow focus and is useful only for independent practice.

Bottom Line: A useful independent practice tool for students who have expressed interest in working on their accent, but otherwise not a great fit.

Language teachers generally don't focus a lot on getting students to perfect an English accent for a good reason: We don't want to inhibit students from speaking by making them overly concerned about how they sound. However, some students do want to improve their accent. Speak is therefore a good specialty app for those students who have expressed interested in sounding like a native speaker of standard newsroom English. For those students, teachers could assign Speak as independent practice for just a few minutes per day at home. Each conversation is broken up into stages that would take a student between two and five minutes. 

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Speak - Practice Your English is an English language learning app that focuses on improving enunciation and perfecting a North American accent. The very first time students sign in to Speak, they choose their first language (a very wide range from Spanish to Hungarian). They then take part in an introductory conversation with the character of Carl. He speaks in a very clear, easy-to-understand North American accent, and students respond by reading aloud the text on the screen. If any of the on-screen text confuses them, students can look up individual words with Google Translate.  

When students speak, they get immediate feedback on the accuracy of their speech -- that is, clear enunciation of each word in a North American accent. They then progress through different real-world conversations (job interviews, ordering food at restaurants) with different characters that build in complexity and challenge their language production skills. 

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While Speak has limited applicability for most ELLs, it can be useful for those students who are interested in learning to express themselves without an accent. Each student response is given immediate feedback on several levels. First, the app identifies any word that was not pronounced clearly. Second, the whole response is rated from low to high (red sad face, yellow neutral face, or green happy face). Students can also go back and re-record any of their responses to improve the clarity, focusing on the words the app identified as problematic. At the end of the section, students receive an overall rating. Speak does provide some challenge, as each successive conversation deals with a different topic and involves more complex language with a different character and voice.

Some elements of the app seem a bit unfinished or unclear. For instance, if students select Spanish as their first language, they can see the original text in Spanish (which could be helpful in building comprehension). This feature, however, doesn't seem to be available yet for other languages. Additionally, in the introductory conversation with "Carl," he mentions that each level starts with a drill. That functionality, however, doesn't seem to be implemented. Finally, the model accent is similar to what you'd hear from a North American newscaster, but it's unclear how Speak deals with other native accents in English.

To summarize, Speak wouldn't be useful for most of your students, especially because focusing on accents can be damaging to ELL instruction. However, it can come in handy as an independent practice tool for students who have a personal interest in changing their accents or wish to break ingrained language habits.  

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

The authentic conversations will appeal to ELLs who already have a high level of proficiency and want to work on their accent. For others, it could make them overly self-conscious. 

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

It targets something very specific -- perfecting the accent of a native English speaker --  and it does that well. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

There is no built-in tech support, but there's likely no need for any, either. There also isn't any guidance for students on how to improve their English accent, just on what needs improving.


Common Sense Reviewer
James Denby Educator/Curriculum Developer

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