Open Source English Language Learning Software

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Artha is a free, open source cross-platform English thesaurus that works completely off-line and is based on WordNet. Is is available for GNU/Linux and Microsoft Windows. For a given word, the possible relatives shown by Artha includes Synonyms, Antonyms, Derivatives and many more. Open-eLearning Beta Software Program As a member of the Open-eLearning Beta Software Program, you’ll be able to enroll your devices to access the public betas and try out the latest features. You can provide feedback directly to Open-eLearning using the Feedback Assistant.

As a language learner and teacher, I spent a lot of time – and money – trying out different apps and programs for language study. Some were more expensive than others, and many of them are very well known. But what about free and open source language learning apps? What are the benefits of using them? And what would be my three polyglot must-haves in this category?

Why you should use free and open source language learning apps

The BA (Honours) English Language and Literature uses a variety of study materials and has the following elements: studying a mixture of printed and online material – online learning resources may include websites, audio/video media clips, and interactive activities such as online quizzes; face-to-face and/or online tutorials and day schools. The Openwords app has open source content. Openwords can mine massive, preexisting public data resources like Wiktionary or Apertium (an open machine translator). Thus, Openwords will be able to rapidly provide content for populations without language learning apps. Best for: Anyone! There is a huge selection of videos for any kind of English at any skill.

The most popular online tools for learning languages are well known – you must have heard of Duolingo, Memrise, or Rosetta Stone. I am a great fan of many of them, and reviewed several of them on my blog.

But there is also another category of apps for polyglot learners. These apps have a different philosophy from the others. They may be completely free to use. They may be open to modifications, or edits, by anyone from their community. And they may allow others to freely view and modify the way they were created. These are my favourite category of tools to become multilingual: they’re the free and open source language learning apps.

There are several good reasons for using apps like these. Here is just a handful of them – applicable to any foreign language learner out there.

  • Free language learning apps mean your budget can be spent on other resources.
  • Open source language learning apps often have a great community of users who can help you learn.
  • Free and open source language learning apps are better for your privacy. They don’t track you, and they don’t target advertising based on what they know about you.
  • The language models in open source language learning apps are often more realistic, because the sample sentences are provided by real-life users.
  • These apps are often modified and updated frequently, because their user community is quick to suggest (and deliver) useful updates.

Possible problems with free and open source language learning apps

It is only fair to discuss a few possible issues with these apps. After all, you deserve to know about the pros and cons of your choices. Here, then, are some disadvantages of using these apps:

  • The user interface may not be as sleek and pretty.
  • You may need to configure these apps yourself.
  • Some apps require you to provide your own learning material. This is great news for some learners, but could be a problem for others.
  • The language and difficulty level may vary. Big-brand apps are very carefully staged when it comes to new information. Free and open source language learning apps can be more hit-and-miss.
  • Some apps may stop their development in the future, when the community moves on to do something else.
Open Source English Language Learning Software

Vic’s top 3 free and open source language learning apps of 2020

1. Anki

This is a free and open source flashcard tool. It works great for languages, but is also amazing for anything else you want to learn and remember.

Anki allows you to create your own flashcards, and to format and modify them however you wish. Each flashcard will have a “front” and “back” side. While reading the “front” side (for example, the word “cat” and the image of a cat) you will try to remember the “back” side (for example, the Polish word for “cat”, which is “kot”). Then, you tap to see the back side and check if you were right. Finally, you decide how easy or hard it was for you to remember the correct answer.

This is where the last part of Anki magic kicks in. Anki relies on spaced repetition to make sure you revise things when you need to. If Polish for “cat” is super easy, you will click or tap “easy” every time, and Anki will know to show you this flashcard less often. But if you just can’t remember this word, you will click or tap “hard” or “again”, and Anki will react by showing you this flashcard frequently – until you start remembering it.

Anki is perfect if you want to build your own vocabulary lists, and it has a few good flashcard decks for popular languages, too. The interface is minimalistic, and far from pretty – but once you get used to it, it’s a wonderful machine for serious language work.

Good for: vocabulary, sentences, improving memory

2. Tatoeba

How do you go from words to sentences? And how do you make sure you learn useful sentences – not just some absurd ones which the Duolingo bird comes up with? 😀

Tatoeba is a project which might come to your rescue here. It is a free and open source community of language learning contributors. Each language in Tatoeba has its admins and contributors, who are busy submitting sentences in their languages, and providing translations for them.

Think of this as a Google Translate of sorts – except there are human language users at the other end, instead of an AI engine with privacy problems. The community is lively and welcoming, which is great news if you are just starting out in a language.

As a practical tool, Tatoeba will work well to support your other free and open source language learning apps. Let’s say you learned the Portuguese word for “question”. You can search all sentences with the word “pergunta” (“question”) translated into English (or the other way around). This will give you a handful of super-useful phrases (such as “any questions?”, “that’s a good question” etc.) If you’re also using Anki, you can turn them into flashcards whenever you wish.

Good for: community support, real language use examples

3. Clozemaster

I’m cheating a little here. Clozemaster is free (in its basic form), and it uses Tatoeba’s engine to work – which is why it makes the list. There’s no mention of open-source philosophy in their work, though.

English

So why mention it? Two reasons stand out immediately.

Firstly, Clozemaster is a great way to bring gamification to Tatoeba’s idea. You can play a series of games with cloze questions (sentences where one word is missing, e.g. “There’s a black ____ sitting on the fence”). The scores add up, and feedback is immediate. This is a much quicker way of reading lots of full foreign language sentences in one session. For gameplay and addictiveness, Clozemaster beats Duolingo any time.

Secondly – the mobile apps come with some pretty good text-to-speech capabilities. Both German and Portuguese AI voices were pretty convincing each time I played, and had me coming back for more.

Clozemaster’s free option is definitely enough for your daily language learning fix. The paid version offers more practice, more stats, and more modes.

Good for: old-school gaming with rich language context.

(Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)

Wiktor (Vic) Kostrzewski (MA, DELTA) is an author, translator, editor and project manage based in London. When he works, he thinks about languages, education, books, EdTech and teachers. When he doesn’t work, he probably trains for his next triathlon or drinks his next coffee.

BRAVE Learning (formerly known as 16 Kinds) is a lifelong learning and productivity blog. This blog was active from 2011 – 2021, and is no longer updated. I hope you enjoy the posts – they are still free to read, and hopefully useful! Thanks to the thousands of readers for all the fantastic moments.

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