Skip to content

Apps for EAL (English as a additional language) students

Posted in Classroom, EAL apps, iPads and Apps, Reading apps, and Speaking and Listening Apps

Today’s post has been written by the wonderful Amber McLeod. The provocation for this post came from a student who asked me what apps I would recommend for EAL learners. I promised her I would write a blog post on the topic. I approached Amber to write this post as she conducts research in this area, and has a vast knowledge of websites and apps which would beneficial. I would personally like to thank Amber for her work in putting this post together. I am sure that you will all find it worthwhile. Enough from me, over to Amber………

When considering which apps you might use with English as an additional language (EAL) learners there are three questions you have to ask yourself.  First, and most obviously, is this app the right English level for the student; second, is this app aimed at the right age level for the student (you cannot give a 16 year old student a book aimed at a 6 year old even if their English literacy is low!); and finally, what is this student’s cultural background.

This third point may seem a strange one but there are many things to consider here.  Initially you would need to find out whether the child is literate in their own language and whether their literacy skills can be migrated to English.  It is also crucial to understand the circumstances of the student’s arrival.  If the family has had a traumatic journey and arrived as a refugee, then your expectations of the student will be very different than those for economic migrants for example.  Then you would need to know what exposure the child has had to ICT and this will vary wildly depending on where they are from.  You would not expect a 10 year old girl from Afghanistan to have the same ICT skills as a 10 year old girl from China. An important question you need answered is what their cultural attitudes to ICT are.  If the student’s parents regard using ICT as ‘play’ rather than educational then you might approach things in a different way.  In addition, in some cultures computers, the internet and even mobile phones are viewed with suspicion, not considered appropriate for women and children, and in some cases associated with pornography.  I have had newly arrived adult students who refused to use computers because, they told me, “We are good boys.”  I am not sure what they thought was going to happen in our class!  On the other hand, there is an equal chance that the students will have excellent ICT skills and may even know more than the other students in class.  You might like to ask the students themselves which apps are good for learning English!

EAL students should be encouraged to talk about what they are doing in class with their parents in their own language so that even if their English is not brilliant, at least they can have a better understanding of the topic in their own language.  Apps can be a great way to do that – think of a student Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 2.18.04 pmusing Explain Everything in their own language to tell their parents what they were doing in class that day.  Conversely, they could explain an app from their own language to the class.

Something that EAL students do need to work on which native speakers do not, is culture.  Watching Behind the news on ABC iview is one way to give students a chance to learn a bit more about Australian culture, keep up to date with current affairs, and practise listening at the same time.  The teacher’s resources on the BTN website (  are excellent with activities such as quizzes and scripts (great for cloze exercises) that are updated for each episode.  They may even like to watch this with their parents who can add extra information.  Watching any Australian television shows will help with both cultural understanding and the Australian accent – soap operas like Neighbours or Home and Away are great because the stories are so long running there is time for the student to catch on!

Often EAL students are left behind in class discussions.  AP Mobile, the Associated Press app, finds headlines from newspapers around the world and translates them into reasonably straightforward English so that older students (and teachers!) can keep up to date with current affairs from Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 2.19.54 pmtheir own region and, when the teacher gives them a heads up the day before, participate intelligently in class discussions.  Another great app students could use with their parents. As well as the usual business, technology, sports categories, it collates news from Africa, Asia Pacific, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and North America.  A great app for the whole class really.

EAL students may already have a dictionary on their phones, but picture dictionaries such as the Oxford Picture Dictionary App can be invaluable, especially for younger learners who may not know the word for the concept you are explaining in their own language.  The menu has Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 2.35.10 pmpictures as well as words to help students figure out what they should choose.  The definitions are full screen clear pictures that students can zoom in and out of to see further definitions.  The “studying” category would be particularly useful in class with definitions such as: Look up the word. Circle the answer, and Put away your books.  Each definition can be heard.  Definitions can be bookmarked and students can search for particular words.  Unfortunately, there is no option for Australian English, but the British English is clear and easy to understand.

Translating apps can also be helpful.  If they are stuck in the middle of class because they cannot understand a textbook or written instructions students can use the Word Lens app which instantly translates words just by pointing your ipad camera at the text (including computer screens), Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 2.37.29 pmwhich is pretty cool.  You can click the pause button and it will freeze the screen so you can read it properly, or take a photo and print it.  Currently it only translates between English and Russian, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and German.

Google Translate also allows you to type or speak a word and have it translated.  You can then read or listen to the translation.  The playback can be set to an Australian accent which is brilliant. This is a great way to practice pronunciation. Not only can the students listen google translateto the correct pronunciation, but they can correct their own pronunciation so that the app can understand them.  I tried it out with some terrible Japanese and Spanish accents and it still understood me – the app could work out what I was trying to say even though my accent was not the best.

There are also a variety of idioms and phrases apps which can be helpful.  They generally explain the meanings of various idioms and phrases idiomsometimes with sound, sometimes with pictures.  This one uses an Australian accent.   Idioms & phrases are organised into categories such as time, animals, colour, or emotions.  Each idiom or phrase is defined and used in a sentence and students can read or listen to this.    It is also possible to save customised lists which you can quiz yourself on later.

Older students might like to look at the many apps for IELTS (International English Language Testing System) even if they are never going to take the test.  There are a large number of apps for vocabulary, listening and reading comprehension, and guides to building essays.

For example, IELTSpeaking suggests topics that students could speak about. Students choose a topic and a cartoon person asks the student a series Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 2.45.17 pmof questions and records the student’s responses in real time.  Students can then listen back to the interview and decide how well they went.  A good way for students to practise speaking

While IELTS Essay Builder has a long list of useful vocabulary, explains how various types of sentences can be structured, and has a listScreen Shot 2014-11-28 at 2.46.26 pm of sample essay topics.

Borrow Box by Bolinda is a great app linked to many public libraries in Australia where students can borrow eAudiobooks (and Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 2.47.52 pmeBooks) which is most helpful for high school students when studying novels.  As they are linked to local libraries they often have novels that are being studied at Australian high schools such as “Tomorrow, when the war began” or “The book thief”.  If not, you can always go into the local library and request a novel to be made available as an eAudiobook.

If the student uses a different script to English or is illiterate in their own language and needs to practise letter formation, L’Escapadou’s Writing Wizard and Cursive are fantastic fun.  In these apps students trace letters and words with their finger or a stylus and a line of small stars, santas, Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 2.50.03 pmdots, tigers and so on trails their finger.  The students can then play with the stars or tigers by flicking them around the screen, tilting the screen to make them move, and other variations.  There are a number of variations and options can be turned on and off to make it age appropriate.  You can also put in your own spelling list, with a voice recording, which is brilliant.

There are many fantastic apps that you would use with native English speakers that can be used with EAL students.  They still need to work on their reading, writing, listening and speaking along with everyone else.  The simple ideas can sometimes be the best. Recording or videoing a lesson, or part of a lesson, with the iPad so that the students can review it later is a fantastic way for students to improve their listening skills – and help with revision for tricky subjects.  Recording their own voice and listening back to it can also help with pronunciation – particularly if you give them a particular sound to work on.  Get them to explain Mathletics to you in English to improve their mathematics vocabulary, get them to explain a game they play on the iPad. Word searches, crosswords, anything at all will help them improve their English.  The possibilities are endless!


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar