It is always a pleasure to publish a guest post by anyone with an interest or expertise in some area of the English language, or of English culture.
If you are anything like my own students here in Vancouver, many of you probably own and use an iPad. If you do, some of the apps below might help you to improve your English, even when you are on the go.
The following guest post is by Jeffrey Hill, who writes The English Blog and teaches at the EM Normandie business school in Le Havre, France
It would be no exaggeration to call the iPad “the ultimate language learning tool”. With one portable device you can access an unlimited amount of authentic material (podcasts, videos, news, books, websites, … )—all in the target language.
But what makes the iPad really special are the apps. And when it comes to apps, learners of English in particular are spoiled for choice. There are literally hundreds of apps available. These fall into two main categories: those specifically aimed at learners of English, and those which are not, but which are useful all the same.
The problem is knowing which ones to choose. Some are free; some cost money. Some are good, some are not so good—and some are just plain bad! So, to help teachers and students identify the most useful apps, I recently started a new blog, iPadEnglish.
Here, in no particular order, are my
Newsy for Ipad
One of my favourite video news sites is Newsy.com. It’s not specifically designed for learners of English, but the transcripts and on-screen extracts from source articles make the short video reports much more accessible than they would otherwise be. The videos are organized into categories (World, US, Politics, Business …), so you can easily find something of interest. However, the beautifully-designed Newsy app is something else again. It works brilliantly on the iPad—and it’s free!
You can translate words and phrases between more than 60 languages using Google Translate for iOS. For most languages, you can speak your phrases and hear the corresponding translation (which, of course, you can’t do on the web-based version). The voice recognition is not perfect, but as long as you speak slowly and clearly, the results are impressive. Note, however, that you will need an internet connection to use Translate.
English Idioms Illustrated
This beautifully-illustrated app from Professor Potts (aka Aidan Potts) explores the story behind more than 160 idioms from “Achilles’ heel” to “Wrong side of bed”, as well as explaining what they mean. The first 23 idioms are included for free and the rest are available at a small price. You can see a selection of the illustrated idioms on the Learn English Idioms microsite
Sounds: The Pronunciation App
Winner of the British Council ELTons Award 2012 for ‘Innovation in learner resources’, Sounds is Macmillan’s mobile English pronunciation app for both students and teachers. The free version includes Interactive Phonemic Charts for British English and American English, as well as some taster activities. In the Premium version ($5.99) you can look up, listen to and record words in the WORDLIST, PRACTISE your pronunciation skills, test yourself with the pronunciation QUIZZES, use the phonemic TYPEWRITER, and LEARN with Top Tips, videos and more.
MyWordBook2 is a free interactive vocabulary notebook app for language learners from The British Council. The app lets you learn, practise and review words using sets of flashcards. Each flashcard contains pictures, sounds, example sentences, translations and notes taken from Cambridge University Press learner dictionaries. The app comes with a random selection of around 25 words at intermediate level, and if you register
There is an excess of English dictionaries available in the App Store. Some are free, some are not. Some work offline, some do not. Some are good, some are not so good. They all offer different features, which makes it hard to know which one(s) to choose. One of the best is Dictionary.com, which includes both a dictionary and thesaurus. The good news is that it’s free. Another advantage is that you don’t need an internet connection to search for words, an important consideration if your Wi-Fi connection is unreliable or non-existent
At the risk of sounding like one of those guests on Desert Island Discs who choose their own records, I’m going to blow my own trumpet and recommend an app I developed myself! Business Words (free at the time of writing) is a ‘hangman’ type game aimed at students or professionals who have a good level of English but wish to improve their vocabulary in the field of business and management. Players have to find the missing word in a sentence relating to a specific business topic by guessing individual letters. The words and sentences are organized into 12 topic areas: Economy, Law, Industry, Trade, Marketing, Human Resources, Banking, Travel, Retailing, Finance, Communication, and Technology. There is also a ‘Mixed Bag’ featuring words from all categories. Translations of all words are given in French.
There are literally dozens of word games available for the iPad, but one of my favourites is SpellTower ($1.99). The game features a grid of letter tiles that you use to spell words by selecting adjacent letters. Each correct spelling removes tiles and earns you points. The goal of the game is to remove as many letter tiles as possible. Very addictive—and fun!
Conversation English HD
There aren’t many actual English courses available in the App Store, and they can be expensive. Although Conversation English won’t win any prizes for originality, the app is professionally produced, and each of the 20 dialogue-based lessons offers a varied range of activities. An Idiom Dictionary with Audio Pronunciation is also included. With enough material for many hours of study, Conversation English represents good value at $4.99.
The interactive Grammar of English
There’s a real shortage of decent grammar apps for the iPad, so the interactive Grammar of English (aka iGE) is an essential acquisition for iPad-owning English teachers and more advanced learners.
iGE comes in two versions. iGE Lite is free. It has a complete glossary, and three units of course material dealing with word classes, nouns and determiners. The complete iGE covering the whole of English grammar is on sale for $6.99. Interactive exercises and puzzles aim to reinforce learning and make it fun. My (rather obvious) advice would be to download the free ‘lite’ version and see what you think. You can always buy the complete app after.
I would love to hear your feedback on any of these apps? Have you tried one? Do you have any recommendations for others?
Leave a comment below with any reviews or recommendations.