Mobile Assisted Language Learning - English TeachingApps (1)

This is the first in a series of posts on MALL (mobile assisted language learning) apps currently available via GooglePlay.

The infographic was created as one of the appendices for a recent assignment on my MA in Educational Technology & TESOL and shows a general overview of Android Apps for English language learning.  The second post in this series will feature the top 7 and also explain why they're definitely worth recommending to students and the third will highlight some of the design and pedagogical problems in other apps.

(view infographic in higher quality here)

To see this infographic full-sized/better quality, please click: here

Despite all the hype surrounding the use of mobile language learning apps (dominating the discussions at many global ELT conferences these days) in a recent study by Busuu and the I.E. Business School, they disclose that only 2% of the global language learners they polled currently consider mlearning as an efficient way to study.  In part it may only be because we're simply at the start of a trend, but it is also possible that this is due to the fact that a great deal of the apps produced today for "anytime, anywhere" learning (Geddes, 2004 cited in Kukulska-Hulme & Shield, 2008) aren't actually pedagogically sound, aren't convenient to use and aren't well designed. 

What do you think?

Is the problem the cost?
Is the problem size?
Is the problem usability?

Is it something else?

Let me/us know your thoughts!

20 Responses to “Mobile Assisted Language Learning - English TeachingApps (1)”

  • Johanna Stirling says:
    May 25, 2012

    Thank you, Karenne. This is SO interesting. And really clearly presented too. Did you find any good spelling ones? Or is the world waiting for mine? ;-) (Hope the world is patient if so).

    May 25, 2012

    No, Johanna - I didn't find any real spelling apps, other than Hangman x 2 - and by the way, I looked. So you really need to get on the case ASAP because there is

    1) a real need for this
    2) your spelling games are seriously good activities and seriously convertible to an mlearning environment...

    Hit me up if you want advice, especially on what not to do :)

  • Shelley says:
    May 25, 2012

    Interesting. I think people need people--teachers--to learn English.

    An app might work to do repetitive grammar exercises (always good), but I doubt students would have the self-discipline to use it!

    May 25, 2012

    True, Shelley. I see the function of apps as hopefully replacing some of the "drone" type tasks in the classroom, which can be done at home/at leisure leaving the classroom to be more communicative... at the moment, yes, discipline to use is no doubt an issue!

    Hi again, Johanna - I just remembered the British Council Johnny Grammar has also got a section on spelling.

  • John says:
    May 26, 2012

    Nice graphs....Are "interesting" and "fun" two separate criteria for you?

    I'm looking forward to your top 7. btw The spaced repetition multi-media flashcards program ankidroid is easily top of my chart.

    May 26, 2012

    Thanks, John - on first look Ankidroid looks like a good tool for students to use by themselves, will have a deeper look later on.

    Re fun/interesting - that was a very difficult one for me to decide upon, and in the end the key for me was really about engagement and how that can be broken down into "easy" and "serious" yet both or either provide enjoyable experiences - so the best, of course, is the apps that combine both fun and interesting content!

    The "best of" post, coming on Wed/Thur 31-05-12 :)

  • Mura says:
    May 27, 2012

    great survey and look forward to best of post.

    a big issue is awareness of what is out there so is great to see you focusing on android programs

    and even more of a question is how to use mobile learning strategically


  • abracadabra says:
    May 28, 2012


    Great post and I've been following this space closely too. We have some apps at EnglishCentral and are working towards a full recording of a video on mobile (because phones have such great mics). I'll work on sending you something to test drive.

    I agree - spelling apps are needed!

    May 28, 2012

    Hi Abracadra, sounds really good, with the amazing speech recognition software that you have on the website, I bet you'll be able to put something fabulous together and drive the market forward in terms of delivering a motivating-to-use app.

    Will be very happy to test-drive, do contact me via email (on the sidebar or find me through twitter!).

    In the meantime, take a look at the video functionality of "Speaking Pal," that app has some quite impressive features along that vein.

    Take care,K

    May 28, 2012

    Thanks Mura, YES - a lot of the focus seems to be on iPhone Apps but the reality is that Apple is no longer the leading manufacturer of Smartphones but is instead Samsung, who use Android obviously.

