Category Archives: app review

Do you need some Calm?

As a mum and entrepreneur I find that running my own business is incredibly rewarding but also very stressful. During a recent difficult spell we looked into some of the meditation apps on the market. Many have a day or two’s limited access to trial them, but the Calm app really caught our eyes.

In case you are not convinced of the value of slowing down, here are a few quotes from Michael Acton Smith and Alex Tew, the founders of Calm. These are from their Calm book.
Entrepreneurial life can be a chaotic, restless and intense experience. Few of us do anything to train and nurture our minds. Pretty much everyone has an inner voice that does not shut up. Taking time to calm the mind has a huge range of benefits.

In the Calm book, Michael and Alex share their stories of what led them to launching Calm in 2012. “By stepping away and stilling my mind, I was able to fully appreciate the power of calm, we are now on a mission to help the world find more calm and less stress through mindfulness meditation.”
So we downloaded the calm app and bought the book.
The app consists of meditations, bedtime stories and simple deep breathing exercises.

So here are our family’s thoughts on the app:

Sarah:
As soon as the app is opened, it says to take a deep breath then shows you a beautiful, natural scene with the relaxing sounds of nature. I found even to open the app make me feel calmer.

My favourite part of the Calm app was the Emergency Calm, which has proved invaluable to me in restoring a peaceful mind following fraught moments, particularly on difficult mornings after fighting to get the kids to school on time (or not!). Emergency Calm promises to provide immediate relief when feeling overwhelmed or stressed. There is a choice of 2, 5 or 10 minute sessions. It starts with deep breaths, focusing on the body, and some positive affirmations.

The bedtime stories section was a lovely way of finding some calm before sleep. I love to listen to stories: the first time I used it, I was asleep in minutes and did not remember the story. The second time I used it was during a particularly restless night. The story incorporates lots of deep breathing and, at the end of the twenty minutes story, I felt much more relaxed.

There are three different meditations for preparing for sleep. My personal favourite is deep sleep relax. I had encountered this idea before and it worked well for me.

The Breathe section is great when you need to be grounded again; it helps you take slow deep breaths, slow down your thoughts and be more grounded in the now. It has sound to it so can even be running in your pocket, quietly reminding you to simply breathe.
My daughter was having a bit of a meltdown one school morning so I gave her my phone with the Breathe running, whilst I drove her to school. It worked for her. We arrived at school with her in a much calmer place.

Maik:

I think this app does what it says. From the moment the app is opened it creates a sense of calm.

I liked the selection of sleep stories. I listened to them together with Sarah,< who fell asleep within seconds.
I liked the selection of meditations designed to help you relax to sleep and felt they worked for me.

Jasmin and Emily:
The girls enjoyed the sleep stories and meditations specific to their age groups. My youngest really enjoyed the warm heart meditation and managed to follow the instructions well. The blowing candles one was a useful concept when she had her ears pierced recently and we had to clean her ears each evening. The blowing candles idea helped her to focus whilst I cleaned her ears.
Both of my girls enjoyed all of the sleep stories, but the clear favourite was Ella’s lagoon.

Josh:
My teenage son listened to the meditations aimed at 11 to 18 year olds, but found the Emergency calm most helpful.

We found this app helpful for creating a calm space in the day and restoring some order in thoughts.

The accompanying book is illustrated beautifully with gorgeous pictures and fluid text which flows around the pages. You can dip in and out of it, or leaf though it when you are feeling overwhelmed. I found exploring the book an adventure it itself. It has space for interactions, creativity, journalising, and is crammed full of tips for living more mindfully. It makes a beautiful gift for yourself of others.

Disclaimer: We were given a week’s free access in order to review the app.
We have since decided to pay and subscribe for ourselves.

