Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

The Best Sites To Practice Speaking English

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'Speak up, make your voice heard' photo (c) 2011, Howard Lake - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

This was one of the trickiest “The Best…” list for me to compile. As I was going through my favorites, and all of the great suggestions others contributed, I concluded that it might work best to really create two lists. The first list — this one — will highlight sites that actually have students recording their own voices in a number of different ways and post their speaking assignments online. The second list, which I’ll publish later this month and will include a number of the sites that readers suggested, will focus on sites where students have to listen to spoken examples for developing better pronunciation skills.

That next list will be called “The Best Sites For Learning English Pronunciation.”

It’s sort of an artificial division, I know, and obviously in teaching and learning a second language speaking and listening are intertwined. In fact, students can use some of the sites on this list to practice what they hear on the sites in the next list. But I do think this separation works for the purpose of making these lists.

In order to make it on this list, a site had to be free, easy to use, and accessible to English Language Learners.

You can also find these links, and 8,000 others, on my website.

Here are my picks for The Best Sites To Practice Speaking English & Pronunciation:

Blabberize allows you to upload an image, have the mouth’s image move in a comedic way, and then “speak” your voice. Students can use their own photos, or a famous person, cartoon character, etc. Blabberize can be used in the same way ESL/EFL teachers sometimes have students use puppets — students can feel more comfortable speaking when it’s not really “them” doing the talking.

A Voki is a talking avatar students can design and easily post on a blog or website. Sue Waters has written excellent step-by-step instructions on how to post a Voki.

LiveMochais a fast-growing language-learning site that has an incredible number of features. For speaking, not only can users send their recording to whomever they choose, but there’s also a social network component that lets others provide feedback. Another nice aspect of the site is that it’s structured so that users are responding directly to prompts from LiveMocha’s scaffolded teaching/learning system.

Voice Thread is well-known. Between the free unlimited account for educators, the ability to type text as well as record audio, the ability to grab images off the Web to reinforce understanding, and the great feature of being able to leave audio comments, I don’t think anything beats it.

(Editor’s Note: I’m adding another site called Chuala to this list. You can read my post about it here. )

I’m adding Voxopop to this list.  Formerly called Chinswing, it lets you easily create private voice “chatboards.”  Students can leave messages and respond to one another, or teachers can leave speaking assignments for students to complete.  It’s similar to Grapevine and to Vaestro Voice Channel.

I’ve posted in the past about how the ability to make easy screencasts — with audio– could be an excellent learning opportunity for English Language Learners (you might want to take a look at that post). The online tool Screencast-O-Matic works okay for this purpose, but seems a little complicated.

Vocaroo is a super easy way for students to record a message — of any length — and then place a link or an embed code on a student or teacher website. It’s got to be one of the most simple ways for audio recording out there — no registration is required and you just click “record.” (NOTE: Unfortunately, Vocaroo has recently announced that messages will be deleted after six months)

The extraordinary The Art of Storytelling is a site from the Delaware Art Museum that allows you pick a painting, write a short story about it, record it with your computer microphone, and email the url address for posting on a student website or blog. It’s extraordinarily simple, and extraordinarily accessible to any level of English Language Learner. No registration is required.

PodOmatic looks like an extraordinarily easy way to create a podcast. Sign-up and your class has your own channel — all you need is a computer microphone.

Woices allows the user to easily leave an audio message about a specific place. That message can then be listened to by others. Students could could leave messages about where they live now, places they’ve visited, or their native countries.

Chirbit is a new site.  After registering (which is very easy — I love sites that don’t require an email activation), you can very easily make a recording or use a text-to-speech feature to create audio.  You’re then given a unique url address for the recording.  It’s as simple as that. It has other capabilities, too, including responding to the audio message.

For students those without Internet access at home, here’s a tool worth considering:

I recently received my invitation to join Google Voice, Google’s new phone tool. You can read all about it at Lifehacker’s guide. In terms of teaching, I could see it as an easy way for English Language Learners, particularly those with no Internet access, to practice speaking “homework.” They can call my Google Voice number, leave a message, and I can then access both their audio and an automatically generated written transcript of what they said. I can then easily embed both on a classroom blog.

