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Three free apps for learning English



There seems to be so many apps that are coming available for learning English. I don’t actually use any in class, but I often get asked by my learners for recommendations so they can do some self-study. I have therefore been doing a little research and paired this down to three free apps that seem to serve a different purpose and therefore complement each other. I hope you find them useful and it saves you searching the Internet when you get asked by students for apps to help them improve their English!



The first I came across was called Memrise. As the name suggests, this app is designed for learners who are looking to memorize vocabulary. What it tries to do is help the learner remember words and definitions in creative and humorous ways. There are everyday words and phrases available and these are reinforced with quizzes and images. First, the learner needs to select the language they want to learn and then choose their level. On the downside, after this they will need to register through Facebook or email. Obviously, I would prefer it if there was no registration, but the app is free and seems like a great tool for building vocabulary.



In a post about free language learning sites I couldn’t really ignore Duolingo. There are about 120 million registered users around the world and the app is available on iOS, Android and Windows 8 and 10 platforms. At the time of writing this, there were courses in 21 different languages available. Here is what the creators say: “We created Duolingo so that everyone could have a chance. Free language education – no hidden fees, no premium content, just free.”


Lessons are topic based and learners can build up their vocabulary on a range of topics. There are exercises they can do in each lesson that might involve matching words to pictures, translating words and phrases, or repeating words or phrases. I haven’t tried using this as a teacher yet, but as it grows and develops, I am pretty sure I will look into how to incorporate this into courses.


Learn English Grammar

This is an app by the British Council and is one that is relatively new to me. You’ll need to go to the Educational App Store and create an account to use this, but it really looks worth exploring. Again, as the name suggests, it is an app designed to help learners improve their grammar. It covers 25 grammar topics with each level containing over 600 grammar activities. It also has four levels from beginner to advanced. There is a British and American English version for spelling and pronunciation too. The app is also available in English, Japanese and Spanish. According to their site, the app has more than 1,000,000 downloads and was ranked number 1 in the iTunes Education category in 9 countries and also ranks in the top ten in over 40 countries.


There are certainly many more apps available and I would love to hear your thoughts on these three and any others that you have come across or recommended to your learners. I would also be interested to hear from teachers who are incorporating apps into their classes or are using them as homework or out of class study. As always, please feel free to leave a message in the comments box. Thanks!

Neil Millington

Neil Millington

Neil Millington has taught English as a foreign language in Japan for over 12 years. He has taught a wide range of age levels from pre-kindergarten students to adults. He is currently teaching at the tertiary level. He earned his BA at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England and his MA in TESOL at Lancaster University, England. Currently, Neil is working on his PhD in language learning motivation also at Lancaster University. Neil is also the co-founder of, an English reading website with hundreds of free lessons for teachers and learners.
Neil Millington

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4 Responses to Three free apps for learning English

  1. Hi Neil,

    Interesting post on these apps – I have a few comments and an app suggestion of my own.

    Duolingo is clearly a well-established and well-funded app, so it’s very polished. It also now has a teacher dashboard setup (as does Memrise) so that it can be used with classes, but I haven’t actually tried that out. I’ve tried out both Duolingo and Memrise for other languages – for the sequences of exercises feel very choppy, going from multiple choice to fill-in-the blank, and switching from L2-L1 and the L1-L2. I guess this is deliberate (known as ‘interleaving’ which is supposedly good for strengthening memory), but to me I feel like I don’t have the chance to gain familiarity with a pattern & hypothesize and apply what I have learned. Duolingo is strongly sequenced, which is great for new learners but perhaps annoying for false beginners who might prefer to choose what areas to study.

    I’d like to introduce an iPhone/Android app I’ve developed called PhraseBot, which can be used to practice words and phrases. As a university language teacher in Japan, I often see students with a very large gap between their receptive and productive ability, so it was my goal with this app to have it develop more active knowledge.

    One unique aspect of this app is the input method. Rather than usual multiple-choice or typed input, with PhraseBot the user connects tiles to form the answer (see links below to see pics of the layout).

    The tiles can show a complete word or just the first/last letters of the word (e.g. ‘w..d’). The latter mode means that the user must have a productive knowledge of the word/phrase/sentence in order to answer. This contrasts with the usual multiple choice or ‘sentence scramble’ format used by Duolingo etc which shows all the component words, therefore only requiring recognition-level familiarity to answer. There are various modes such as timed/untimed, audio and picture cues, which can be used in numerous combinations for different kinds of practice with a different focus and difficulty level.

    The app has several default sets in it for phrasal verbs, collocations and academic word list (all with solid pedagogical example sentences and Japanese translation) and TOEIC Bridge vocabulary (N.B. these are shown as needing an IAP to unlock, but the price is ¥0).

    Although it doesn’t contain sentences, the app can import sets from Quizlet, and there are curated sets of high school grammar J-E sentences here:

    The app shows a cumulative score on the top screen, so to set it as homework I require students to get 1000 pts per week (~30 mins) and have them send me a screenshot with class, name and points written in the subject line. I have my inbox rules sort these in a folder, so I can easily see everyones progress at a glance. It’s not an LMS, but it’s a hack that’s been working well.

    The app has many more features which you can check out for yourself here (it’s free!) if interested:

    Download from iTunes app store here:

    Android version from GPlay here:

    My apologies if this seems to be a promotional post – but the app is free, and many students from my university are finding it very useful and enjoying using it. I’d love to hear feedback from anyone who tries it out.



  2. Hi

    Separate post here with a few other apps I’ve used with classes:

    PuppetEDU – Great free iPhone app for easily making narrated slideshows. (No Android unfortunately, I have those students do a narrated Powerpoint)

    TOEIC Upgrader – free Android/iPhone TOEIC Listening quiz app from ETS with lots of content. Has transcript, quiz, Japanese advice and glossary. To set it as homework, I’m having students send me screenshots of the completed quiz page of three listenings per week.

    Quizlet – Great solid free flashcard app, now with Japanese interface. Teachers can set up classes – try out the LIVE quiz game, kids love it and can play from their phone in a normal classroom.



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