Review: British Council apps for learning English

Students often ask me if I know any good websites and apps for learning English. There are a fair few websites I recommend, and this list is always growing (note: the latest edition is TubeQuizard). Apps though? Er…

Feeling ignorant, and especially ignorant when it comes to the British Council’s own products, I’ve spent this week downloading our apps and testing them out. Honestly, some are great. Some are a bit limited or a bit outdated, but I’ve certainly found some gems. Here’s my take on the best and the rest.

Disclaimer: all views are my own. All screen shots from my phone are (I guess) copyright British Council.

The young learner apps from the British Council are by far the most engaging, as you might expect!

Learning Time with Timmy

Cost: £2.99, or £6.99 for Timmy 1, 2 and 3

This is a really fun app for very young learners. Timmy the Sheep guides learners through three different games to help them learn basic vocabulary (transport, objects, animals, etc) and numbers. With each complete level they unlock a sticker or a short video clip.

This is the ‘put stuff in a box’ game. There’s also a ‘pop the balloon’ one and a ‘find something in the mud/under the leaves’ one! Overall, loads of swiping, pressing, dragging, etc. Very interactive, as you’d expect for VYLs. Also it’s visually great. My favourite feature is the sticker boards. You can decorate various scenes with the stickers you win.

The app in a few words: Well worth the money

LearnEnglish Kids: Playtime

Cost: £2.99 for a month, £10.49 for six months

Playtime offers instant access to many of the videos you can find on the LearnEnglish site. It offers various games based on these videos – testing understanding, spelling and speaking skills. There are five fairy tale videos available as a free trial.

The best feature of the app are the parents section, allowing parents to view their child’s progress. I also like the recording feature. You can record your own voice repeating the vocabulary.

If you pay for the app then all the videos are available offline. The ‘world’ of activities is pretty vast and ever expanding, it looks pretty good value for money for a 6 month period.

The app in a few words: definitely engaging. Great for listening too.

 

The podcast and video range is pretty good overall…

LearnEnglish Podcasts

Cost: Free

If you’re looking for some extended listening activities then this podcast range is pretty good. There are four series of podcasts available for download – a total of about 60 episodes that can last as long as half an hour. Most include a few regular characters chatting about everyday topics, but there are also some Professional podcasts focusing more on business situations. Each podcast comes with some comprehension questions and the scripts are downloadable. I can see these used well as a homework tool, it just depends whether a topic would be engaging for my learners (suitable for adults mainly).

The app in a few words: Great listening practice, fairly authentic.

Audio and Video

Cost: $1.99 – $2.99 per series

This app offers various podcasts and videos. They cover a wide range of topics, from ‘How to…’ videos, podcasts about life in the UK and poems, to name a few. Each series allows for one free trial download and then the option to pay a small fee for the rest of the episodes.

The free episodes available are pretty engaging and full of natural language (see ‘Letting you go’ from the You’re Hired series for a good example). There is no obligation to buy a whole series so a download for the free episodes is worth it. The exercises with each podcast/video are the same style to those in the Podcast app (see screenshot above).

The app in a few words: worth exploring

GREAT videos

Cost: Free

The ‘Britain is GREAT’ video series are available for download via this app. If you haven’t come across these online then they are basically promo videos for the UK, and the perfect app to share with students who are looking to study in the UK at some point. As with the Audio and Video and Podcast apps, each video comes with basic comprehension questions, but these videos are visually much better.

These videos don’t really suit my context at the moment, but this could be a pretty good app for those at summer schools or language schools in the UK.

The app in a few words: Great but maybe limited context

 

The grammar and vocabulary apps for adults are alright, but some are due an upgrade…

Learn English with Johnny Grammar

Cost: Free

This is a fairly basic app but it’s good for consolidating grammar and vocabulary for common topics. It would be mostly suited to teens and adults. The activities for grammar, vocab and spelling are all multiple choice. There are ways the app could be improved – they don’t really exploit the character Johnny Grammar, the feedback is merely ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (some explanation could be added), and unless you sign in and post scores on the leader board then the game-based element is a bit limited. Still, for basic practice it’s worth the download.

