Friday, 7 May 2010

How your students can create cool personal dictionaries on their phones..

I was playing around with my phone yesterday installing various free applications and discovered a great way for students to make their own personalized dictionaries that they can share with others. 

A lot of phones now have either dictionaries built in or applications that can access free online dictionaries like The Free Dictionary and What's also become popular on phones are more sophisticated note-taking applications such as Evernote and 3Banana. These allow you to create quite complex and sophisticated notes using photos, web pages and text: 

On the phones themselves these applications are a little less sophisticated, but they still do more than traditional text-based notes and the good thing is that you can sync between your desktop and your phone. 

Now, when playing around with the Free Dictionary app on my Android phone (HTC Desire) I discovered that there is the ability to directly create a personal note in 3Banana from the dictionary entry you looked for. This video demonstrates it a lot better than I can explain it: 

It seems very simple and unexciting, but I think this is an amazing tool for students to be able to create personalized and meaningful vocabulary lists. Rather than just copying down words/definitions, they can be encouraged to create extensive entries on words that can be added to as they meet new examples or information about them. This is getting closer to what I described in a previous post as the perfect mobile language learning app. So, for example, students create a basic entry note for a word by pasting in the definition from the dictionary application. These are very good definitions by the way, with lots of example sentences, alternative meanings, word forms and not just simple definitions or translations. Now in the future if the student sees an example of this word they would like to jot down (or they notice an idiom using it or a preposition that comes after it), they can cut and paste it into their entry for that word and it builds up a really rich and personal store of vocabulary for them to refer to and review. 

And the other great thing is that this can be done on either the phone or their PC  because the applications are synchronized and anything they add on the PC note will show up on the phone note and vice versa. Oh, and if they wish they can share this note with other people...

For me, this is getting very close to my vision of mobile learning for students. Seamless integration between phone and PC, the ability to create personalized and meaningful information about the language and the ability to do that anywhere, and the ability to share that information with others. 

Although this was done on a specific phone running a specific operating system (Android), I think it should be possible on other phone platforms as well. Evernote has versions of its application for Symbian (most Nokia phones) Apple (Iphone), RIM (Blackberry). Also, most phones have either built-in dictionaries or applications that can access online dictionaries. Even if you can't make a note directly from the dictionary, it should be reasonably easy to copy and paste from the dictionary to the note-taking application. I tried it with and Evernote on the ipod touch and it worked perfectly. 

Please tell your students about this. I think it really is a great way for them to build learner autonomy and learn more about words than just the simple definition or translation. 


  1. I think is a great app. I will encourage my students to use it. :)

  2. Glad you liked it. I've only just discovered it, but will be talking to my students about it next week

  3. Excellent idea David! Our Consultants-E teacher development e-community is looking a mobile and mobile apps this month, and I'll send them along to check out this post. If anyone tries you idea out with sts, perhaps they could post you some feedback on how it went here.



  4. Yes, would be great to get feedback on this. I've just talked to my students about this and some of them seem interested, so I just need to work out the best way to share this (sms, email, Edmodo) and what note-taking app to use (3Banana and Evernote look the best bets - I'm leaning more towards 3Banana because it's quick and easy to share).

  5. I see the British Council has just launched another free iPhone app that looks like it might do some of what you suggest in your post - MyWordBook

  6. hey Nicky,

    yeah, I saw that yesterday and briefly tweeted about it, plan to write a longer post later when I find the time. I think the idea is great, would like to see more integration maybe of collocations/corpus data but it's a great start. Shame it's only limited to one platform at the moment, but hope they release versions for Symbian, Android, Blackberry soon.

  7. Hi David,

    You're right - MyWordBook is only at the start of its life at the moment and once we're happy with it we will port to Android at least. We'll definitely be expanding the functionality as well, with spaced repetition and better practise activities in the next release. A link to a concordancer for each entry is also in the plans for future releases along with downloadable word packs.

    Neil Ballantyne (British Council, lead for MyWordBook)

  8. Great idea David I am definitely going to introduce this app in my class but it can be a problem when it gets to teenage students with a beginner level. When and how will they learn to speak fluently?