Sunday, 14 March 2010

My perfect language learning mobile app

Over the last few months I've been searching around for language learning programs for mobile phones and found very few of any substance, which is odd really given that phones are perfect tools for language learning. There are plenty of dictionaries and thesauruses available, one or two phrasebook programs and a few gap-fill/exercise-type programs.

It feels a bit like computer language learning programs five or six years ago, when they were stuck simply replicating the kinds of exercises you can find in textbooks. Now, developers have really begun to work out how to exploit the multimedia and interactive qualities of computers to offer things that books can't. Something like English Central is a good example of how far online English language learning has come.

On a mobile phone developers really need to exploit the always-on, productive and mobile features of phones to allow people to organise their language learning. They need to take advantage of the phone's camera and the ability to be permanently connected to the internet.

What I would like to see is an app that could:

Take a picture of a menu/poster on the street and then offer an immediate translation. This would be like the app shown here

Be able to offer immediate defintitions from a variety of online dictionaries in the same way that does.

Be able to offer a variety of examples from corpora such as the British National Corpus. Also helpful to offer info about the frequency and usefulness of the words.

The ability to create your own list of vocabulary based on all of the above and to group them by topic or any other heading.

Basic things I think, but I haven't seen any app out there offering something like this. It would truly make ESL mobile for the learner.


  1. Hi David, just to say I''m really pleased to have come across your blog (I was pointed to it by Andy Hockley), and am fascinated by your mobile project with your ESL learners. I especially like the way you are posting up commentaries on the project as it evolves, and am on tenterhooks to hear what happens next!

    I'm preparing a general session on mobile learning for the IATEFL Harrogate conference(, and would really like to refer to your project -- would that be okay with you? Are you by any chance going to be at the conference yourself? Would be great to meet up for a coffee if you are!

    Regards, Nicky Hockly (no relation to Andy!)

  2. hi Nicky,

    Thanks for the comments. By odd coincidence, I was flicking through the IATEFL brochure in our staffroom the other day and noticed your session and thought it would be fascinating to attend. Sadly I won't be coming to Harrogate (our language centre only funds a limited number of teachers to go there and I wasn't one of them this year) but would be very happy for you to mention my project there.

    By the way, thoroughly enjoyed your and Gavin's book and have used many ideas in my classroom. Much appreciated.


  3. Hi its really very nice blog i enjoyed a lot to visit..Mobiles

  4. Hi David,

    My colleagues and I make mobile and desktop applications. We are interested in your opinions about mobile learning. What would be the best way to start a discussion?

    Thanks for your time and patience!
    Ed O'Hara

  5. hi Edward, please follow me via Twitter (see top right of page) and send me a direct message.

  6. I research about mobile application development and i found your article and may be you learn many things about mobile application development.

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  9. Really good blogs are not "running the streets", but here I found today what I have been looking for. Cheers!

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  11. Thanks a lot for the time and energy that you've been putting into writing your article. I leave comments not too often, but sometimes it just needs to be said. Cheers!

  12. First, mobile phones have created a huge impact in our everyday lives. And with its continuous development, it would certainly be a necessity someday – if it still hasn’t become that today – because of its many functions. Apps have become an integral part of this device, mainly because of their capability to provide instant user experience at a single click of a button. Maybe, someday, you can perfect a language learning mobile app hat would be part of a more developed mobile app.

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