Free Android EFL practice for Tablets and Smartphones by Viv Quarry (www.vivquarry.com)

 

This page will be updated as Viv has time to evaluate more Android apps. - last update: 21/7/15.

 

Introduction

Nowadays nearly everyone has a smartphone or tablet and many people have virtually unlimited access to the internet. This has led to the appearance of thousands of applications (apps) which help people improve their knowledge of foreign languages.

However, don't think that you will be able to speak and write a new foreign language correctly without any contact with a real teacher!

These apps are a very good way to improve your vocabulary and practice grammatical structures, but they won't tell you when you are pronouncing a word wrong, and if you want to write freely instead of just translating, they won't correct your mistakes. They won't explain anything you're not sure about either! Because most of them haven't been developed by teachers, there is no syllabus, so the order in which grammatical structures are presented is ineffective, and there are huge gaps in essential areas of grammar and vocabulary. In fact, some of these apps may result in serious difficulties which will make it more difficult for a real teacher to help someone, when they realise that the hours spent using smartphone/tablet apps have not resulted in them speaking and writing fluently and correctly.

Many doctors say that people using "Dr Google" to treat themselves when they are ill, often make their own health worse because they haven't got the experience and training necessary to treat themselves and  prescribe appropriate medicine. Using free apps to try to learn a language may well result in the same type of problem

If you've got toothache, would you go on-line and try to treat your teeth yourself? 

Nevertheless, please use these apps!!!! Your English will get better if you practice between classes, and they are especially useful if you have to wait in a queue or travel long distances by bus or train, but if your objective is to be able to speak and write well, so that you can work or study in an English speaking environment, they are not a viable substitute for a qualified language teacher.

 

Notes:

When looking for apps for English study, pay attention to who has actually written the program - On the Google Play site, the author is written in smaller text under the title. For example, if you search for 'BBC' you'll find lots of apps which were written by people who have no connection with the British Broadcasting Corporation at all!!

Teacher's tip: if YouTube asks if you want to update the program on your new tablet, select 'No'. When Viv used the upgrade, the English exercises were invaded by far more advertisements. :-(

 

This web page has a list of free Android apps.

 

This web page has a similar list in Portuguese.

 

Other free apps. for Android devices (smartphones and tablets) which Viv has tested:

 

The blue links will take you to the Google Play Store download page.

 

Classic Audiobooks

This app. is more appropriate for lower levels of English than the Audiobooks app. listed below. It has the advantage that you can read and hear the books at the same time (just swipe up from the title page), and although it comes with advertisements at the bottom of the screen, it doesn't ask for access to any sensitive information on your mobile device.

 

Appropriate level - Pre-intermediate +

Viv's evaluation - 9

 

 

UK Radio Streamer

This app. will let you hear British radio stations on your smartphone or tablet. The only reason it wasn't evaluated at 10 is because not all of the hundreds of radio stations available worked, but even so, an excellent app. Radio stations playing music are marked with a musical 'clef' symbol and stations with more spoken English (like the BBC World Service) are marked with a speech bubble next to the station name. Radio stations can be included in a 'favourites list' by pressing the feint favourites button in the top right hand corner while listening to the station.

 

Appropriate level - All

Viv's evaluation - 9

 

 

Audiobooks

This app. accesses over 2,800 audiobooks, which you can listen to on your smartphone or tablet. If you have Bluetooth in your car, you can also listen to classics of English literature while driving to or from work. The recordings are all Librivox, so there are no copyright issues.

Appropriate level - Upper-intermediate +

Viv's evaluation - 6

 

MacMillan pronunciation app.

A good app. for language schools and teacher trainers. It may help trainee teachers who would like to learn the phonetic script.

Problems: the free version has very limited usefulness with very few examples before the inevitable "If you want any more practice, pay up!" message.  

