Wednesday, 30 June 2010

ESL apps for Android phones

 In previous posts I've reviewed apps available on the iphone for language learning, so today I thought I'd take a look at some available for Android phones . Actually, all of these come from the British Council, who really seem to be investing a lot of resources into creating mobile apps for ESL learners.

First up is Wordshake, basically a Boggle variant. You are given a four by four grid of random letters and then you've got two minutes to make as many words as possible using those letters. The smallest word must have at least three letter and - unlike Boggle - the letters don't need to be next to each other. You score more points the longer the word is, and at the end it shows you a list of all the words you came up with. There is also the option to submit your score online and also to go to the British Council site to play a multi-player version of it, but I couldn't work out how to do that.

As a vocabulary game it's fun, but I'm not sure to what extent this is a dedicated language learning app and there are hundreds of other similar word games and word searches on the market that do something very similar. Ok for a few goes but not something you are likely to come back to very often. 

Perhaps a more ESL focussed app is Learn English, a regular radio show podcast for elementary level students available for both iphone/ipod touch and Android. Based around a radio show with Tess and Ravi, the show has various sections, features, dialogues and at the end an explicit language focus where the presenter discusses some language points that have come up in the show. While the podcast is playing, you can follow along with the transcript or answer multiple choice questions about the show (couldn't actually check the answers on my phone, not sure if that's a bug with the app or with my phone). There are also links to Tess and Ravi's Facebook and Twitter pages where listeners can post comments and respond to what they've heard. 


I like this a lot, it seems to be very much aimed at teenagers with its content and social networking features but  I also think adult learners could benefit from listening as well. Having the transcript to read along with adds a nice safety net feature for those students who panic when they don't understand what they are listening to. 

You could argue that the podcasts lack a little authenticity and they do sound a bit like the kinds of listenings you get in coursebooks, but it is for elementary learners. It's easy to forget what it's like being a lower level language learner (I'm still struggling with the basics of Russian and suffer this on a daily basis) and the need for material that is around or just above their level of listening to allow them to be successful. Yes, it would be fantastic if students could always listen to 'real' material, but I know from my own experiences of trying to learn a second language that authentic material can be incredibly overwhelming and demotivating at times . 

So yeah, definitely one to recommend to your students. 

The British Council have created another game-like app for Android called Johnny Grammar's Quizmaster. I downloaded it a while back and tried it out, good fun but I remember the time available to answer the questions was ridiculously short and even I was struggling to answer most of the questions in time. I tried to download it again to test it out and see if anything had changed with it but it now doesn't seem to work on my phone. 

Anyhow, I'm pleased to see the British Council pushing out these kinds of resources for mobile phones and doing it across more than one platform. It would be great to see them releasing these apps on Nokia phones (Symbian) as this would give a lot more students in developing countries the chance to experience them.


  1. Hi David,
    Thanks or the useful reviews of the BC apps, and I agree that the social networking features of the podcast app (Learn English) is nice. To me it seems important that mobile learning includes social media elements - life beyond the app (a bit like 'life beyond the gap fill' in grammar teaching). I'm preparing a blog post on this very issue right now, and will link to your post in that.
    Thanks! Nicky

  2. Thanks Nicky, look forward to reading the blog post. I feel the same as well, there has to be more to these apps than simply replicating what they can do in a coursebook.

    I want to do more of these reviews but am still waiting for my tripod-mounted USB cam to enable me to take video of the screen. I'm also waiting on getting an ipad (much to the dismay of my bank manager and wife) to see how that could be used in the classroom.

  3. What is the difference between a smart phone and an Android phone?

  4. Keep up the good work andplease tell me when can you publish more articles or where can I read more on the subject?
    facetime app for android