The app in a few words: Limited but free

LearnEnglish Grammar

Cost: £1.99 per level

I saw Neil Jarrett (edtech4beginners) recommended this as a free grammar app recently. Actually, it only has a few trial questions per level, then you have to pay a bit to access the rest. It looks a bit better than Johnny Grammar but the activities are much the same. You have the luxury of a free trial so you can test it out. I think both these grammar apps could make more of the points or game-based elements.

IELTS Word Power

Cost: Free

This is a vocabulary building/review app for IELTS. I don’t know how old it is now but it could do with an update. It’s a tad fiddly. Still, it offers a way to revise topic based vocabulary for the IELTS exam. Most activities are either gap fills or multiple choice for selecting the correct word or phrase.

The app in a few words: might help some

Sports World

Cost: Free

This was made in 2012 for the London Olympics. It only focuses on Sport so the topic is limited. Despite its age, I’ve found this a pretty fun app to use. You scroll around a sporting scene and click on various athletes, equipment, etc. You type in the word hangman style, and you get points for right answers and the occasional sporting fact. You can also collect hidden gold medals (giving you things like extra lives). Suitable for young learners/teens. I assume it’s much better on an i-Pad.

The app in a few words: Still quite fun

 

Other British Council apps

IELTS 1001 ways

This is a game where you upload a video of yourself saying a phrase ‘there are 1001 ways to learn English’. Other users of the app guess where you’re from based on your accent. I only did the trial version.

Sounds Right

Apparently there is a pronunciation app from the British Council. Maybe this is just for i-Pads – I can’t find it on the App Store.

It’s been really useful getting to know these apps better. I’ll certainly share some of them with my learners and colleagues. Do you use any of these apps? Do you have a favourite? Can you recommend any other apps I can share with my learners? Cheers!

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12 comments

  1. Hi Peter,
    Thank you for making this page.
    I downloaded all of the apps and I plan to try them now.
    I would like an app which can help me to understand more about grammar because my class at British Council didn’t teach me much about grammar.

    Like

    1. Hey Winnie. Have you told your teachers that you want more grammar practice? Maybe they will suggest a few resources to help. I’m currently downloading a range of grammar apps to trial, but most of them have short trials and then cost a bit. There is an app version of a popular grammar book called ‘English Grammar in Use’ by Raymond Murphy. The app is not cheap (£16.99) but is it pretty comprehensive. It has clear explanations and practice exercises. Maybe you could download the trial version of it and see if it’s useful? Let me know how it goes. Cheers!

      Like

    1. 1001 ways did look interesting. It’s good to raise awareness of different English accents. Do you know of any other apps specifically for helping with IELTS?

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  2. Hi Peter,
    Great article. It would be really good if there was a British Council app which followed the content taught in MyClass. It could present the key vocabulary for each lesson that students could study before hand and present a few key grammar points.
    I liked Johnny Grammar and totally agree with your point. They could also add Vinny Vocab and Peter Pronounce with fun exercises for in each of those areas.
    Cheers

    Like

    1. Hi Dave. I totally agree, myClass needs an app with it. With grammar and vocabulary focus, plus some videos demonstrating the functional language taught in a myClass lesson. There are some accompanying activities online for the myClass lessons but they’re not mobile phone friendly.
      According to Sandy Millin (see comments) the Sounds Right pronunciation app is available on an iPad, so you if you have one you could look into this. I like the sound of a Pete Pronounce app, but guess I would!
      Have you come across any other good apps for learning languages?

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  3. Hi Pete,
    Sounds Right is available on iPad, and works fine from what I remember, but I think the Macmillan Sounds and English File ones are more useful for students (that it’s been a couple of years since I played with any of them!)
    Cambridge have a couple of fun apps called Phrasal Verbs Machine which I sometimes recommend. Memrise and Quizlet are always great too, as long as students know how to find sets. For Quizlet they could start with my guide: https://independentenglish.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/quizlet/
    Thanks for summarising the rest of these apps – there were a few I hadn’t seen before.
    Sandy

    Like

    1. Cheers for ideas Sandy. I have Memrise already but haven’t used it as didn’t realize it didn’t have Thai on it. Just downloaded a trial of the Macmillan sounds app, looks ok but probs need the full version to get a better feel of it. I’ll look into the Cambridge apps today too.

      Like

  4. This post would come in really useful for the Focus on the Learner CELTA assignment. Trainees have to suggest self-access materials for specific problems identified in their learners’ language.

    Liked by 1 person

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