Using avatars & filters to promote speaking & listening skills

A guest blog post by Joe Dale

Using iPads to create customisable video avatars and face filters in the languages classroom can boost the confidence of learners and facilitate their creativity. Avatars allow learners to play a role rather than be themselves in front of the camera. This can be particularly effective with shier students and encourage them to extend their speaking.

Free iOS apps

There are a number of different free iOS apps which make voice recordings fun. They bring pictures to life through multimedia and turn inanimate objects into talking characters. The resulting clips can be saved to the camera roll of the iPad and uploaded to a platform such as Padlet or Seesaw. They can be used for assessment purposes and to give the students a real audience for their work.

AvatarsFor example, the popular Snapchat-like cross platform app MSQRD is great for promoting speaking skills creatively in the languages classroom. You can add live filters over your face and  pretend to be a spaceman, shark or fox, etc.

PhotoSpeak is a similar app which lets you animate the mouth of a person’s face in a still photo. You can also record a voice-over and export the video it produces. Students can animate themselves or the face of a famous person they like and practise speaking as if they were the character in question. For downloading royalty-free images from the web to use in PhotoSpeak, I would recommend the website photosforclass.com. It is a directory of Creative Commons images which when downloaded display the image’s licensing attribution in the footer. This makes them perfect for use in class as there is no risk of breaching copyright.

Chatterpix Kid lets you animate a photo with a moving mouth too and records up to 30 seconds. You could also import a hand-drawn image of a character as a background and add a mouth to this too. This would be perfect for younger learners in particular.

Customised avatars

My Talking Avatar FreeAvatars, BuddyPoke and Kouji are apps which give you the opportunity to create a customised avatar with lots of choices over your appearance and animation style. You can then add your voice as before. With My Talking Avatar Free you can also add your own background produced in an app such as Pic Collage and record for up to 5 minutes of audio! So, you could produce a video promoting both speaking and writing where the Pic Collage is used as a background putting the language learning into context.

Animating several characters simultaneously

Superhero Comic Book Maker is another cool app for bringing to life characters in a still image and making them speak in the target language. But with this app, it is possible to animate two avatars at the same time making it great for pair work. There are a number of default backgrounds you can choose from or import your own from your camera roll. You can even combine scenes together to make a more varied video featuring a range of contexts for your talking avatars to describe.

Other iOS apps which let you animate two or more avatars simultaneously include iFunFace, Toontastic 3D, Plotagon, Evertoon, Puppet Pals 2 and Storyfab. Storyfab is an augmented reality app. It lets you choose different characters such as zombies, knights and explorers, animate them in different scenes in a movie. You can also record a voice-over for each person.

Adding speech bubbles and audio

Balloon Stickies PlusAvatars is an easy way of adding speech bubbles to any image. The image could then be imported into an app such as Adobe Spark Video or iMovie. You can also add a voice-over to promote both writing and speaking. Likewise, the app Sticky AI  uses artificial intelligence to remove the background of a picture automatically. You could use this to make a sequence of headshots with text and then narrated over in a movie editing app.

If you have access to iPads, why not try out some of these apps as a way of enabling learners to present both spoken and written information in different dynamic ways? They can extend their speaking with professional looking multimedia outcomes. Many of the apps are available for Android too, so you can also incorporate them into homework tasks.

Here is some further reading on the topic too:

Joe Dale is an independent languages consultant from the UK. He works with a range of organisations such as Network for Languages, ALL, The British Council, the BBC, Skype, Microsoft and The Guardian. Joe was host of the TES MFL forum for six years, former SSAT Languages Lead Practitioner, and a regular conference speaker. He is also a recognised expert on technology and language learning.

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