Audio Pal is a new tool that lets you easily record a message — either by using a phone, computer mike, or text-to-speech — and then add the embed code to your blog or website. Students can update it as often as they want, and get as many different ones that they want. It’s pretty neat. No registration is necessary, and it’s free.

A new site is called English Central. David Deubelbeiss has posted a very thorough post about the site titled English Central – Bringing “voice” and output to learning English. I’d strongly encourage you to read it — I don’t feel any need to “reinvent the wheel.” A quick description is that it’s a free video site for English Language Learners, lets users listen to parts of the video, then lets them repeat what the characters says and compares it to the original. You get graded on how well you do. It has even more features, but you can read David’s post or check out the site directly. The other great thing about it is that the videos are all appropriate for the classroom, unlike several other ESL video sites that have come online recently.

Fotobabble is a super-easy application that lets you upload a photo, provide a minute audio recording to go along with it, and then you get a link and an embed code that can be used for . It’s a simple tool students can use to practice their speaking skills. It’s very easy to use but, just in case, Russell Stannard at the great Teacher Training Videos has posted a good video tutorial on how to use the app.

Audioboo lets you easily create what is basically a voice blog. After signing-up (which is quite easy), you can make recordings of up to five minutes in length. Not only can your messages appear together on one public page, but you can also choose to embed them. People can leave text comments on the messages, but one negative is that they are not moderated. However, you do have to be registered on the site in order to leave a comment. (I talk about a great and easy way to use Audioboo in This Seems Like A Pretty Easy Way To Practice Speaking….)

David Deubelbeiss, founder of EFL Classroom 2.0, has an excellent speaking activity he uses with his English Language Learner students. He calls it Pass The Paper, and also a helpful PowerPoint.

Winkball lets you easily create a video or just an audio blog. You can also use it to send video messages. It seems to have other possibilities, too, but I’m still exploring the site. It could provide a good speaking opportunity for English Language Learners.

A teacher’s guide to using audio and podcasting in the classroom is a nice overview of applications to use in the classroom, including videos. It was created by Kit Hard.

Little Bird Tales lets you easily make slideshows where you can add text and, more importantly for English Language Learners, provide an audio narration. On nice touch is that you can virtually paint/draw artwork in addition to uploading images (unfortunately, the site doesn’t have the ability to grab photos off the web by url addresses). It’s free to use, but I’m unclear on if there will be an eventual cost to use the site. It appears to have an upper limit on the number of shows you can produce.

You can read about SMILE and CLEAR at a previous post.

SoundCloud lets you very easily record an audio message — the first 120 minutes are free — and then you can post the link or embed it where you like. They’ve also just begun a new site called Take Questions, which TechCrunch calls a “Quora for audio.” There, you can set-up your own page to take audio questions that you can then answer — in audio.

Spreaker seems like a pretty easy way to have your own Internet radio show.

Anmish lets you choose a caricature of a world leader and then lets you put words in his/her mouth for thirty seconds via a microphone. While you’re recording, you can also easily change facial expressions on your caricature by pressing a letter on your keyboard. It doesn’t appear you can embed the video, though you can a link to it. You also have access to parodies created by other users, which might make it problematic for classroom use.

Knovio might end up being one of the best Web 2.0 applications of the year. You upload a PowerPoint presentation, record a presentation with your microphone and webcam, and then it’s done! It’s free, and it is not open to the public yet, but I received an invitation about five seconds after I requested it.

Sock Puppets is a simple iPhone app that lets you easily record a student and upload it to YouTube. It can be used to briefly record a student speaking or reading in class, or even to have two or three students record a simple play (the free app allows thirty seconds of recording while for 99 cents you can upgrade to 90 seconds). One major advantage of using this for speaking practice is that it’s the sock puppet that’s actually speaking on the display, not the student. It looks like it could have potential. Thanks to techchef4u for the tip. NOTE: The upgraded version appears to be a bit buggy, so I’m only using the free app.

We’re also going to be trying out another iPhone app called Talking Wee Mee. It just allows one character, though it appears to provide a one minute recording time.

Lisa Johnson also suggested Photo Puppet Go. It’s a little more complicated than the other two I’ve mentioned, but it does have potential.