    Another thing is that I found that most of the reviews about apps for language learning were either about non-teaching oriented tools that you could get your students using or worst, they were written by the product producers themselves (or people who work for product producers) and thus aren't at all unbiased...

    Although, I too have worked for a language learning app producer, as a consultant, I took great pains to present this information (and the next couple of posts) strictly in terms of pedagogical merit.

  • Manoranjan Dhaliwal says:
    June 14, 2012

    Hey Karenne. This is a very informative post. Though I have a fun take on this, yet I don’t think that MALL is ever going to be used for learning a language seriously or going to be an effective tool. I have been thinking of the application of such applications for sometime now. MALL – the acronym becomes a noun , or two different nouns. The first Mall is the shopping mall and the second Mall is a kind of a promenade. Both are places for leisurely activity.MALL is going to be used more for leisurely activities while travelling or waiting .
    People have begun to have really short attention spans. To learn a language it is important to have a certain discipline which will give learning an impetus. The classroom offers that discipline and impetus and it also offers a little sense
    of competition in that space which can be productive in learning. So, am not sure if MALL is going to be really effective.
    I do look forward to your views.

  • Shaunie says:
    June 21, 2012

    Hi Karenne. Thank you for choosing SpeakingPal in your list. Our team indeed worked very hard on the mobile design. Your blog was very informative and interesting. Keep up the good work!

  • Julie says:
    July 23, 2012

    Like any of these apps or new technologies regarding language training, the original software versions start out bland and lacking. However, it always seems like subsequent versions always make the improvements to fill in the holes. I think you have to embrace technology even if it has shortcomings today.

  • Phil L. says:
    August 15, 2012

    I wonder how they determine something like "inappropriate gaming mechanics." If it helps teach you correctly, does it matter how?

    August 16, 2012

    Hi Phil,

    Sorry for the delay in responding - I recently moved house and still(!!!) don't have the internet at home so responses and posts are sporadic.

    Anyway, that's a great question and I'm really glad you asked it.

    Inappropriate gaming mechanics refers to when a company, publisher or app provider add in elements that are commonly found in games, such timed answers (beat the clock), badges, points that instead of helping or motivating the learners, distract them for their goal or learning objective.

    An example might be something like: "you have 30 seconds to spell this word" - if the word is easy, then this probably won't be a problem, if the word is complicated though, the learner will focus on the fact they have less and less time to spell the word and will "guess" randomly to get this question over and done with and move on to the next, rather than to take the time to think through how the word is spelt based on logic or their experience of other such words...

    Additionally, in some cases, getting students to become focused on achieving badges can set up a similar scenario of shallow processing of the content, and ultimately when the badges aren't won (or even if they are won to easily) it may wind up creating demotivation towards the material.

    Like all things, I guess, you got to know when the gamification serves a purpose or when it's just there for "coolness"....

    Hope that helps,

  • Zdenek Rotrekl says:
    August 25, 2012

    Thank you for this article. I have my doubts about M learning. First, it is given by the nature of students using mobiles. They want to have fun everywhere and let’s be honest learning is not that much fun. Second, to learn you have to repeat. When you browse you want to find new things not to repeat the old ones.
    Third, M-learning is a good business for mobile providers. The picture looks very much like one constructed by them (really professional.) You cannot control the amount of data your mobile downloads and the providers profit.
    Thank you so much for this article.

  • Vicki Hollett says:
    September 18, 2012

    Great post and really interesting research. Looking forward to the next two posts on this.
    When are you going to get internet again?

    September 18, 2012

    Good to hear from you Vicki! Am back online, but working intensively doing summer school and figured most of my readers in turn were off on their summer vacations so it'd best to wait 'til the school year began and I've more free time too :)

  • MuhaiminAbd says:
    March 25, 2013

    I think it will be nice to be used... Very informative, I think, it is very effective. By using smartphone in learning, there's no limit to learn...

  • Teacher Fiona says:
    October 11, 2013

    Hi, Karenne! Mobile learning is really the in thing. Because of its portability, learners can learn anywhere, anytime. Hopefully there will be more spelling apps. There are a lot of bad apps and we need more useful language learning apps.


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