Creator: Cambridge University Press
Platforms: Requires iOS 4.3 or later. Compatible with iPad.
Requires Android 2.2 and Up
Intended Age: Rated 4+ by Cambridge University Press. Phrasal verbs are particularly difficult for English as a Second Language learners so this app could be used for an ESL student at any grade level. For native English speakers phrasal verbs are typically introduced in grades 3 through 5 after students have a basic vocabulary bank to draw from.
Utility: Phrasalstein helps students learn 100 phrasal verbs using animations and some humor. Also provides translations in Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, and French for ESL students.
Goals of the App: Helping students “lose [their] fear of phrasal verbs.”
Old time parlor music, with a twist of old-school horror, opens the Phrasalstein app. Users are presented with a choose your option banner, next to an Einstein like figure in a lab coat and long black gloves. The right side of the screen presents 4 options – Phrasal Verbs View, Exercise, Settings, and More Apps. Options.
In comparison to other apps, this opening screen is not as inviting or as readily understandable. Selecting Phrasal Verbs View presents the user with a three-tab screen. Clicking the left hand window labeled open unveils a scrolling list of words under verb and preposition that can be combined together. Once a combination is selected the right window opens to illustrate through animation the phrasal verb combination. The animations have a host of characters, although none as memorable as those found in other apps. For the most part the animations are fun but sometimes, fail to follow the general ‘horror’ or mad scientist theme of the application! Also, there is no information for users who may want to review the general definition of a verb or preposition, which might help them better, understand the components they are working with to create phrasal verbs. However, there is a third tab on the bottom of the screen that explains the meaning of each phrasal verb combination and includes an example. If the phrasal verb is more complex, there is also a section that highlights other meanings of the phrasal verb.
Once users have familiarized themselves with the Phrasal Verb View they can move on to the Exercise tab. The left window displays an animation and the right window has a list of phrasal verb options. The user selects the option that best fits the animation and clicks okay. The left window lets the user know if he or she guessed correctly. Some of the animations are not very helpful – for example one scene depicted a young monster holding onto a girls arm. He opens his mouth, and looks ready to bite into it, when ‘Doctor Frankenstein’ shouts “No!” in a speech bubble and runs over to stop him. I couldn’t figure out what the animation was trying to predict and the answer ‘pull apart’ didn’t seem to quite fit the animation.
Additionally, although there are 7 languages that are offered in the Settings tab only a small portion of the app is translated. The words in Phrasal Verb View and the Exercise tab stay in English – only in the third tab on the Phrasal Verb View does the selected language appear. In lieu of the information on the meaning of the word in English, a translation of the word into the selected language is offered along with an example in that language. For users who have limited English skills, more guidance in their native tongue may be appreciated, such as being able to select the English word and having a narrator pronounce the word in the alternative language.
Overall, this application might provide some interest to young students struggling with the complex topic of phrasal verbs but other application may be better. As the review on iPad Educators concluded, “A well-presented and well-intentioned app that lacks depth and challenge.” The review also pointed out that “The lack of progression/rewards also means that there’s limited incentive for students to engage for extended periods of time.” From my perspective, Phrasalstein does not have very consistent design elements and somewhat lackluster animations. The topic of phrasal verbs could have been presented in a more simplistic but informative manner. The app could have included narrator pronunciations of the words and sentence examples and the entire game could have made more use of the languages option.