The ABCs of Providing CI Through Remote Instruction: T is for Talking Pets

The TPRS conference in Agen, France was virtual this year, which is the only reason I got to attend. One of the most talked-about events at the conference was Tammy Ruijgrok‘s presentation about creating asynchonous classroom videos (if you want to see what she examples of her videos, click here).

Tammy teaches Dutch to very young children (ages 4-7). Like most kids, her students LOVE animals, which is why her cat Figgy is heavily featured in her videos. According to Tammy, Figgy speaks Dutch. And by using an app called My Talking Pet, she recorded a video in which her cat actually DOES speak Dutch!

Disclosure: I have no affiliations with My Talking Pet. I just like sharing tools that are easy, free, and/or help World Language teachers provide more CI to their students. 

Here is the video she made in which she interviews her cat. Start at 9:11 for the interview, or else watch the whole thing. It is absolutely precious.

After I watched Tammy’s presentation, I started thinking about the stories that second language teachers tell in their CI (comprehensible input) classes. So many of us talk about animals in our classes. How fun it would be to feature talking animals in those lessons! And it’s not just little kids like the ones in Tammy’s class who love animals. Animal appreciation is pretty universal (Case in point: My 75-year-old mother DEFINITELY loves her dog more than she loves me). I decided that this was definitely something I wanted to explore, so I downloaded the app on my phone and started playing with it.

Using the app is easy. After downloading it and creating an account, you upload a picture of an animal from your phone. The app then locates the animal’s eyes and mouth (which you can also adjust, because it isn’t perfect) to make the speech line up accurately with the picture. You record yourself speaking (you can adjust the speed and pitch of the voice too), and when you’re done, the app combines the speech with the picture. You can then download your video and use however you want.

I decided to add subtitles to the videos I made using my computer’s video editing software for double input, which I then uploaded to my Bitmoji classroom. Once classes begin, I’ll use them as an input activity.

Here is one of my videos. The running joke between this video and the one about my other cat Gus is that Zoé loves Gus but he can’t stand her. Will I spin this into a TPRS story? Maybe…

Like most apps, you have the choice between using the free version or a paid version. The free version limits the length of your videos and the number of videos you can save and download (only two). You’ll also have to put up with the logo in the corner of your clip. For unlimited use without the logo, you need to upgrade to the paid version (If you don’t care about the logo but want to create and save more than two videos, you can delete the app from your phone and reinstall it, which will cause the app to reset itself so you create two more videos. At some point I am sure the company will fix the glitch, but for now it works. If that’s too unethical for you but you still don’t want to pay for the app, you can download the free version on the phone(s) of a generous family member or friend to use).

I am constantly looking for new ways to deliver high-quality, compelling CI to my students. I’ll add the use of this app to my list of classroom strategies for sure. I won’t just limit myself to cats or dogs either. Why not turtles, goats, or elephants?

The ABCs of Providing CI Through Remote Instruction: S is for Snap Camera

Most young people are familiar with Snapchat, the social media platform that allows users to send visual messages from their phones to each other using special filters on their pictures and videos to alter their appearance. The filters do things like exaggerate facial features, gives the user animal ears and noses, and many other crazy possibilities (If you are unfamiliar with Snapchat, below are some examples of what pictures and videos look like with Snapchat filters).

My friend Amy Marshall is a comprehensible input (CI) teacher who uses Snapchat to create short videos for her Spanish classes in which she retells TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling) stories. Not only do her students love her videos, but they serve as another source of CI for them (More CI = increased language proficiency). When I saw her workshop on this, I was intrigued, but I had difficulties figuring out how to use Snapchat, and found the process of having to transfer videos from my phone to my computer and then turning multiple clips into one video too time-consuming.

Then this year, Snap Camera was released, which is basically Snapchat for your computer. You can download the app onto your computer that, when opened, gives you the chance to use the same types of filters you’ll find on Snapchat. Installation is very fast and easy, and using the program is super simple. Basically, once you open the app, you will see a choice of filters (as in the picture below). Once you choose the one you want, it will be applied to your face, and you’re good to go.

Disclosure: I have no affiliations with Snap Camera. I just like sharing tools that help World Language teachers provide more CI to their students. 

I see two advantages to having Snap Camera. First of all, it completely streamlines the process of making videos like Amy’s. Now instead of having to download video clips from my phone to my computer and use video editing software to stitch them all into one video, all I have to do is choose my filter, open up my video recording software (like Loom or Screencastify), and start recording. If I want to change my filter, I just pause my recording, change filters, continue until I have finished, and then save my video to my computer. Easy peasy.

The second advantage of having Snap Camera on my computer is that I can use it when I am video conferencing using software like Zoom. And while it’s nice to use a filter to make it look as if I am wearing eye shadow or a hat (because I haven’t put on makeup or cut my hair since March), the real reason why I like using Snap Camera with Zoom is because my filter becomes something else I could talk about in the target language (TL) when holding Zoom meetings.

I recently took a Mandarin class on Zoom in which the teacher, the amazing Annick Chen, used a Snap Camera filter to make it look as if she had a cat on her head. Then we all learned the word for cat in Mandarin (māo) and spent the next five minutes or so talking about the cat on Annick’s head, which then led to a longer discussion about students’ pets. It was both compelling and fun, and I will NOT forget the word “māo” any time soon!

As I have mentioned before, I was not allowed to use Zoom to conduct synchronous classes when teaching remotely, but I could to use it for virtual office hours. I used the chance to see what Snap Camera filter I would have in office hours as an incentive to get students to “attend” these meetings (although personally I think this only worked because I teach middle school students, who are easy to excite). As a French teacher, I was especially excited for the filter that made it look as if I had multiple loaves of French bread on my head.

My friends who use MacBooks report that they have no issues using Snap Camera on their computers. I have a Microsoft Surface, and I find that Snap Camera can be a little glitchy. I almost always need to restart my computer to get the program to run, and while it works relatively well with Zoom, it doesn’t always play nicely with video recording programs like Flipgrid or Loom. But I will also admit that user error on my part my be part of the reason I have issues with it. If you have a computer similar to mine, give Snap Camera a try and see if you have more luck getting it to run consistently than I do!