March 2015
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Julie A. Delello, The University of Texas at Tyler, Tyler, Texas, USA

How can new technologies such as augmented reality (AR) be used to increase English language proficiency for students of diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds?

For an ELL, an image may communicate more meaning than print and may be used to reinforce the spoken or written word. AR platforms have the potential to support ELLs by superimposing virtual images, graphics, and sound onto real-world settings while bringing a new level of innovative and creative processes to the classroom. Through technological interaction and visualization, students are immersed in the learning experience. The following set of AR applications show promise for teaching across language barriers outside the traditional classroom approach.

QR Codes

Some of the simplest evolving AR tools are “quick-response” (QR) codes. A QR code is a technology in which a two-dimensional barcode is read by a two-dimensional digital image sensor. QR images are commonly black-and-white patterns arranged in a square which store alpha-numeric information. There are numerous QR code readers and application devices available for free educational use. One such example is QR Voice,which allows the user to create a QR code that, when scanned, will play a short audio message in multiple languages. Although the application is free of charge, the user is limited to 100 characters. A similar platform to QR Voice is Vocaroo, which allows the user to upload or record sound bites with unlimited characters, generate a QR code, and then display the images electronically or in print.

QR codes can be decoded by a QR code reader and a device with a camera. Daqri or Digimarc Discover technologies are two such QR readers. Daqri is a content publishing platform that allows users to create QR codes that display images, movies, and other pieces of content as soon as they are viewed through a smartphone camera. Additionally, Daqri has created one of the first “real world” interactive learning experiences, combining 4-D wooden blocks with AR to help users learn the periodic table.

The Digimarc Discover application uses the latest digital watermarking technology combined with QR barcode detection to allow users to experience rich print and audio experiences. Rather than just using black-and-white barcodes, digital watermarks are unseen patterns embedded into media. “Digital watermarks make it possible for computers, networks and mobile devices to instantly ‘recognize’ content and link it to relevant web-based experiences so that consumers can interact with any media they come across in their daily lives” (Digimarc, 2013, para. 2).

Teachers can use QR codes in combination with QR readers to support language acquisition and vocabulary development. For example, by combining the QR Voice application with a QR image reader such as Digimarc, ELLs can hear the English pronunciation of an image such as a telephone (see Figure 1). Additionally, QR codes may be created and displayed electronically or in print.

Image of Telephone QR Code With Voice

Figure 1. QR Voice Code for Telephone

Electronic “Pop-up” Books

Meyer and Rose (1998) pointed out that well-designed, digitally supported reading environments scaffold students’ literacy learning to address an individual reader’s needs, preferences, and skill levels. One teaching tool to assist ELLs in learning a new language is the use of AR 3-D pop-up books.

Several of the most popular AR sites for 3-D pop-up books and pages include ColAR Mix, Popar Toys, BooksAlive, and Zooburst. The Human Interface Technology Lab in New Zealand (HIT Lab NZ), created ColAR Mix, an AR platform that combined analog and digital media to turn coloring pages into 3-D animation. Preliminary findings with ColAR have shown that through the use of 2-D print images and 3-D AR applications, students have shown improved reading comprehension skills and recall of information (University of Canterbury, 2012).

Popar Toys used AR technology to create an immersive reading experience that allows the user to see 3-D objects and animations. According to Popar Toys (2013), the 3-D reading experience lets cards, puzzles, and print books “come to life,” changing the way children interact and experience stories, adventures, and learning (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Bugs Book Screenshot on Ipad ©2013. Used with permission.

BooksARalive combined 3-D AR with print-based illustrated stories, multilingual narratives, and musical soundtracks (see Figure 3). The premise of 3-D AR books is based on the idea that reading is a skill that children are going to need every single day of their lives. The company suggests that the use of AR technology will change the attitude of children toward books.

Figure 3. BooksARalive ©2013. Used with permission.