 

Appropriate level - Advanced + and English teachers

Viv's evaluation - 4

 

IELTS Skills - Free

This excellent app. will help you prepare all four language skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) for the IELTS examination. It has been very well produced, with a wide range of activities and media, including videos and podcasts. Congratulations to Macmillan Publishers for producing this useful (and free) app. Well done! 

Problems:  in the listening - concentrating while listening section, there's a mistake - an unnecessary 'to' between 'encourage' and 'pupils' in the 'Programme' notes.

 

Appropriate level - Upper-intermediate +

Viv's evaluation - 9

 

Aldiko book reader

This app. came pre-installed on my Samsung smartphone. It can be downloaded from the Google Play Store (the Ebook reader looks similar for Ipads but I haven't tested it). It is an e-book reader with access to an on-line library with various free books which can be downloaded to either a tablet or smartphone. If everyone in the class has an Android device, it's possible for the whole class to read the same book. For more information on this app. see Wikipedia.

 

Appropriate level - Upper-intermediate +

Viv's evaluation - 9

 

 

Duo lingo

 

This app. works well on smartphones and can be used to practice a variety of languages. It includes pictures, audio files, written answers and the possibility of recording model sentences. It can take the learner through various levels and is a good way to improve vocabulary and writing skills between classes with a human language teacher (see introduction above).

 

Appropriate level - beginner - intermediate

Viv's evaluation - 6

 

Memrise

 

Similar to Duo lingo, another app. which can be used on a tablet or smartphone (with earphones) on the bus, in a taxi or on the train while commuting to or from work. Memrise is fun to use and includes systematic revision of the themes studied ('watering the plants'). A useful feature is that the program sends a summary of what you've studied in the form of an e-mail, which can be compiled into a document and printed out. Furthermore, the practice material can be downloaded to your phone (or tablet) and used when you may not have access to the internet. Viv has tried to use this program to learn basic Arabic. When I got to level 8 the app decided that I was Spanish and started giving me hints in this language (I contacted the Memrise team and they told me that many 'mems' are contributed by users in a similar way to Wikipedia).

Problems: at level 10 the examples to learn seem to have been written by a dipsomaniac with sentences like: "She must give me wine.", "She needs to be given some beer." and "We give her beer". Needless to say, many Arabic native speakers would find these sentences offensive. They would find some of the pictures at level 10 offensive, too e.g. the picture for 'high' (عَالِي). A new and improved version of the program has been released with comparative scores and self-set learning targets. However, some of the inappropriate example sentences in the Arabic version are still there (May 2015), so I've reduced the evaluation score.

 

 

Appropriate level - beginner - intermediate

Viv's evaluation - 7

 

Learn English - Fun and games

This app. shows pictures of vocab. in alphabetical order, accompanied by an audio file with the pronunciation. There are also matching words to picture tests and hangman games.

Problems: the vocab. is ungraded, making it impossible to use in the classroom and some words, like "ballon" are both spelt and pronounced incorrectly. The audio files sound computer generated and aren't very good quality so aren't very useful for improving pronunciation. The advertisements are also intrusive.

 

Appropriate level - pre-intermediate +

Viv's evaluation - 3

 

British Council Learn English Podcasts

A wide range of natural dialogues with the tape script and comprehension check questions based on the texts.

Problem: The advertisements have made this app. unworkable on my tablet. They make it impossible to choose which series to work on. Also, some of the audio files may take some time to download depending on the quality of your internet connection.

 

Appropriate level - intermediate and above

Viv's evaluation - 1

 

British Council Learn English Grammar

A limited variety of matching, ordering and gap filling exercises on various grammatical areas. Slow to run, and very few free exercises.

 

Appropriate level - intermediate and above

Viv's evaluation - 3

 

British Council - Learn English - Audio and Video

A mixture of podcasts and videos accompanied by a glossary and a variety of different comprehension exercises. There are seven sections of between 9 and 12 episodes of two or three minutes duration, which include professional situations, stories, poems and magazine articles. The first episode in each section is free and all the others have to be paid for.

