My top 5: tools to teach yourself

There are many reasons why you might not have a language teacher at the moment. Maybe there aren’t any in your area. Maybe you can’t afford one. Or perhaps your class ended two hours ago but you just want a little more practice (side note: I love your enthusiasm!). Here are five tools I’ve been using recently to supplement my own language learning. Have a go yourself or, if you’re a teacher, why not get your students to try them out?

1. Writefull

This nifty little app provides feedback on your writing skills by comparing your text to text in an online database. Genius! The app works in 36 languages (although coverage of each language varies).

Use it to check small chunks of language for authenticity as you write. Ideal for advanced learners who want to check their adjective-noun pairings.

Don’t expect it to explain anything. The app will tell you that your ‘I expect seeing’ should be ‘I expect to see’, but it won’t tell you why. No substitute for a real teacher, then…!

2. Memrise

Fast becoming my favourite vocabulary-learning app (although not without many reservations). Use it to learn dozens of languages at various levels, on your smartphone or in a web browser.

Use it to broaden your vocabulary when you’re on the bus into work.

Don’t expect it to teach you words in context, or necessarily in a useful vocabulary set. But hey! at least the majority of the phrases I’ve come across are useful, unlike some other language-learning apps out there…

3. Any language exchange website.

There are loads out there: Livemocha, My Language Exchange and italki all offer you the opportunity to find a language exchange partner and develop your speaking or writing skills. If you feel so inclined, you can also use a lot of language exchange websites to find a paid language tutor (although I haven’t tried this yet).

Use it to meet people who speak your target language, and learn a bit more about the culture of countries where that language is spoken.

Don’t expect it to provide you with perfect feedback on your language every step of the way. Just because someone speaks the language fluently, doesn’t mean that they can teach it!

4. Free Rice.

A website run by the World Food Programme that allows you to brush up your languages while donating rice to people who need it. Set up a free account and answer questions on a variety of subjects, including English Grammar and English Vocabulary. Questions are available at different levels.

Use it to get a little extra practice while doing something good. You can even set up a group of users; get your friends (or class!) involved and encourage some healthy competition…

Don’t expect it to match your learning objectives. Vocabulary is divided into levels, rather than sets, and you can’t choose which words you practise.

5. Super Flashcards.

I’ve been using this Android app on my phone for a couple of years to replace my old handwritten flashcards. It works well, is simple to use, and the content creation is down to you!

Use it to revise useful vocabulary from a reading text, a lesson, or a course book. If you know exactly what you want to practise, it’s a great tool.

Don’t expect it to provide you with sophisticated stats. It’s good, but it’s no Memrise.

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