Mondly -a review

I’m a great fan of gamified learning. As I’m trying to keep making progress in German, French and Spanish as well as being a busy self employed mum it needs to be fun!
Mondly is a gamified app available I Phone, I Pad , Android and and online on Mondly.com. It costs $47.99 for a year giving access to 800 lessons and 33 languages.
I came across Mondly about two months ago. I was fascinated by idea of the chatbot. Cat Spanish app had a conversation section but not one with so much freedom.
I’ve been testing it out for six weeks and a really enjoying it. My hubby and children have been enjoying it too. My nine year old enjoyed it but found it challenging. The learning is split into themed chapters 8 units to build on and a conversation at the end to use the vocabulary learned. It has a fairly comprehensive range topics so lots of vocubulary you can learn.
The website has an amazing number of languages(34). It includes Finnish, Croatian, Hindi, Greek, Farsi, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Afrikaans, Czech, Romanian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean and even Chinese. Of course you can learn the popular languages like German, Spanish, French and Italian. Great for a compulsive Polyglot like me.
What is unique about this app is the chatbot. Here’s what Alexandru Iliescu, co-founder and CEO of ATi Studios said “The best way to learn a new language is to build your confidence with practice. We’ve taken chatbot technology and combined it with a speech recognition platform then added our own object recognition system. The result is that we’ve created something that is fun, useful and unique for language learners. This new feature is truly a revolutionary new way to learn a new language and we’re proud that Mondly is the first to do it.”
So what did we think? I’ve listed the pros and cons below to help you make your own mind up.

 

Pros
The site uses native speakers and the voice recordings are excellent.
lt is a mixture of hearing and speaking to learn in different ways.
As a busy mum I really appreciate the short lessons so I can fit language learning into the small pockets of time I have.
As I have four languages to keep going games which allow me practice French from Spanish, or French from German are a huge advantage to me.
I like that the progress made transfers from the device to the computer so it can be easily used on both devices, not something I’ve come across before.
I love the daily quiz to keep you coming back and a notification that comes up each day to remind you to play.
The chatbot is a lot of fun I found myself giving none standard answers to catch it out which is great for your language practice.
I like the to see daily progress on a chart. I like the way the different chapters are shown as a journey. It makes me feel I’m progressing so encourages me to keep going.
My initial thoughts were that it is good as part of a language learning plan, but not enough on its own.
I was not convinced that there was enough spaced repetition but I seem to be learning so maybe I was wrong about that.

 

Cons
It would be much better if it showed the gender of words. English speakers often forget about these. I did not see the value myself at school. Difficult to learn in addition later. (maybe colour code like flash sticks)
Was doing it on a train in London it was fine at stations but cut out inbetween Does not work without wi fi so not great to use when commuting!

Unlike some other gamified learning you have to pay if you want to have all the features. However it is not expensive when you bear in mind all the languages offered.
In my opinion there is not one way to best learn a language. It is a combination of things you can play, watch, read and sing along too which builds your language learning. I think Mondly fits well into that. Try it for yourself and let me know what you think! https://www.mondlylanguages.com/

 

Disclaimer:
I was given free access to the site in exchange for an honest review.

What has an Armadillo got to do with homophones?

A few months ago I met Guy Moore. He has created a fun educational app to help with language learning, inspired by his grandfather. I was so intrigued by how story told to a young boy could in time become a learning tool for many, I’ve asked him to share his story on our blog. So here goes, over to you Guy… grandfather

This project all began because of my grandfather Clifford Frost who loved to tell me stories, and one day he told me a story when I was just six years old, and it has stuck with me all these years.

He sat me down and said
‘When I was a little boy Guy I was locked in a tower that was so high it went into the clouds. There was only one window with metal bars and I wondered how I was going to get out. Well I thought and I thought until my head grew sore, and with this/ saw I escaped from the tower. I was miles away from anywhere so I shouted and shouted until my voice grew hoarse ‘Help Help’, and on this horse I rode away until I reached an endless wall. Well I found half an orange, and a little bit further along I found another half of an orange. Two halves make a whole, so I climbed through the hole.
Even though it was quite short, I found it absolutely fascinating, charming, engaging and very educational.

Even at such a young age I realised how helpful it was.

We have also created a lovely back story film called “Aarchie. Where it all began’.

It was his creative use of the English language which was one of the reasons I decided to get into advertising.

So eventually 44 years later I decided with my writing partner Tony Malcolm to take it to the next level and create an interactive edutainment book. The Tales of Aarchie was born.
My granddad lived to the ripe old age of 103 and was overjoyed that Archie would be his legacy, and be passed down from generation to generation.
Working with a fantastic team of developers in Cardiff, and my best friend Les the illustrator, who is a veteran in the games industry including working on Angry Birds with Rovio, we wanted to create an educational story that makes learning for children fun. What has an Armadillo got to do with homophones?
The Tales of Aarchie is a funny, charming animated story that explains that quirk of the English language, the homophone.
Homophones are words that sound the same but mean completely different things like witch/which, horse/hoarse, plane/plain and so on.

