Educational Apps for English Language Learners

Mar 22nd, 2014 | By | Category: In the Classroom, Interest Groups, TELL-IG
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Blair Roy

Blair Roy


—At a dinner party recently, one of the guests asked if it were advisable to add lots of apps to her phone. The answer she received, from another guest who is a software architect, has resonated with me since. His response was, “That device in your hand is a mini mobile computer, which happens to have a phone. By all means, add apps!”

As more of our adult language learners obtain these mini mobile devices—cell phones, tablets, and such—we are able to offer them new options to continue their English language learning outside of the classroom through the use of educational apps. Here are a few free or low-cost apps that you can share with your adult students who want to learn on the go.

A noteworthy free app, American English, is courtesy of the US Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Students have access to audiobooks, ebooks, music, a word game, dictionary, and translation tools. More information can be found at the official website. The app works with nearly any type of mobile phone that runs Java or Android. Even if students do not have a smartphone, they can use this app.

screen shot of OTAN Words4U  artOTAN (Outreach and Technical Assistance Network) has created a free mobile app for vocabulary practice, Words4U. The app is now for iPhone and iPad only and can be downloaded from the iTunes store. An Android version is in the planning stages. The 50 vocabulary words that students study are from an online course designed by OTAN. This app focuses students on the vocabulary they need as they transition into college or careers. The first activity is a word review in which the user can listen to the word and see the definition and a sample sentence. The second activity provides the meaning and then the user chooses the word that matches the definition. The last activity is a Concentration-type game in which users match the word with the correct definition.

There are a number of apps based on the Voice of America website to help English learners keep up-to-date on current events. One app, for beginner to advanced English learners, is ESL Daily English—VOA. This free app is now available only for Android devices and may be downloaded from Google play. Created by ImApp, it is based on the very popular podcast for English learners, VOA Special English Podcast, at The app features description translations and downloads of MP3 files of each podcast episode.

Another free app, created by VOA, and available for both Android and iPhones, is Voice of America’s Mobile Wordbook. Voice of America’s Mobile Wordbook puts American English in the palms of students’ hands with audio definitions, including usage, a sample dialogue, and example sentences allowing users to hear the correct pronunciation. Find the apps by selecting the following options—iTunes or Google Play.

Another set of apps for adult English language learners is the USA Learns series. Each of the four apps is available for both Android and iPhone/iPad for only 99 cents. The apps go along with the popular USA Learns website, which was launched for adults to learn English for free. Because of the huge popularity of the site and the ongoing requests from people who want to learn English on the go, the new USA Learns English apps have been launched.

The popularity of mobile apps is continually growing and presents our adult learners with unprecedented opportunities for learning English anytime anywhere.

Blair Roy is coordinator of the Technology Enhanced Language Learning Interest Group.


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