Top 10 free apps for learning English

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Chances are you are reading this article on a smartphone or a tablet right now. For many of us, mobile devices have grown to become indispensable tools for communicating, connecting, transacting, and more importantly for information-gathering and learning. In fact, recent studies have shown that because tablets afford increased collaboration, greater access to information, and flexibility (allows you to work at your own pace), the device has a positive impact on student performance, engagement, motivation and learning outcomes (8 studies show iPads in the classroom improve education).

Equipped with the right programs or apps, your mobile device can be your most potent partner in English language learning.

“There are actually thousands out there for language learning, offering authentic materials (podcasts, videos, e-books, and textbooks), practical language tasks and learning progress tracking options.”

What are apps?

Short for “application”, an app is a software or computer program that allows you to do a specific task. Strictly speaking, apps encompass all programs that are downloaded/installed and used in computers. However, nowadays, the term is mainly equated with “mobile apps” that run on your smartphone, tablet, or any other mobile device. There are actually thousands out there for language learning, offering authentic materials (podcasts, videos, e-books, and textbooks), practical language tasks and learning progress tracking options. The following were chosen based on the following criteria:

  • Free to download and use with minimum or no in-app purchases
  • Score at least 4 out of 5 stars and have great reviews
  • Available on multiple platforms ( i.e. iOS, Android and /or Windows)

The following apps are also arranged by the skills targeted for improvement and the recommended proficiency levels so that it will be easier for you to identify and choose the most appropriate ones to download depending on your need. You can use them for a variety of activities: self-study activity, pair and group work or extend the learning beyond the classroom walls.

  1. LearnEnglish Podcasts

    Skill: listening and reading
    Level: elementary
    Supporting platforms: iOS and Android
    Available on Google Play, iTunes

    This was developed by Learn English/British Council, a world-renowned English as a Second Language (ESL) resource provider. It offers more than 20 hours of audio materials on a wide range of everyday topics. Each conversation has a script and a comprehension quiz after each episode so you can listen to the podcast, read along, and then evaluate what you’ve learned. You can also download any of the episodes onto your mobile device for listening offline. For other free apps for English training, go to the British Council- Learn English site.

  2. TED from TED Conferences LLC

    Skill: Listening
    Level: intermediate to advanced
    Supporting platforms: iOS and Android
    Available on Google Play, iTunes

    You can access the entire library of TED Talks and choose subtitles available in more than 90 languages through this app. You can even create your own playlists and sort the videos by date, topic and popularity. Never watched a TED talk before? Here is an example (Jay Walker, “The world’s English mania”):

  3. Learn to Speak English

    Skill: Speaking
    Level: all
    Supporting platforms: iOS and Android
    Available on Google Play, iTunes

    This app allows you to use over 900 lessons and 8,000 audio files to improve your fluency. Most of the sentences in the lessons are supplemented by audio recordings, so you can click on them to listen to the pronunciation and intonation. You can even record yourself reading the sentences and compare them with the original. All lessons are arranged in categories (such as Regular English, Business English, Interview English, Travel English etc.) and built around real-life topics and situations making it appropriate for different age groups and levels.

  4. Phrasalstein – phrasal verbs (by Cambridge Learning, Cambridge University Press)

    Skill: Vocabulary
    Level: intermediate
    Supporting platforms: iOS and Android
    Available from Amazon.ca

    As the fun app boldly claims, it will help you “lose your fear of the horrifying phrasal verbs once and for all”. Phrasalstein uses the classic horror movie theme and contains 100 commonly used phrasal verbs illustrated with humorous animations. Each phrasal verb has a definition (a well-known meaning), translation into a chosen language (English, Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, German, and Russian), example sentence, and other meanings, if any. After studying the verbs, you can take a quiz to check what you have learned.

  5. Quizlet

    Skill: Vocabulary
    Level: all
    Supporting platforms: iOS and Android, see quizlet.com.

    Increase your arsenal of English words through this app. For this, you expand your vocabulary through flashcards and other types of game modes which you can do anywhere, anytime.

  6. Learn English 6,000 Words

    Skill: Vocabulary
    Level: beginner, intermediate
    Supporting platforms: iOS and Android
    Available on Google Play, iTunes

    This app contains 6,000 words arranged in 15 themes and 140 subtopics supplemented with images, phonetic transcriptions and audio. You can choose a topic, the difficulty level, game modes (e.g. writing game, matching game etc.), and then review the words you’ve studied. A great feature is that you can select your preferred interface language from 59 pre-programmed languages.

  7.  
    The next ones are IPad Apps suggested by Stephanie Stetefeld, LINC Coordinator at Mosaic Newcomer Family Resource Network (Winnipeg). Unfortunately, these apps are available only for iOS. However, you can find similar apps for Android devices.

  8. ABC Reading Magic 2

    This app focuses on practicing consonant blends to improve reading skills. Available on iTunes.

  9. ABC Spelling Magic

    In this app, you will learn the sounds of the letters and practise word-building. Available on iTunes.
    Spelling Magic-2 – iTunes

  10. ABC Alphabet Phonics

    You will learn the alphabet “by sight, sound, and touch”. Available on iTunes.

Adapted from 10 Free top-rated apps for learning ESL by Natalia Aleko for Tutela.ca.

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Community Resources

Additional suggestions for mobile learning:
How Do You Say That? The 10 Coolest Pronunciation Tools for ESL Students
10 Great Ipad Apps for Learning English
Mobile Learning: Improve Your English Anytime, Anywhere
English Online’s Self Study resources

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Quiz

Top free apps for learning English

Select the best definition for each word as used in the article above.

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