 

Appropriate level - intermediate and above

Viv's evaluation - 5

 

British Council Learn English kids - Videos

An excellent app. with ten short films with subtitles. These films can be used for listening, reading and speaking practice at various levels. 'Dark, dark, night' is good for lower levels; 'My secret team' for intermediate students, and 'Little Red Riding Hood', 'Jack and the beanstalk' and 'Goldilocks and the three bears' at upper-intermediate or above. A fun activity is to watch the short films and then re-tell the stories (or act them out).

 

Appropriate level - Elementary and above

Viv's evaluation - 10

 

British Council - Johnny Grammar word challenge

A vocabulary testing program for levels intermediate and above. This app. worked well for the first four or five times I tested it. Then, whenever I tried to sign in as a guest, the program shutdown.

Problem: When the app. was working, one of the advertisements, which automatically download with the program, informed me that I had a virus on my tablet (I have Norton mobile installed and regularly scan my device). This kind of 'shock' advertising should not be allowed on an app. produced by an organisation of the importance and reputation of the British Council.

 

Appropriate level - Intermediate and above

Viv's evaluation - 2*

*I tried uninstalling the app. and reinstalling it again to see if the problems had been resolved, but they hadn't (resolved temporarily but the shock ad is still there).

 

British Council - Big city, small world

A 'mini soap opera' in four series, each with 10 - 12 episodes. You can hear a podcast involving various nationalities living and working in London, while reading the scipt of what is being said. This app worked well on my tablet and would be an excellent way for students at intermediate level and above to practice their listening.

 

Appropriate level - Intermediate and above

Viv's evaluation - 8

 

British Council - My word book 2

This app. is similar to Viv's Vocabulary Database, with the added advantage that you can record (or ask your teacher to record) the pronunciation of words. The app. comes with 20 to 30 words and meanings at three different levels. The app. will test your level using the advanced level words. Students can add their own words to the app. and share them (Viv hasn't tested this yet). The tests take two forms - play the recorded sound file and write the word, or fill in a gapped context sentence.

Problem: if students record words with the wrong pronunciation the app. will be counterproductive. Additional word lists are sold on-line.

 

Appropriate level - All levels

Viv's evaluation - 8

 

British Council - IELTS Word Power

A nice vocabulary testing app. with multiple choice answers to recorded texts. 

Problem: When Viv used the program there was a problem in the last unit (Science & technology - fields of study - questions 2/4, sound clip 4/4) where the correct answer for the recording ("I study the diagnosis and treatment of various mental emotional and behavioural diseases") doesn't appear in the alternatives ("geology, linguistics, mathematics & genetics"). I've tried to inform the British Council of this error by e-mail, but received no reply. Since writing this I've deleted and downloaded the program again, but the mistake is still there (7th November 2014 and 15th June 2015)

 

Appropriate level - Intermediate +

Viv's evaluation - 5 (low score due to the release of a learning app. with errors).

 

 

The following links are to internet web pages or YouTube videos:

 

BBC Learning English (internet)    YouTube page

COST: FREE

FROM: internet

FORMAT: Flash video (for YouTube video files search for "BBC + the heading in blue below". The YouTube files have the advantage that they can be adjusted to full screen view)

OVERALL EVALUATION: Most activities are very good for students at upper-intermediate or above, pronunciation tips may be interesting to teachers.

 

Problems? The sound volume for YouTube files isn't very high on my tablet, so I plugged in speakers using the headphones socket. Some of the audio files are in Real Audio format (ram), so don't play on the Windows Media Player. To play these files you need a compatible player.

 

Words in the  news (internet)           YouTube page

Words in the news: Vocabulary expansion exercises where students are exposed to the vocab. they will hear in authentic news reports, then they hear the words in context. Duration 5 mins. approx.

 

Appropriate level - intermediate and above

Viv's evaluation - 10

 

The English we speak (podcasts)

Dialogues on a variety of subjects with the script written on screen. Duration 6-10 mins.