ZooBurst is a digital storytelling platform that allows students to create 3-D books. The platform can be personalized using a library of thousands of images, multiple Adobe flash animations, and voice narrations (see Figure 4). Students experience the platform through a desktop, laptop, or mobile computer and free ZooBurst AR mobile application. Students can interact with one another and share books with other students across the globe using a simple hyperlink creating a constructivist-based environment. As an educational tool, ZooBurst provides teachers and students with new ways to tell stories, deliver presentations, write reports, and express complex ideas.

Figure 4. Zooburst ©2013. Used with permission.

Vocabulary Translation Applications

Vocabulary knowledge is vital to a student’s success in literacy development and reading comprehension. AR applications such as Word Lens, LettersAlive, and AR Flashcards have shown potential in improving vocabulary for ELLs.

The free AR application Word Lens is an optical character recognition tool that uses the camera on any mobile device to instantly translate language without the need for an Internet connection. For classroom students learning English, an iPhone can be pointed at words written in Spanish and instantly translate the words into English while retaining background images. The application is available with five different language packages. In addition, Spanish-English and English-Spanish dictionaries can be added for a minimal cost of US$4.99.

Letters Alive (LA), created by Logical Choice Technologies, is a supplemental reading program that integrates AR into daily life. Primarily for the beginning-level ELL population, LA connects oral language components (reading, writing, listening, speaking) and the Common Core State Standards to augmented animated images. Students can interact with 26 multimedia AR animals representing each letter of the alphabet.

To encourage children to learn the basic alphabet, Mitchlehan Media designed the free application AR Flashcards 2.0 for use on an iOS device. The platform features 26 rendered animals and six dinosaurs that pop up on printed flashcards. Students can tap the screen to hear the letter and the animal name.

Creation Application

Created by the software company Autonomy in 2011, Aurasma is the world’s first visual browser to merge the real world with rich interactive content such as videos and animations called "Auras." Aurasma is a free application that is available for iOS (7.0+) and high-powered android devices (4.0+) devices that allow the user to create 3-D overlays that will trigger based on an image. Educators may wish to download and use the Aurasma Studio version, allowing students, parents, and the community to access an aura on multiple devices.

Figure 5. Aurasma What’s Your Aura ©2013. Used with permission.

Across the nation, the Aurasma application is being implemented in classrooms to enrich lessons through the use of teacher- and student-made auras. For example, educator Hannah Walden (2012) recommended using Aurasma to write object names in the language of your choice. “Students practice fluency by using the iPad to scan the room for layered objects. When a layered object is detected, a picture with the correct name pops up on the iPad” (para. 5).

Through the implementation of technology-enhanced experiences such as Aurasma, students become active participants in authentic learning.


Students, provided with a virtual AR experience, have shown an increase in engagement, subject-matter knowledge, and collaborative learning (Delello, 2014). Through AR, literacy can be fused through the use of images, media, and innovative technologies in order to promote language and literacy for all learners. But integrating new and innovative technologies into classrooms will only succeed when educators spend time learning how to use such tools and applications. While the potential of using AR is vast, more research is needed in the application of such platforms for educational use. Using AR applications in the classroom such as those proposed in this paper may encourage interactive learning and the opportunity for ELLs to improve skills in all four modalities of language: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.


Delello, J. A. (2014). Insights from pre-service teachers using science-based augmented reality. Journal of Computers in Education, 1(4), 295-311. Doi 10.1007/s40692-014-0021-y

Digimarc. (2013). The vision: Discover media the Digimarc way. Retrieved from

Meyer, D., & Rose, D. H. (1998). Learning to reading in the computer age. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.

Popar Toys (2013). Interactive books. Retrieved from

University of Cantebury. (2012). New technology brings children's drawings alive. Retrieved from

Walden, H. (2012). Techielit: Aurasma-augmented reality. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Dr. Julie Delello is an assistant professor in the College of Education and Psychology at The University of Texas at Tyler. Dr. Delello has more than 20 years of experience in K–16 education as a practicing teacher and administrator. She received her PhD in curriculum and instruction with a specialization in science and technology from Texas A&M University. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and their five children, as well as traveling and reading.

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