Learning English Speaking through Mobile-Based Role-Plays: The Exploration of a Mobile English Language Learning App called Engage


  • Bowen Yang EF Labs, Education First
  • Shijun Zhou EF Labs, Education First
  • Weijie Ju EF Labs, Education First




Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL), user-centred design, role-play


Engage is a new form of mobile application that connects students studying English with teachers in real-time via their smartphones. Students receive target language through preparation dialogues, and then apply it to a role-play with a teacher. The conceptualization and development of Engage follows the user-centred design approach; and the product was built through multiple iterations: in the first iteration, students were invited to try out a paper mock-up; in the second iteration, students tried out a mobile prototype; in the external test, a fully functional application was released to App Store between October 25 and November 20, 2012, and 326 users downloaded it. The application was well-received by these test users, reflected in the post-study survey, student ratings, and students’ usage records. The external tests proved that the technical environment of the application was feasible for production; and the operationalization of the teacher service and cost model were also proven to be feasible and scalable.


Download data is not yet available.


Burke, T. & Guest, A. (2010). Using role playing as a teaching strategy: an interdisciplinary approach to learning. Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy, 34-35.

Buzan, T. (1989). Use both sides of your brain. New York: Penguin.

Demouy, V. & Kukulska-Hulme, A. (2010). On the spot: using mobile devices for listening and speaking practice on a French language programme. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 25(3), 217-232. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680513.2010.511955

Edge, D., Searle, E., Chiu, K., Zhao, J. & Landay, J.A. (2011, May). Micromandarin: mobile language learning in context. 2011 Annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Symposium conducted in Vancouver, BC, Canada. https://doi.org/10.1145/1978942.1979413

Hyerle, D. (2004). Student successes with thinking maps: school-based research, results, and models for achievement using visual tools. CA: Corwin Press. ISO 13407 (1999). Human-centred design processes for interactive systems. London: British Standards Institution.

Karat, C. (1997). Cost-justifying usability engineering in the software life cycle. In M. Helander, T.K.Landauer and P.Prabhu (Eds.), Handbook of Human-Computer Interaction (pp. 653-688). Amsterdam: Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-044481862-1.50098-4

Kondo, M., Ishikawa, Y., Smith,C., Sakamoto, K., Shimomura, H., and Wada,N. (2012). Mobile assisted language learning in university EFL courses in Japan: developing attitudes and skills for selfregulated learning. ReCALL, 24, 169187. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0958344012000055

Kukulska-Hulme, A. and Shield, L.(2008). An overview of mobile assisted language learning: from content delivery to supported collaboration and interaction. ReCALL, 20(3), 271-289. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0958344008000335

Kujala,S. (2003). User involvement: a review of the benefits and challenges. Behavior & Information Technology, 22(1),1-16. https://doi.org/10.1080/01449290301782

Liu, T.-Y. (2009). A context-aware ubiquitous learning environment for language listening and speaking. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 25(6), 515-527. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00329.x

Miangah, T. M., and Nezarat, A. (2012). Mobile-assisted language learning. Journal of Distributed and Parallel Systems, 3(1), 309-319. https://doi.org/10.5121/ijdps.2012.3126

Parrish, B. (2004). Teaching adult ESL: a practical introduction. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.

Rubin, J. (1994). Handbook of usability testing: how to plan, design, and conduct effective tests. New York: Wiley.

Schafer, R. W. (1994). Scientific Bases of Human-Machine Communication by Voice. In D.B. Roe (Eds.), Voice communication between humans and machines(pp.34-75). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Senf, M. (2012, Dec). Role-play, simulations and drama activities. DocumBase. Retrieved from http://en.convdocs.org/docs/index-44311.html

Snyder, C. (2003). Paper prototyping: the fast and easy way to design and refine user interfaces. San Diego, CA: Morgan Kaufmann Pub.

Sousa, D. A. (2006). How the brain learns. CA: Corwin Press.

Traxler, J. (2007). Current state of mobile learning. International Review on Research in Open and Distance Learning, 8(2), 9-24.





Research papers