 

Appropriate level - advanced +

Viv's evaluation - 6

 

The teacher - idioms (internet)         YouTube page

A crazy teacher presents a variety of English idioms in a humorous way. Idioms include: food idioms (fruit, tea, pie, bean, vegetable & egg), colour idioms (silver, red, blue, gold, white & green), body idioms (foot, arm, leg, eye, head & hair), transport idioms (boat, drive, mile, wheel, road & wagon), Sorts idioms (ice skating, ball idioms, athletics, football & boxing) and animal idioms (bird, horse, pig, insect, fish, cat, dog, monkey & bee)

 

Appropriate level - advanced +

Viv's evaluation - 8

 

News English extra (podcasts)

Short talks about words often found in news broadcasts. Sound files can be downloaded from the site.

 

Appropriate level - advanced +

Viv's evaluation - 8

 

News about Britain (podcasts and texts)

Audio files - Tape script, vocabulary and related links and downloadable classroom activities.

 

Appropriate level - upper-intermediate +

Viv's evaluation - 8

 

Pronunciation tips (internet)            YouTube page

An introduction to the pronunciation of individual sounds in English

 

Appropriate level - proficiency & English teachers

Viv's evaluation - 7

 

Ask about English

Grammatical and lexical questions and answers. Some answers come in the form of a downloaded audio file.

 

Appropriate level - proficiency & English teachers

Viv's evaluation - 10

 

How to..? (podcasts and texts)

Audio explanations, worksheets and expressions used for a variety of functions in English. These include (amongst many others):

 

greeting friends, greeting people in more formal situations, introducing people,  small talk and follow-up conversations, saying goodbye, make suggestions, disagree with people, express uncertainty, talking about things you like, telling a story, asking for and giving directions, describing a process, giving instructions, ask for permission to do something, invite someone in an informal context, make polite invitations, make an appointment, congratulating someone on good news, making a complaint and saying sorry.

 

Appropriate level - advanced + & English teachers

Viv's evaluation - 8

 

Keep your English up-to-date (podcasts and texts)

Professor David Crystal is one of the world's foremost experts on language. He has recorded 26 short talks on some of these words and expressions that have recently made it into the language, if not necessarily into dictionaries. Each unit contains the text of the talk by Professor Crystal. You can also listen to the talk and download the transcript, audio and a lesson plan for teachers. The lesson plan contains teacher's notes, worksheets for students as well as a key to the answers.

 

Appropriate level - proficiency & English teachers

Viv's evaluation - 8

 

Face up to phrasal verbs

Exercises focusing on the form and use of different phrasal verbs in the context of four short stories. Exercises include an audio text in MP3 format and examples of correct and incorrect usage of the verbs in PDF form.

 

Appropriate level - intermediate +

Viv's evaluation - 9

 

Grammar challenge

Questions and answers on English grammar from English teachers and students around the world. Includes downloadable audio and PDF files.

There are also some useful tips for teachers.

 

Appropriate level - various & English teachers

Viv's evaluation - 9

 

Funky phrasals

You can listen to conversations where the phrasal verbs are used, hear extra examples, and you can also get down to some funky music. If you like, you can read the conversation script on the web-page or, if you prefer, download the complete text of the conversation and the examples. And, at the end, you can test your knowledge by trying the quiz. Materials also available in pdf format.

 

Problem: Audio files are not in 'MP3' format (see intro.)

 

Appropriate level - proficiency & English teachers

Viv's evaluation - 5

 

The Flatmates (internet)       YouTube page

 

An on-line sit com with comprehension check questions after a short sketches (3 minutes approx.).

 

Appropriate level - intermediate +

Viv's evaluation - 5

 

This site also has sections for business English and sport, and a blog for English teachers.

 

A final word - all the apps on this page are free, so the idiom "Never look a gift horse in the mouth" should be applied to the problems mentioned with some of these programs!. :-)

 

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