Friday, 12 November 2010

MYLO - a new way to learn languages?

MYLO is a UK goverment-funded project that aims to offer secondary school students a "new way to learn languages", specifically French, German, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. See my February 2010 posting on MYLO.

I have had a quick look at the MYLO Website and the MYLO YouTube videos. My first reactions:

The following message on the homepage (as of November 2010) does not inspire visitors with confidence:

"A new UK Government took office on 11 May. As a result the content on this site may not reflect current Government policy. All statutory guidance and legislation published on this site continues to reflect the current legal position unless indicated otherwise. To view the new website, please visit"

Why does the MYLO URL continue to use DCSF? The DCSF changed its name shortly after the new government took over in May 2010, and most old DCSF addresses have been updated.

As a former teacher of German, I looked first at the section on German Basics, Greetings and Goodbyes. The word "tschüs" (informal "goodbye") is introduced here. There are different ways of pronouncing and spelling this word, depending on the region, personal preferences, etc. The "ü" can be long or short and the spelling must correspond to the pronunciation. In the sound recordings in MYLO the "ü" is pronounced short, and therefore the spelling should be "tschüss", but MYLO presents the written form as "tschüs", which is the correct spelling only if the "ü" is pronounced long. I remember having this discussion when I worked on German Steps for the BBC: You will find "tschüss" in the BBC materials. Not trusting my own judgement or memory, I checked the spelling/pronunciation at This confirmed that, since the 1996 spelling reform, "tchüss" is correct when the vowel is pronounced short and that "tschüs" is correct when the vowel is pronounced long. Duden agrees: 23rd edition (2004) and later. MYLO has promised to correct this error, but someone should have done some thorough checking in the first place.

The MYLO YouTube presentations are slick and the advice given in the “Learning to Learn” clips is sound, but I think it will wash straight over the heads of most teenagers.

I decided to put myself in the position of a learner. This is a bit difficult for me as I speak German fluently, my French is tolerable, and I have good survival skills in Spanish. I don’t know much Chinese, however. I followed a BBC radio course in spoken Mandarin over 40 years ago, and I have forgotten most of what I have learned, so I had a go at MYLO’s Mandarin Chinese exercises. I scored 100% on all the exercises that I attempted (matching sounds with the pinyin texts and the Chinese characters), but I learned nothing about the tone system and how Chinese is structured. Half an hour later I could not recall most of the words that had been presented. These important elements are lacking:

1. The possibility of recording and playing back one’s own voice, which is vital in the early stages of language learning and features in many software packages that have been published in recent years by companies such as EuroTalk and Virtual Languages.

2. There are no “real-life” images or videos. See, for example, the BBC’s introduction to Mandarin Chinese at Furthermore, the BBC materials are much better in terms of presentation, e.g. the tone system, pinyin, Chinese characters, and what the words and phrases actually mean. There are also useful links to external sites.

3. There is negligible feedback in the exercises in MYLO, and I don’t recognise the pedagogical and cognitive principles on which they are based - maybe a variation of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development? Feedback is crucial. We learned a lot about interactivity and feedback (both intrinsic and extrinsic feedback) while working on the TELL Consortium software in the 1990s. See ICT4LT Module 1.1, Section 7.1 and Section 7.2:

MYLO advertises itself as a “new way to learn languages”. Well, not really. Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) has been around since the 1960s, CILT’s first publication on CALL - aimed at secondary school teachers - appeared in 1982 (I was one of the authors), and multimedia CALL has been around since the early 1990s: see my EUROCALL 2010 keynote,
“Where have we been, where are we now, and where are we going?”

We have learned a lot of lessons on this long journey, but MYLO does not appear to have been listening.

I am not alone in criticising MYLO. A lively discussion is currently (November 2010) going on in the Linguanet Forum.


Graham Davies said...

From Graham Davies:

I received the following private message about MYLO from a colleague, who is too shy to post to public blogs and fora. He asked me to post it on his behalf. The full text follows:

The resources are patronising, childish (in an "adult imagining what children would like” way) and, above all, completely inappropriate. I gave up when imagining how useful it would be for children (beginners) to re-order the components of formal expressions such as "Wie ist Ihr Name bitte?". Plus irritating English comments popping up like "Nice one!", a completely pointless "race against time" element, and - yes - the inevitable MONKEY (there's always one of those). Also, the formats (drag-and-drop, re-ordering words etc) are exactly the same as in the Revilo software, the Heinemann software and online products such as NT’s Kerboodle, which have all been around for years.

An English teacher I know recently sent some new English grammar software to Michael Gove, when he made a speech bemoaning poor standards. He offered to let the government have it for nothing, rather than spending Mylo-style millions on making new resources. Here is the response he received:

"We are certainly interested in your idea but, as a point of principle, believe we need to reduce the amount of direction from the centre - and the role of the state overall - to give head teachers and teacher the freedom to use their expert judgement [...] We do not believe it is the role of the government to steer schools towards particular materials."

This fits in with Conservative policy but how it fits in with their support of Mylo I can't imagine.

spanish translation services said...

This is amazing! I am glad that there are methods on new way to learn languages. And I am so glad that there is MYLO. Kudos to the people behind MYLO for taking up time making this for the benefits of students. And nice to know that they are giving importance on different languages across the globe. So glad to know that being a multi-language individual is now vital in studies and in work as well.If I were given a chance, I would learn French and Spanish.

Graham Davies said...

Well, they are not really "taking up time making this for the benefits of students". They are receiving 5 million pounds worth of funding from the UK government to do the job. There are many existing resources that are far better.

Graham Davies said...

At least they accepted my correction re the spelling of "tschüss".

But this website is still very poor value for money, and public comments are made mainly by the team of so-called "MYLO ambassadors" who are preaching to the converted. Where is the independent evaluator?

Anonymous said...

Is it not important to see MYLO from the pupil's perspective? Seen through their eyes MYLO is new as it is written with their values in mind. Feedback we receive reveals the values of the pupils to be cool graphics, no apparent structure and a sense of competition. MYLO is directed mainly at KS3 pupils who do not see languges as cool. MYLO makes them more cool. Value for Money needs therefore to be assessed in terms of how many pupils are motivated to learn languages more following playing on MYLO. My anecdotal experience measured on this criterium is that the Value for Money is higher than viewing MYLO through a teacher perpsective.
So for me these critiques are missing the point that the value needs to be judged through the eyes of the users. Structure for them is far more based on how the internet works not on how CALL operated in the era before the Internet where you were taken on linear journeys.

Graham Davies said...

If the kids enjoy it then fine, but how much language are they learning and retaining long-term? And will MYLO really have an impact on improving the uptake of languages beyond KS3?

Actually, the journeys through CALL packages prior to the arrival of the Web were not necessarily linear. There was usually a default route for learners who could not be bothered to find their own way around, but the exploratory approach was well established by the mid-1980s, and all the multimedia packages that I worked on from around the mid-1990s offered an exploratory approach. Then there were simulations such as Granville, Manoir des Oiseaux, Schloss Schattenburg and the Oscar Lake series, which wrapped up language learning in adventure games - all of which were essentially exploratory and offered opportunities for competition.