English practise with apps
In the last few weeks I have been testing out language learning apps. In June and July I downloaded Memrise, Reverso Context and the British Council’s Learn English Grammar app.
All three are very different. Learn English Grammar from the British Council is a grammar trainer. Memrise is a memory training app based on flashcards and more. Google Play named it best App in 2017 and that is why I checked it out. Reverso Context is a translation dictionary with example sentences to show how the word is used – that’s context! And I’ll admit it, I decided to test it after reading this extremely positive review.
|Memrise||Learn English Grammar||Reverso Context|
|Learning method||Flash cards, translation||Multiple choice exercises||Dictionary and translator|
|Cost||Free and paid versions||69 cents per course||Free or annual subscription|
|Can you customise the course?||Yes||No||N/A|
|Course Creators||Memrise & volunteers||British Council||N/A|
Can you Memrise it?
Being a memory training app, Memrise helps you complete the sometimes boring but essential task of repeating something until you have memorised it and can recall the right word at the right time. The app sends practise reminder messages, tracks how quickly you hit the right (or wrong) answer, varies how many times you see a word in a session and records your progress. The paid version includes access to a chatbot, which is a computer program which responds to the questions and sentences that you type.
Memrise and the community members have created a number of English language courses for the platform. For me this is the big difference between Memrise and actual language course apps like Babbel or the British Council’s Learn English Grammar app. Babbel and the British Council develop the course content offered via the app, while on the Memrise app, anyone can submit a course.
Sure, some Memrise community members are knowledgable about the language and ensure that word spellings and definitions are correct, and they do this for free. Other community members have posted courses containing mistakes and have not updated or corrected them. So before you choose a course to follow, check the name of the course creator and search the community forums to see what other users say.
For this reason, I only tried out the Englisch (UK) 1-7 courses created by Memrise.
The learning format for the courses include multiple choice questions, translation of the word or phrase being learnt, listening to correct pronunciation and typing the words and sentences being learnt. Memrise’s customer service team say they are building and testing a pronunciation mode for the app and it should be ready by the end of August 2017. Other apps like Duolingo and Babbel already have a feature which rates your pronunciation of words or phrases.
The British Council is like Germany’s Goethe Institute or Spain’s Instituto Cervantes and promotes the english language and British culture around the world. The courses have a mini fee of 69 cents, a tiny amount for German students, but it means an affordable english course for learners outside Europe.
The lessons are arranged by grammar theme, but the app does not have the practise reminders and tracking features included with Duolingo. Babbel and Memrise. Most exercises involve reading and matching the correct answer, but there are no speaking or listening exercises either. On the other hand course content has been checked for mistakes.
Like the team at Babbel, the customer service team for this app were very fast and helpful.
In both cases I got an answer to my emails and that person solved my problems within 24 hours. As a comparison, Memrise took around 2 days to respond.
Double check the context
The last app I tested was Reverso Context, a translation dictionary, a reference book and database of already translated texts. The most useful feature I found were the verb conjugation tables, listing the present, past, future and conditional tenses for many english verbs. But to be honest, there are plenty of other websites which offer this.
The translator tool looked so promising, but it is really a work in progress.
The company is pretty clear about how it created the content available on the app. The translations in their gigantic database come from “previously translated texts, dialogues, official documents and multilingual websites…” The idea behind a “contextual” dictionary is that you can see the meaning of a word and read sample sentences including that word to understand the context in which this word is used. In the company’s words some of the translations and example phrases are “inappropriate”. They say they are trying to fix it, but it sounds like a big job.
So if you still can’t decide which app to download, test a few. Even the apps with a price tag offer free taster courses. And if you live in Berlin want to learn or improve your english with a human, check out the bespoke courses we offer, here.