Wijng is an emerging online platform for learning English, and currently it’s free. I’ve looked at a few of the units, including one on skiffle, that nice music of the 50s, and here are a few thoughts:
- The makers of this platform are taking existing videos, e.g. on YouTube. These are not skripted or specifically spoken and produced for language learners, so they contain “real” English. This is not “good” or “bad”, it all depends on how the media is taken apart to allow the learner to process the language. The makers then transcribe the spoken text. Some of the videos have subtitles in the video – a function allowed by YouTube.
- Other lessons are made out of news articles that are simplified for the learner.
- Still others present a tense or other grammar point with explanations in German
- The makers provide vocabulary lists at the bottom of the transcript/text.
- The explanations and questions/ responses are in German.
- There are four kinds of exercises, content-based multiple choice and true/false/no information questions, plus vocabulary or grammar drag and drop or type in.
- A very nice feature: Extra tips or hints are provided in the language exercises themselves to help the learner make his or her decision.
- However, there are no explanations with the feedback to the exercises – just “right/wrong”. Not good.
- There seem to be some bugs in the software compiling the results; the system told me I hadn’t completed the exercise.
- They have introduced tracking and evaluation of the learner’s overall work and progress, perhaps similar to what Dalango, the Spotlight Verlag learning platform I introduced recently, does, but I haven’t seen how either works and what the user gets out of it.
Overall a nice and friendly approach. We all know how much time and money goes into producing a good video, so this is an attempt to keep it simple. The makers of the site could, however, improve it in the following ways without incurring any real costs:
- provide simple questions and answers in English.
- accompany the feedback with explanations.
- add pictures and charts to the grammar lessons
A bigger problem is the didactic concept of placing “grammar lessons” in the basic level (A) and “comprehension lessons” in the section for more advanced learners (B). That’s quite oldfashioned, dear Wijngers! But yes, it is very hard to find videos with “simple” language for lower level learners. I personally don’t think that web-based training is suitable for the (A) level learner. I do include video extensively in my own lower-level classes. I show the same videos – the students and I just process them very differently!
A huge problem for any public media-based project such as Wijng is that they simply can’t compete for content and methodology with a fabulous platform such as the BBC Learning English, which has masses of good journalism and didactic expertise in-house, all available online for free. This is something that an established learners’ magazine such as Spotlight is up against, too. So Wijng needs to develop its own profile and personality to find its audience, just like any media product. I’m all for good free content on the internet (that’s a no-brainer) and am curious to see whether Wijng finds a way to make it work. Their project blog is here.