Practise listening and speaking English on mobile devices

With a regular smartphone, English learners now have many choices to practise English listening and speaking just like in modern language labs anywhe-re and anytime. This article aims to introduce some apps that help you develop listening and speaking skills. All the three apps mentioned are available for iOS (iPhone, iPad) or Android devices.
1.  Speaking Pal English Tutor
Figure 1: Home screen of Speaking Pal

Speaking Pal English Tutor is a mobile app that allows English learners to interact with a virtual partner through short dialog drills. The app uses speech recognition technology developed by SRI International to evaluate learners’ pronunciation. Different levels of accuracy are given to help learners adjust their pronunciation.

There are many sample dialogs in Speaking Pal. Each includes many short phrases or sentences of interaction between two c-haracters. To start with, learners will watch a video of the sample dialog. After watching the video, learners start to listen to each phrase or sentence again. The whole conversation shows up on the screen and users can enable translation for the conversation texts.

Figure 2: A conversation in Speaking Pal

Figure 3: Some lessons in Everyday category

In the next step, learners will take the role of either of the c-haracters and “talk” to the other c-haracter in the app by reading aloud the text on the screen. The app shows how accurate learners’ pronunciation is with 3 colors: green, yellow and red. If the pronunciation is too poor to be recognized, a message will pop up requiring the learners to try again.

Topics and materials are quite rich in Speaking Pal. Categories for practice include beginner, everyday, travel, business, dating and sounds. In each category, there are several free lessons. Subscription is required if leaners want to access all other lessons in the category.

2.  Listen and Speak

Listen and Speak allows learners to translate all conversation phrases or structures into most languages, including Vietnamese.

In order to practise English pronunciation, learners choose a structure that they want to practise. Sample pronunciation of the structure will be given via the tablet or smartphone’s speaker. Then learners’ pronunciation will be recorded and analyzed for evaluation.

4: Learning screen of Listen & Speak

Figure 5: List of structures for practice in Phrasebook

Apart f-rom the default language data, learners can install many other language data sets by installing f-rom 9Spikes Repository. These language data sets come in various topics such as school life (14 conversations), health (20 conversations), jobs (16 conversations), weather (9 conversations), English proverbs (1000 English proverbs), etc. What is so special is that within these data sets, learners can also find famous quotations f-rom well-known people for practice like Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, etc. Installing these additional language data sets can be done quite quickly. Right after installing, users can go to Learning tab to practise pronunciation and … wait for their pronunciation scores.

6: Score for learners’ pronunciation

Figure 7: Other settings in Listen & Speak
Additionally, Listen and Speak offers options to enable translation service or voice recognition service f-rom the internet together with a bunch of other settings. The other fantastic feature is that language learners can download data f-rom other languages like Spanish, French and German. This means we can use the app to learn languages other than English. Your smartphone can now become a language express handbook whenever you travel to those countries. Other languages are promised by 9Spikes ( to come in the app soon.

The free version of Listen and Speak comes with ad banners at the bottom of the screen. The pro version offers no ads and allows users to have more settings.

3.  Sounds

Sounds was developed by MacMillan to support teachers of English in teaching pronunciation. However, the app can also be used to support learners of English in pronunciation practice and learning IPA phonetic symbols efficiently.


Figure 8
: Table of consonants and vowels in Sounds

Figure 9: Learners type in words for the phonetic transcription

The first important part of Sounds is the table of consonants and vowels in English (phonemes). On touching the phonemes, learners will hear sample pronunciation. Holding the touch a bit longer, pronunciation of words containing the sounds will be given.

Figure 10
: Quiz requiring learners to type in phonetic symbols of the word

Figure 11: Practice requiring learners to type in phonetic symbols of the word they hear
The best part of Sounds is Practice Taster. It includes drill exercises that require learners to type words f-rom phonetic symbols given or type phonetic symbols for words given. Score and correct answers will be given after each attempt. In the most challenging part of Practice Taster, learners hear a word and then type its phonetic transcription f-rom the table of consonants and vowels given.
Quiz Taster is quite similar to Practice Taster with additional features like time limit and number of attempts allowed.
Sounds is free. The premium version has additional features to support learners in practicing pronunciation. This premium version also comes with meaning explanations for words taken f-rom Macmillan English Dictionary Online.
Người đăng:Nguyen Ngoc Vu, Department of English, HCMC University of Education