Shoutomatic is a new site that lets you quickly and easily (after a very fast registration) record a thirty-second “shout” — an audio message — that you can embed or link to…In addition, you have the option of uploading a photo to attach to your audio message, but you can’t just grab one for the Web with a url address. It could be a nice and easy way for students to practice speaking.

QWiPS easily lets you make a thirty second audio recording that you can — you can also connect it to a photo or video.

I’m beginning to take photos (and have students take photos) using iPhone apps that let you provide an accompanying audio commentary.

The best app for this kind of excellent speaking practice exercise is Fotobabble. I described the web version earlier in this post. In the iPhone app, you take a photo, provide an up-to-one minute commentary, and then can it several ways. You can email it to yourself, too, where you are provided a link to it on the Fotobabble site. You’re given the opportunity to re-record if you don’t like how it sounds on the first try, and you can make other changes to it, too. It also provides the option to embed, as I have done with this quick experiment (a photo of one of our dogs, Lola):

Another option, which was launched this week at the SXSW conference in Austin this week, is an app called Picle. It only gives you ten seconds of commentary, but you can choose to have it record at the same time you’re taking the photo or afterwards. It doesn’t offer an embed option, but you can link to it on the Picle website. It also doesn’t appear to give you an opportunity to re-record if you’re not satisfied with your first try. Here’s a sample – again of Lola.

I’d definitely vote for Fotobabble. However, since Picle is new, I assume they’ll be making lots of improvements in the future.

Record MP3 lets you, without having to register, create an audio recording that you can save on your computer and/or save on their site (a link is provided). It’s very simple to use, though I’m not sure what the maximum audio recording length is nor how long they keep it on their server. My recording uploaded quickly using Internet Explorer. However, it would never upload when in Firefox.

Croak.it lets you easily record a thirty second message with a computer microphone. You then get a unique url address that you can . No registration is necessary.

I’ve described some nice apps that let you add an audio recording to your photos and then them. enpixa is a new one that’s very similar to the others. It’s free, and you can add a thirty second recording.

You can never have too many of these kinds of sites, because you never know which ones will be blocked by school content filters.

Web Doc is/was a sorta’ blogging platform that makes it super simple to write individual “docs.” I especially like its ability to search the Web for images within your “doc” and just post it into what you’re writing. It also lets you add a speech bubble to the photo. It has tons more features, including providing an embed code. It was highly ranked on The Best Web 2.0 Applications For Education In 2011.

Recently, it “relaunched” as Urturn and added several features, including the ability to record audio. That’s a really nice feature, but I couldn’t get it to work when I tried it. I guess they were having some relaunch “bugs.” Assuming they get it fixed, though,it could be very useful.

Dubbler joins the list of several free Smartphone apps that let you record a sixty second audio caption for a photo.

Wave joins the list of several free Smartphone apps that let you record an audio caption for a photo.

I’ve previously posted several times about Edcanvass, and it’s already on a number of “The Best…” lists. They’ve added another great feature — the ability to easily record up to five minutes of audio on any image or text you pin to a canvass, and you can pin many items on one canvass.

Tellagami is neat iPhone/iPad app that lets users quickly create virtual characters that can speak audio that’s been recorded or use text-to-speech.

Here’s an example:

Literably Is An Excellent Reading Site — If Used With Caution

Speaking Unplugged: 30 Activities for One-to-One Classes is a free downloadable eBook from Online TEFL Training.

Getting Your Students Talking is a good post from David Deubelbeiss.

Getting the whole class talking offers some good ideas. It’s from The British Council

8 fun ways to practice presentations! is from The Business English Experience.

33 ways to speak better English – without taking classes is from British English Coach.

The British Council has a Part One and Part Two on “Reluctant Talkers.”

I Learn Another Great Game For English Langage Learners From Jimmy Fallon

Chatterpix is an app for the iPhone/iPad that:

…can make anything talk — pets, friends, doodles, and more. Simply take any photo, draw a line to make a mouth, and record your voice. Then share your Pix with friends and family as silly greetings, playful messages, creative cards, or even fancy book reports. And best of all, it’s FREE!

