iGE iPhone app review

Apple boasts that there are now more than 500,000 iPhone apps available. Some are useful, and some less so (we particularly love the virtual stapler). But which camp does University College London’s Interactive Grammar of English (iGE) app fall into?

For many, grammar is an alien and intimidating world of confusing concepts and unlikely vocabulary; a world they would rather avoid. But for anyone who relies on language, is there really a choice? As the app wisely states on its welcome page: ‘Quite simply, if we know how English works, then we can make better use of it.’

A logical progression

The iGE is both a reference guide and an interactive course, beginning at word classes and building up logically through phrases, clauses and sentences to form, function and further reading. UCL linguistics experts developed it using research from their Survey of English Usage (SEU).

The exercises use text taken from SEU’s million-word database of spoken and written English. This means the example sentences are somewhat more realistic than your typical grammar textbook (one can show only so much interest in where an aunt keeps her stationery). There is also an extensive glossary.

Apparently the target market is school, college and university students, as well as learners of English as a second language. UCL Professor and Director of SEU Bas Aarts says: ‘The SEU team have developed the app in response to students and teachers who say that many existing learning tools … often fail to meet their English language learning needs.’

Hold on to your hat

Perhaps the worst that could be said of the resulting program is that, after it has met those needs, it promptly gallops off to a more highbrow party. On first use, the app almost feels too comprehensive. And for anyone who finds grammar daunting, it could be a little overwhelming. (Ever wanted to know the difference between syndetic and polysyndetic coordination? Well, you can find out here … )

Throughout the course, technical terms are hyperlinked to their entry in the glossary, as well as to dropdown menus of related words and subjects. While cross-referencing is undoubtedly useful, the extent of it means you can easily become sidetracked amid the many layers (imagine a Russian doll of the population of Russia) and lose track of where you began.

The overall verdict

This aside (and it does feel churlish to complain of being given too much information), the app is intuitive to use and explains terms clearly. And you can take your time getting to grips with each part, as it will hold your place when you exit.

Just a couple of notes of caution: it’s probably best to follow the course from the beginning rather than diving right into the hyperlinks and labyrinthine glossary, or you risk feeling like Alice being swallowed up by the rabbit hole. Still, if – like her – you can learn to just fall in and embrace it, you will probably also end up emerging somewhat wiser, if a little bit dazed.



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