Pinterest Stumbleupon Whatsapp
Ads by Google

Whether it’s your first or second language, English can be tricky. Many of us use our smartphones mainly for reading and writing — not to mention our tablets, of course. So what do you do when you come across an unfamiliar word, or when you need to write an important message on the go without making embarrassing mistakes? Of course, you can always use Google as your dictionary What’s The Good Word: Here Are 6 Ways To Use Google As An Instant Dictionary What’s The Good Word: Here Are 6 Ways To Use Google As An Instant Dictionary We Google for stuff anyway, and perhaps it has almost become a sub-conscious habit to Google for a word meaning as well. Google certainly makes it easy with the different ways it gives us to... Read More , and there’s Google Translate Google Translate For Android Now Works Offline With 50 Languages [Updates] Google Translate For Android Now Works Offline With 50 Languages [Updates] Travelling in a foreign country and without an Internet connection? The new version of Google Translate for Android lets you to download 50 language to be used offline, no matter where you are. Don't worry,... Read More , too. But if you’re looking for a non-Google solution, today I’d like to share three free and useful apps that can help with both reading and writing English: Two dictionaries, and a keyboard.

Merriam-Webster

Merriam-Webster needs little in the way of introduction. Originating in the early 19th century (1828, to be exact), this is one of the most respected and trusted English-language dictionaries. I have reviewed the Merriam-Webster Android app Merriam Webster: An Excellent Free Dictionary for Offline Use Merriam Webster: An Excellent Free Dictionary for Offline Use Our phones contain all sorts of useful apps, and one of the best reference tools you can have is a dictionary. Here's why Webster's app deserves a spot on your device. Read More for MakeUseOf two years ago, and while the app has undergone a few subtle visual changes in the time since, its functionality remains identical. In other words, it’s a very good dictionary:

english-1

Its speech recognition feature worked relatively well on my current device (a Sony Xperia Z), and I was able to dictate most of the words I wanted to look up. Each word has a pronunciation guide, but you can also tap the little loudspeaker button to hear a human speak the word. Yup, a human – a real live person, rather than a voice synthesizer. In other words, what you hear is a true representation of how a native speaker pronounces a given word.

Another useful Merriam-Webster feature is offline support: You don’t need to have a data connection to look up words. And finally, if you don’t need to look up a specific word but simply enjoy learning more about language, there’s always the word of the day:

english-2

Ads by Google

Dictionary.com

While the Merriam-Webster app is certainly useful and authoritative, it is far from an epitome of modern Android interface design. If you are looking for something that looks a bit more Holo, you would do well to check out the Dictionary.com app:

english-4

The flat aesthetic and thin, airy sans-serif fonts certainly seem more at home on a device running Android 4.0 and above. Dictionary.com also offers a wider selection of features, compared to the Merriam-Webster app:

english-5

Just like on the Merriam-Webster app, you’ll find the word of the day on Dictionary.com as well. But that’s just one of the features: There’s a slideshow, a language blog, a feature for checking out what other people are searching for, and more. True to its modern form, the app offers a navigation sidebar, too:

english-6

Some of the sidebar entries feel redundant because you can access them from the main screen just as easily, but offering a navigation sidebar is still a good practice for modern Android apps.

Finally, the Dictionary.com app offers a companion widget for your homescreen, showing the word of the day and allowing you to quickly look up words:

english-8

While the Dictionary.com app is decidedly more modern than the Merriam-Webster one, it’s not necessarily better: For one thing, it lacks Merriam-Webster’s robust offline mode. And of course, when it comes down to it, the most important factor is the quality of the definitions. This is a matter of personal preference, and you’ll have to try both apps to see which one offers definitions which are easier for you to understand. Good thing they’re both free.

Ginger’s Grammar & Spelling Keyboard

While both dictionaries can help you when you read articles or messages, using them to look up words you’re trying to spell can get tedious. Android includes a good built-in spell checker, but here’s one keyboard that tries to complement it: Ginger’s Grammar and Spelling Keyboard.

english-9

Above you can see a snippet of a text message I started typing. Android’s built-in spellchecker caught “tonigt” as a typo, but it missed the other errors. Ginger did a better job: It correctly offered to fix “Let’s” and “to”, even though “lets” and “too” are real words in English. It missed when it came to dinner, however, suggesting to fix it to “dine.” The resulting sentence (“Let’s go to dine tonight”) is still more intelligible than the original, though.

You can either apply the corrections selectively, by tapping each suggestion, or you can tap the large checkmark and apply all corrections at once. The former is a nice way to learn from your mistakes, but most people would likely opt for the bulk-correction option, just because it saves time.

