Raymond Murphy’s English Grammar in Use was first published by Cambridge University Press in 1985 and has been the go-to grammar book for hundreds of thousands of learners and teachers around the world since then. With the print version now in its fourth edition, CUP have recently released the book in app form. The app is priced at £1.49 but only with limited units, additional units are available for purchase in individual chapters, or all together as a full bundle. The app is aimed at intermediate learners and contains 145 units in total, each with explanations and exercises. There is no need for connectivity with the app and it can be used offline at any time.

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The grammar explanations

On entering the app, learners are given 6 units from the ‘Past and Present’ chapter to choose from, each with explanations and exercises, in the same format as the printed version. For each set of exercises, the questions begin with a focus on the meaning of some lexis, in the context of sentences or a paragraph, before moving onto morphological and syntactic aspects of the grammar point being focused on. Some exercises focus more on form, others more on meaning and use of the example words and phrases. At the end of each set of exercises learners are prompted to move to the next section. As learners answer the questions they are able to check the answers, or can move on without doing so. They can redo exercises if they wish and can skip through without completing, much like a learner can with the printed version.

Pages can be bookmarked to be looked at later, and there is a glossary of all the big name grammar terms. Learners who are unsure of where to start can do a diagnostic test called a ‘Study guide’, where they attempt questions on various topics, check their answers and then get suggested units that contain information that would help them with those topic areas.

Pros

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The main menu. Choose your unit

The main plus points here are the breadth and depth of the subject matter, and the focus on form. There are 1000s of exercise that focus the learner’s attention on how to make a huge variety of grammatically correct sentences and which situations to use them in. They are able to check their answers and find out what they did wrong, and always have detailed explanations on hand to help with a lack of understanding.

The quality of the content is high, the explanations are well and clearly worded, with illustrations to make the meaning of the texts and sentences clearer. There are audio versions of the example sentences and the exercises themselves are, if not exciting, then at least what learners have come to know and expect.

Using the app will likely improve learner autonomy as learners are forced to look up things themselves, find explanations for wrong answer and work through at their own pace. This could be seen as a disadvantage, but some learners would enjoy and benefit from the independence.

Cons

From an educational perspective the main weaknesses are around the lack of output, and opportunities for personalisation. The content is rigid and static, with no open questions or requests for thoughts and opinions. The exercise types are repetitive and boring.

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But how many did I get right?

There are lots of opportunities for practice and recycling, but the app itself doesn’t encourage learners to practice certain parts again, or suggest areas to return to in order to aid acquisition, there is nothing adaptive. In terms of learner control, there is so little structure and support that learners may find themselves confused or bored. Clearly some people will enjoy working through such a large mass of content one exercise at a time, but as apps become more engaging with features designed at keeping users active for longer, such freedom in terms of control may end up being too much for many users.

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My overall progress!

In terms of user experience, it seems odd that learners are able to skip over questions without answering them, and can answer wrongly, not ask for feedback and then continue without ever getting corrected on what they chose. At the end of a set of questions, a screen pops up saying that the user has finished, but doesn’t even say how many they got right, wrong or didn’t answer. These affordances of mobile technology are what should differentiate apps from books and it seems odd that the app doesn’t take advantage of them at all. When looking at the progress within a unit, all the progress points remain white, rather than going green or red as I get them right or wrong. These usability issues are so striking that it seems in fact that they may well be bugs.

The app is priced at £1.49, but contains so little content that it is basically worthless unless the user buys more units. Here again the user experience falls short as the pop-up box asking me if I want to buy doesn’t tell me how much the in-app purchase will cost. I therefore had to go back to itunes to see how much I would be charged for adding extra units (£1.49 each chapter or all units for £11.99). The apple guidelines for designing your in-app purchases clearly state that you should display the name and cost of each purchase item, so it seems very odd that this wasn’t done for this product. And from a business perspective, it must put a lot of people off buying.

There is also a lot of metalanguage used in the app, and whilst there is a glossary, this product is really only of use for an intermediate plus user. There is no support in languages other than English and so all explanations of grammar points has to be comprehended in the target language. Whilst this may constitute effective language input, the texts are not representative of real world reading and also exclude lower level learners.

 

 

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