Apps for English language learning: Speech-to-text for writing development
By Beth Crumpler

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This is the third article in a series about using general mobile apps for instructional uses inside and outside of the language classroom. A general app in this case refers to any app that was not specifically designed for language acquisition purposes. The series will address different app categories.

In this third installment of using regular apps to facilitate English language learning, apps that use speech-to-text technologies are discussed. Learn how to use the technology to assist in the writing development of students who have lower English language proficiency levels and for those who have more advanced proficiency levels but struggle with writing.


Do you use speech-to-text apps for writing development?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

Speech-to-text technologies can be used for assisting writing development for English language learners of any age, elementary through adults. These ideas can be used to help assist English writing development for any content area or purpose.

I know some ESL professionals might say that using speech-to-text apps is not a good idea because it would hinder student writing independence. Although this may be a concern, the value and benefit from using the apps for those ELLs who struggle with writing cannot be ignored. They need facilitation and accommodations to learn to write in English to gain independence. That is the point of using apps for using speech-to-text apps for writing growth.

How does speech-to-text technology help writing development?

Many ELLs do very well with speaking, but they often struggle with writing development, especially academic writing development. Speech-to-text technology can be a tool to help ELLs transform their verbal English fluency to writing English fluency. It can be a tool that helps them visually see their speech in text form.

When should you use speech-to-text technology?

Using speech-to-text technology should be used with caution and only for students and situations that it is deemed useful. Here are situations where the technology can be useful.
  1. If a student has little to no writing ability, speech-to-text can help the student move from inability to ability. Speech to text helps him/her see spoken English in print form.
  2. If a student struggles with writing anxiety, then using speech-to-text technology can be a fantastic way to help ease him/her into writing. Over time, this will lessen his/her writing anxiety as he/she builds confidence and independence.
  3. When students struggle with English grammar in their spoken language, it often translates that way into their written language as well. Speech-to-text can be used so these students can visually see their spoken English in written form.
  4. When students struggle with spelling words in English, speech-to-text can be used to help them see how words are spelled in written form.
  5. Compare students' speaking abilities versus their writing abilities. Does a student have BICS (basic interpersonal communication skills) but struggles with their CALP (cognitive academic language proficiency)? If the student struggles with their CALP, then speech-to-text assistance will be useful for building his/her academic writing abilities.
Ways to use speech-to-text apps for writing
  1. Note-taking apps that have bullet lists, and that have speech-to-text abilities, are great for assisting students with graphic organizers. Students can verbally record one portion of the data per each bullet list. Each bullet will be a separate portion of the graphic organizer. The text that is created from the vocal recording can then be copied and pasted into the graphic organizer.
  2. For students who have limited to no writing abilities, they can record a basic sentence into the app. They can then review the sentence in written form. This will help them see spoken words in text. Have them physically write the spoken words and verbally say the sentence out loud as they write. Then have students read the sentence several times. This will help them build visual word recognition. After they have done this a few times, introduce a few new words where they can write a few sentences with the same sentence structure but with the new words independently without the app.
  3. For students who have spoken grammar problems, have them record a sentence into the app. Have them analyze their sentence and look for grammar mistakes. Have them set writing goals based off their grammar mistakes. Assign writing activities that help them work on their grammar goals within their writing.
  4. For students who struggle with spelling, allow them to record spoken words into an app and see the text form. To do this, you must have an app that has an extremely reliable spelling integration. When using these apps for spelling development, don't allow students to verbally record an entire writing assignment. Have them write the text and only use the speech-to-text app when they to spell specific words. Some students may need to use the technology more often than others. This is OK. It at least helps students see words in written form and helps them make less spelling errors in the future as they see written form to improve their spelling.
  5. For students who have good BICS but not CALP, use speech-to-text to help them record conversational English. Introduce some academic words that fit the content area goals. Have students take their conversational text recording and insert the academic words. You will need to work with students to understand the meaning of the academic words and understand where the words fit into the text. You can then slowly introduce mini academic writing assignments based off of this activity.
  6. All of the modifications above work with students who have writing anxiety for various reasons. Use and modify these ideas to suit student personal needs and goals.
Important factors to consider when using speech-to-text apps
  1. Speech-to-text apps can have translation options available. It is best to find apps that don't have translation options available. However, if you use an app that does have translation options you will need to monitor student usage of the app.
  2. It is important to slowly wean students off using speech-to-text for writing assistance as their writing improves. This is unless they have a disability that further requires the accommodation. While weaning students from using the apps, have them write some content independently and some using it. Slowly decrease the use of the technology and emphasize the independent writing.
  3. Basic and simple apps are better for younger ELLs and for those who are older but have a lower English language proficiency level. Simple apps have very few features, simple screen displays, and with much less English text present. When students don't have advanced English proficiency abilities, they can't navigate apps that are cluttered with text and features.
  4. Not all speech-to-text apps are good. Some may not record well. Some may spell words wrong. Some may input wrong information. You must test out various apps before you use them with students. Select apps that have good functionality and that can translate speech-to-text correctly.
Speech-to-text apps to consider

These are all free apps. All apps have various features. These are just some examples of many that can be reviewed for writing facilitation. Review apps, try them out and select the ones that seem good for your uses.
  • ListNote
  • SpellChecker
  • Notepad Lite
  • Note Everything
  • Keep
  • Voice Note
When considering and adopting speech-to-text apps for writing facilitation, always consider it with caution. Monitor student speech abilities and writing abilities. Only use the apps when they will be helpful for student writing development and progression.

Always monitor student usage and progress. You don't want speech-to-text app usage to become a crutch for writing independence. This is why continued monitoring, facilitation and encouragement for independence is so important. But also don't allow this to keep you from using the technology to help student writing independence. Using speech-to-text can be the tool that takes ELLs from their inability to ability of English writing success.

Note: If you missed it, check out the first two articles of this series on using photo apps for ELLs: Beth Crumpler is an ESL freelance curriculum writer, e-learning content developer and instructor. She has developed written content for some big names in the education sector. She is the founder of the website and blog, which both present ideas for using adaptive concepts in learning. She is a certified teacher of ESL and music. Beth enjoys studying technology for teaching ESL and in her spare time studies Spanish.