Non-Native English Speakers: Do These Help?

If you’re a non-native speaker, I’m curious to hear: Did these apps help you better understand and use English on the go? I would be particularly curious to hear about your experiences with the keyboard. And of course, if you’ve found any other apps that help you better use English, I’d love to hear about them too. Let me know in the comments.

  1. English Dost
    August 23, 2016 at 11:36 am

    English Dost is a wonderful English learning app for native Hindi & Kannada speakers. The English Dost Android app measures a person's ability to make conversations in English and helps the person improve it. It helps young adults and aspiring job seekers learn and practice spoken English through a contextual, measurable and ‘storyfied’ learning track.
    In the app, you are required to play the role of Ram, the salesman, who has moved to Mumbai for his first job. In the process, Ram has to have many English conversations. As Ram learns to speak English, so will you.
    The app has already been download 300,000 times all over India! Learn English in 30 days. Download the free English learning App and practice right away.

  2. Dvir
    August 19, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Ginger’s Grammar & Spelling Keyboard looked nice.
    I installed it, but as a bilingual I found
    that while it adds to the english spell checking
    it removes my other language's spell check
    (the language keyboard was there but no spell check)

  3. n8wachT
    August 18, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    The apps sure help, but don't help me out with some specific issues. I'm from the Netherlands and handle English good enough to watch a
    movie without subtitles or place a comment like I'm doing right now.
    The hard part is writing stuff in English. The sentence structure is often
    totally different compared to How it's done in Dutch. Google Translate by example is great when I need a couple of words translated. But as
    soon as I put in full sentences the structure turns messed up and words are not in the right order anymore. And wrong order influences everything: substantive, adjective words and past/present tense. In the end it takes less time figuring things out myself en use tools like google on occasionally. it would be great to see software getting smarter so that in near future I can write in English, as if it feels to be my native language. Thanks for your post anyway, I love them. Always.

    • Erez Zukerman
      August 19, 2013 at 11:32 am

      I used to be a professional translator for many years, so I know exactly what you're saying on word order. To be honest, I am not sure when we'll have software smart enough to really rearrange words from one language to another language so that the output reads truly natural and idiomatic. My bet is that it's going to take a little time :)

      Thank you for your kind words re the post! I'm happy to hear you liked it.

  4. Sergio M.
    August 18, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    I'm italian. I use the Dictionary.com extension in my browser since long time and I feel very comfortable with it. Thanks to let me know it exists also an app. I'll try it on a tablet.

  5. Caroline W
    August 17, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    Hi, I use Ginger currently on my browser and I do find it helpful but it is far from perfect yet. Plus it's US English and wants to correct 'colours' to colors' for example. On the whole I find it very useful and I will probably now download the keyboard for Android version too. Thanks for highlighting it :)

    • Erez Zukerman
      August 18, 2013 at 8:35 am

      Sure thing! And I do agree - Ginger is far from perfect, but it can still lend a helping hand here and there I think.

  6. Ion P
    August 17, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    WordWeb - http://wordweb.info/mobile.html
    I use it for 5-6 years on desktop. The mobile version helps me also.

    • Erez Zukerman
      August 18, 2013 at 8:35 am

      That's an interesting tool! Thank you.

  7. Simen
    August 17, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    As a non-native speaker, the problem is (usually) to find the word in English and then to find the correct form (do/does and so on). The default spell checker takes care of whether there are two h-s or not in whether,
    and I usually see if it misunderstands what I am trying to say.

    An improved Google translate app which showed alternative translations would be much better than any dictionary could get.
    Unfortunately, I can't get the grammar keyboard to work, it simply doesn't show up in the list of available keyboards. Any ideas?

    • Erez Zukerman
      August 18, 2013 at 8:34 am

      Hi Simen - when you install the grammar keyboard, it first installs just as a regular app. Start that app, and it will explain what you need to do on your device to have it show in the list of keyboards.

  8. Hanoch Magal
    August 17, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Thanks - I was glag to read about those tools.
    I use quite often the Google translate app (with the offline languages option).
    I am an Hebrew speaker.

    • Simen
      August 18, 2013 at 9:06 am

      I got that far. It just took me a while to figure out that it showed up as Skjermtastatur (the Norwegian name of the stock keyboard) instead of Ginger keyboard (which the instruction said I should enable)

      I'm trying it out now, and except that it doesn't support swiping, it looks promising :)

      • Simen
        August 18, 2013 at 9:08 am

        Sorry, meant to post that reply one comment down

      • Erez Zukerman
        August 18, 2013 at 9:43 am

        Glad to hear it works now! And yes, I wish it had swiping, too.

Leave a Reply

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