Fed up* with Facebook? Bored of Snapchat? Uninspired by Instagram? There’s more to your phone than social media apps, so take a little time every day to use your phone to help with learning English.
These are five of our favourite apps for learning English –– some are well-known, others may be new to you. All of them have free versions, and are available on both IOS and Android.
*see the glossary below for definitions of bold words
1. Duolingo – Duolingo was started in 2011 by two university teachers who believed that “free education will really change the world”. In 2013 Apple named it their iPhone App of the Year. There’s an open, easy to use interface, and the short lessons include written exercises, translation and pronunciation practice. Each lesson is based around a grammar or vocabulary topic, and success earns you points. Duolingo also offers English courses aimed at learners who speak any one of 22 world languages as a first language, so there’s a good chance your native language will be there!
2. Memrise – Memrise is an app that’s designed to help people memorise information – to learn it by heart. It’s not designed just for languages, but it’s useful for learning vocabulary, although maybe not the best app for listening or pronunciation exercises. Courses are written by users and by the Memrise organisation and there are a lot of English courses already written, some of them aimed at people studying for exams like IELTS or TOEFL. The great advantage is that you can make your own courses, so if you have a long vocabulary list you want to learn, try putting it on Memrise!
3. Verb Smash is one of several bright and colourful arcade-style games from Wobble Monkey. The game is a bit like old-school favourite Tetris - it asks you to put the right form of a verb into a sentence block that’s falling down the screen. Can you choose the right answer in time? Verb Smash is fun and addictive, but one drawback is that the free version does have a lot of adverts.
4. Hello Talk is a social media app which aims to connect people who want to learn each other’s language. You sign up to learn English, chat with a native English speaker online, learn about their culture and get help with your own English. In return you help them with learning your language – Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, whatever it happens to be. Several language-learning apps take this ‘virtual penfriend’ approach – Hello Talk consistently scores the best on user reviews.
5. MosaLingua also scores very well on reviews. Like Memrise it uses flash cards, but this time the aim is specifically to help learn languages, and there is practice on pronunciation and writing, all based on solid scientific ideas of how people learn. You can practice all four language skills – speaking, writing, listening and reading - and it’s easy to jump in at any level. MosaLingua offers exam courses for TOEIC and TOEFL, and there are English lessons in a choice of five student first languages – all of them European languages though.
What to choose? The students we spoke to really enjoyed playing Verb Smash and the other Wobble Monkey games. These are fun and absorbing – though there are a lot of adverts in the free versions, but they aren’t full, integrated language learning courses. If you want to connect with one or more native English speakers, and you’re happy to help them learn your own language, then Hello Talk is probably the best social media app. Memrise gives the best flexibility to create your own vocabulary lists. For a complete language learning package, with two very different approaches, we definitely thought that MosaLingua and Duolingo were the best developed language apps we looked at.
To be fed up with something - unhappy, or bored, especially with a situation that has existed for a long time.
Well-known - (adj) famous; generally known
By heart - from memory
Old school - (adj) traditional; old fashioned
Drawback - (noun) disadvantage
To sign up - (phrasal verb) to put one's name to join an organisation, list or activity