Voxer is an app that has potential for speaking practice with English Language Learners. Joe Mazza talks about various other educational uses for it at his blog. Here’s video about it:

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

28 Comments

  1. Hi Larry!
    Thanks for sharing this! Your lists are a great aid to learn about e-tools.
    See you around.
    Maru

  2. Thanks for these recommendations. I’ll share them with the other teachers in my technology collaborative at the middle school where I teach. It is always good to be more aware of site with educational applications.

  3. Hi Larry:
    What a good list !!! Your ranking is an invitation to explore. And on the other hand I think the division is perfect. One thing is what our students produce and another is what they receive.
    It isn’t an artificial division ,absolutely.
    A Hug
    Susana

  4. Hi Larry,

    Thanks for the Livemocha mention! Great list – I just came across Voice Thread this week. It’s a great concept.

    Something we’ve noticed is that people’s willingness to contribute speaking exercises is contingent on their proficiency, confidence, and shyness. We’re always looking for ways of making the site more accessible, relevant, and fun for students (some of these sites, especially the talking lama, have done a great job).

    Also, since we rely on the community to have native speakers assist learners, we need to create a framework to allow native speakers to provide meaningful/ actionable feedback.

    Livemocha always welcomes feedback/ suggestions to improve the service. Everyone should feel free to drop me a note if they’d like help incorporating Livemocha into their classroom setting (or if you just have suggestions on how to improve the service) – bryan [at] livemocha.com

    Bryan (livemocha.com)

  5. Hi Larry,

    Thanks for another great list. I showed Blabberize to my students and here is what my student Robert created:

    http://www.blabberize.com/creation/playBlabber/13679

    We are all really excited to try out the sites that you are listing for us. Thanks for all your hard work.

    Diane

  6. Hi Larry:

    Thank you for including GabMail (http://www.freegabmail.com) in your list of The Best Sites to Practice Speaking English. Thanks, especially, for giving us an Honorable Mention.

    When we designed GabMail, we made the decision to allow users to send and receive email with their own email client. This keeps all the users’ email in one place rather than having text email in one place and video email in another. We also did not feel comfortable asking the users of GabMail to upload their address books as some other sites do.

    If any of your readers would like to practice speaking English with us, feel free to send a GabMail to: Comments at FreeGabMail dot com.

    Take care,
    Paul Langer

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  8. Hi Larry:
    Thanks for your hard work.

  9. Thank you for that systematic, nuanced, and detailed primer on the best speaking sites as of April 2010.

    Like many other ESL and English teachers, I have both a great desire to explore these sites and limited time and less expertise. Therefore, I rely on you and your careful assessment of various learning tools to fine and evaluate the options for my students. Next semester I will add this review to the class blackboard.

    Thanks!

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  12. hi larry u=you missed http://www.pronuncian.com
    check it out!!!

  13. Thank you SO much, Larry! All these links can help a lot to get the students busy doing English at our distance school when Skype is lagging.

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  21. There is this site that you can message and chat with people from around word.
    It is for people who wants to improve their English. Keyyoo.net

  22. Hi Larry,

    Thanks for sharing these web sites, I’m excited to explore them.

    Sherry

  23. Larry, that is quite a list! I especially like the comment about school content filters. In my own school that is quite a game of cat and mouse.

    I just though I would let you know about a site I recently made for recording mp3 online. It is probably as simple as it gets, but it also allows smartphone/tablet users to record online. http://recordmp3online.com

    Keep up the good work.

  24. Maybe it’ll be useful to know about yet one brand new language learning siocial network- Polyglothub.com . Ejoy it!

  25. Hi Larry,

    Thanks for great list. I am all really excited to try out the sites that you are listing for us. Thanks for all your hard work. I am sharing podcast site with the readers.
    http://www.thepodcasthost.com/

    Steve

  26. This is a brilliant post. For me however, it falls down in one key area – I’m looking for a recommendation. I don’t personally want to try each one due to the amount of time this would take. This is not so much a personal criticism as I find I face this problem in almost every Best of list.
    That being said, it is an uber post. Thanks for pulling all the info together!

  27. Any experience with http://www.spokenenglishpractice.com? Seem to be a site where students can practice spoken english with native speakers. Any one used this?

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