There are thousands of educational mobile apps available for English language learners, allowing learners to practice outside of the classroom in ways that can greatly enhance learning and motivation.
Because cost is a critical concern in most schools and for most teachers and parents, this article focuses mostly on free apps. When searching the app store, be aware of words such as “Lite” or “Free” or “In-App Purchases” in fine print underneath the download button. It can be very frustrating to find an excellent alphabet app, for instance, only to find that it only goes up to letter D before it locks and prompts you to purchase the full version. You may want to spend the money if the app is for one or two students, but when apps are purchased they are only licensed to a single device, so it may not be feasible for a class of 30 students.
The use of pictures, photos, drawings, diagrams, video, and actual objects facilitates language instruction because they strongly increase comprehensibility. For example, if a student is simply presented the word “карандаш” (krandash), no actual learning can take place because it means nothing to the learner. However, if the student is presented with a picture of a pencil attached to the new word, it becomes comprehensible.
When searching for effective apps for language learners, it’s important to keep the concept of comprehensible input and interactivity in mind. The app, Learn English with Johnny Grammar’s Word Challenge may be an entertaining game for more advanced learners, but is unlikely to be effective or engaging for learners at lower levels of language proficiency because there are no graphics or audio — just words and cloze sentences.
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Bitsboard, in contrast, has beautiful photos with vocabulary words in different categories, and it allows students to record their voices. It contains games such as Memory and Bingo, and many others. The free version of Bitsboard contains five categories: action words, emotions, exotic animals, famous places, and first sentences. Although the free version includes only five categories, new custom categories can be created easily, with the ability to add photos, drawings, text, and sound recording. Bitsboard Pro costs $19.99 and includes all premium content, as well as teaching tools such as unlimited students, data tracking, and the ability to search for images. Bitsboard Pro was chosen the best educational learning game and flashcards app in 2016 by Teachers With Apps.
Next page: Free language apps for all ages
Preschool through 3rd Grade
Starfall.com is a wonderful website for preschool through 3rd grade English language learners, as well as young native English language speakers. The free Starfall ABC app replicates just the ABC part of its website and includes graphic and audio elements, and is interactive and fun.
Keba! English for Kids (ESL) is a free app with three categories of lessons: animals, children, and fruits and vegetables. In each of these categories there are several subcategories of lessons that integrate audio, animation, and photos, making the app engaging and comprehensible for young learners.
3nd through 6th grade
Duolingo is a free language learning app that integrates speaking, listening, reading, and writing and contains photos and audio to ensure that content is comprehensible. Content is cumulative, with lessons becoming increasingly advanced as learners progress at their own pace. Duolingo now allows teachers to create class accounts, assignments, and motivating challenges.
Brainpop ESL is another program that was originally limited to a website but now offers a mobile app. This app is included in this article, although its free content is limited, because of the high quality of the content and the popularity Brainpop has with elementary and middle school students. Also, the free version of the app and website include 18 engaging lessons that include video, “hear it and say it,” vocabulary words, flash cards, a grammar lesson, and a quiz.
There are too many apps to review in one article, and more being created daily. There are resources, however, for finding apps for language learners that have been recommended by other educators or language learners. The bookmarking website, Symbaloo, allows users to create custom webmixes or search for others’ webmixes related to particular content. For example, here is a webmix for newcomer English language learners and teachers. Apps and internet resources for English language learners and other second language learners can also be discovered on Pinterest. Simply searching with the keyword “ELL” on Pinterest will result in thousands of boards and pins related to English as a second language, such as this one.
As with mobile apps, there are many websites for English language learners and their teachers. One of them, Dave’s ESL Cafe has been a popular source of information, idea sharing, lessons, quizzes, games, and links to other ESL websites since 1995. This is another rich source of high quality apps for English language learners that have been vetted and reviewed by educators. Happy hunting!