Recommended free vocabulary apps and websites (part 1)

Looking for free ways to practice your vocabulary? 

There are a lot of free apps and websites for vocabulary study these days, so I’ve decided to update my list of recommendations.  Overall, I think there have been two main improvements with these apps and sites over the last few years.

The first one is more corpus/corpora-based data is being used for quizzing.   This is good for you for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it means you will more likely be learning the the most frequently used words and phrases.  Secondly, it means you will likely get more realistic examples of how the words are used. 

The next improvement is that spaced-repetition is being used more.  This is a system that helps you remember things (eg. new words) more effectively by having them retested after set periods of time.  It doesn’t just mean being retested on words you get wrong.  It also means even if you get words correct, you continue to be retested on them over progressively longer time intervals.  For example,  if you get the word correct the first time, you are retested after three days.  If you continue to get the word correct the second time, you’re retested after a week, and then a month, and so on.   Basically, research tells us that this helps you to not forget things you learn.

Anyway, in this first of two posts, I’ll introduce the first five of my app/site recommendations.  In the next post I will introduce six more.  Hope they help!

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An app (and website) for making and testing word lists (and other stuff).  It has many pre-made word lists in a range of languages and also uses spaced-repetition.  Memrise uses cute icons and sound-effects to make quizzing like a game, so it is quite addictive and fun to use.  It also lets you set and remind yourself of daily learning goals and tests both receptive and productive knowledge (eg. spelling or arranging word order). Two lists on the app I liked were “400 Words of TEOFL – Intermediate English” and “TOEIC Service List (Easy English).”   I also made two courses myself for quizzing high-frequency idiomatic phrases: HIPs Know the phrases and HIPs: Use the phrases.  It would be nice if new words on this app were introduced in larger groups (quizzing was sometimes too repetitive) and it was a little bit complicated making and editing my own lists.  Link: Memrise

A fantastic app (and website) for making vocabulary (and other topic) study flash-cards.  Like Memrise, it also has a very large number of pre-made word lists in a range of languages.  One useful list for general vocabulary is the corpus-based NGSL (New General Service List).  You can use the app to quiz your words in many ways, but I like the “learn” function the best as it tests both receptive and productive knowledge (although spelling words can be a bit difficult on a smartphone).  It is also possible to add images and audio to your cards.  It also has some great new functions for teachers including Quizlet Live for group games and a paid “teacher” version allowing student progress to be monitored.  Overall, Quizlet is a very user-friendly and professionally made resource.  The only drawback is it doesn’t used spaced-repetion (yet). Link: Quizlet

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This is a game-style app is easy to use and a lot of fun. You can quiz your vocabulary alone or compete with other players using the app.  Choose your level and then play against other random players or invite your friends.  It quizzes vocabulary in a range of ways (eg. meaning, image, spelling, translation).  I tried it at the highest level (C1+2), but some of the vocabulary seemed quite easy, so it might be better for beginnner-intermediate level learners.  Link: Wordable

BBC: English in a minute
This award-winning site gives informative and interesting 1min videos comparing different English words and phrases (eg. too vs very, specially vs especially).  It also gives helpful tips on how to use them grammatically.  I enjoyed watching these as they were short and focussed on mistakes learners often make with vocabulary.  Link: English in a Minute

This site is better for advanced learners or people interested in linguistics. It gives access to a range of large web-based corpora (databases of natural language).  They can give detailed information on how words (or phrases) are used and their frequency in different types of language (genres).  For example, the COCA corpus is a one billion word corpus of US English which allows you to compare a word’s use in different genres such as written fiction, blogs, spoken, or academic English.  You can even compare word usage over time.  Alternatively, the 1.9 billion word GloWbe corpus lets you compare word use in different regions (eg. US vs Australia vs UK).  You have to register for the site and it takes a while to get used to using it, but it but can give you very interesting word-use information.  I don’t recommend downloading any of the corpora (they are very large) unless you are planning to do some serious research.  Link: English

See you on the next post where I’ll introduce the next six vocabulary apps and websites.


Related posts:

Recommended free vocabulary apps and websites (part 2)

Why is word stress important?

How can word parts help me understand new vocabulary?