The interactive app encourages children to press the homophones to move the story on, and therefore literally highlighting the play on words.
The benefits of this are pretty simple.
65% of people are visual learners and take in a lot more information when they are having fun.
We have created two versions.
An animated interactive app while reading, or a ‘read it to me’ mode.
Plus we also have a digital e-book.

The interactive story is aimed at children between the ages of 5-9, but we have seen other children who aren’t English be a little bit older.
At the moment it’s only available on an i-pad, but we are currently working on an Android version too.

There is a Lite version of the app which is free, and then there is the full all singing and dancing version which is £2.99.
Both versions are available on The Apple Store.
The one thing we all really believe in and as a team feel very strongly about are in app purchases. Well, with The Tales of Aarchie there are none and never will be.

However, he haven’t stopped with the app and book, we also have Aarchie…the Puppet.
Aarchie has been magically transformed by a brilliant puppeteer called Phil Fletcher.
So we acquired a YouTube channel just for Aarchie and we want it to be a brilliant edutainment channel that children and parents will enjoy, and refer back to again and again for new episodes.
With our gorgeous puppet and blue screen technology we’ll create broadcasts of funny stories and facts about English presented in both short 20-30 second bursts or longer formats.
We have yet to start filming, but this will hopefully start in the very near future. How much fun can be had with homophones?

Want to try the app for free? Guy has kindly provided two free passes for our readers. The two lucky winners will be chosen at random on Monday 12th November

COMPETITION NOW CLOSED

Flash Academy – Have you joined?

If you follow me on Twitter you will know I’ve been asked to beta test the new sparkly Flash sticks app Flash Academy.

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If you’ll already know I’m a read my blogs or follow us on pinterest or Instagram you will know I am a big fan of FlashSticks sticky post it notes. They are colour coded to help you remember the gender of words. Blue for masculine, pink for feminine and yellow for verbs and adjectives. For a visual learner like me they are a godsend. Simply stick them around your home or take photos when you are out and about like me! You can use the new Flash Academy app to scan any note for an instant pronunciation video from a native speakers. This is an unlimited free feature for all users. We interviewed Veejay about how the idea for Flash Sticks came about last year, read about it here.

Our Lingotastic classes are in basic French, German and Spanish and occasionally Mandarin. It is a ongoing task to keep my skills going in all these languages. As a busy mum,  as well as a teacher my time is limited so I need to be able to learn in pockets of time and apps like this fit the bill for me.

 

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The app includes hundreds of short 5-minute interactive language lessons and a series of fast-paced (for me nail biting) word games to consolidate learning. Learners continually ‘graduate’ to new levels as their fluency in the language develops.

 

I like that the first words learned are food (breakfast) so useful words to learn. There are almost three hundred language lessons available for each language, with six lessons initially provided free of charge (five in basics, one in Food & Drink)

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The graphics are brightly coloured with appealing pictures. They remind me a lot of WII games! The words are spoken as they are seen by a native speaker, which is a big plus to me! I recently realised that, in my GCSE courses I learned ,to read and write much better than pronounce. This really helps to rectify this, as I can see it written, and hear it at the same time. The app also has occasional grammar and culture tips which are really useful to learn alongside the language.

I was interested how it worked for children, so I got my eight year old, who has only just started French to test it as well. She liked it and managed to understand the more complicated parts at the end.

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The only downside I found was, as an intermediate language learner I would like to assess where I am at and start from there. Flash Academy does not have that functionality.

 

The cherry on top of the app is the amazing sci fi object scanner. Simply switch on the object scanner and take a picture of the object and by some kind of magic the app tells you what it is in English and your chosen language of over 40 languages !

Anyway, what are you waiting for? Boost your family language skills AND have fun along the way!

 

The app is free to download on

App and Google Play stores, with subscription plans starting at £2.99 per month.

FlashAcademy is perfect for all ages and all language levels.

For more information visit www.flashacademyapp.com

Flash Sticks sticky notes are a really simple tool to increase your vocabulary in French, German, Spanish, Italian, BSL and English. (with more to come)
The guys at FlashSticks have offered Lingotastic customers a special discount.
10% off at Flash Sticks use the coupon code lingotastic10 (in lower case).

Disclaimer: These are my own thoughts and opinions. FlashSticks gave me a three month subscription in order to review this app which is just as well since I’ve found it to be addictive… What can I scan next?