Those of you who have been following us for a while will notice that this isn’t my usual segment. Back in the dark ages of 2017, I did a series ‘Beating the Block with G’, which pretty much turned into self-care tips. Because of that, I’m labelling it as it is. One of the most important parts of beating writer’s block is taking care of yourself – it makes pretty much everything easier. And as someone who has historically struggled with that, this seems like a good project for me.
Ignore the draft of this post that went out via email, apparently after nearly two years I still can’t work out how to use WordPress…
Anyone that’s read my revision posts will know that I’m a religious supporter of Memrise. This was pretty much my go-to app for years. And then, betrayal occurred. Well, change. How rude, right? With their ongoing moving of community levels to the new platform Decks, my routine-centred mind was blown.
It occurred to me that I hadn’t actually used Memrise in a while, anyway. Since I’ve stopped studying languages academically, my drive to constantly take in new vocabulary disappeared. So, instead of just deleting Memrise, as was my first instinct, I looked at my phone as a whole.
In modern society, we’re constantly being warned of the dangers of social media. While I’ve experienced cyber-bullying and an unhealthy dependence on it in the past, I would’ve said that I had improved my relationship with it apart from one thing: boredom scrolling. My default mode when faced with inactivity was to get out my phone and scroll through a cycle of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, with sometimes some Pinterest if I still had nothing better to do. I got literally nothing from this. Most of my close friends tell me any news directly, and so most of what I found was just fuel to be judgey. Anyone around my age will know that it’s a weird time; it feels like just last week that I had classes with most of my online friends, and yet suddenly we’re all on such different paths that it’s so, so easy to judge anyone doing things differently. Not to mention that I’m usually too shy to actually post anything, even comments, so literally just act as a weird lurker.
Instead of just straight up throwing my phone into the sea once I realised this, I made it my mission to minimise the time I wasted using technology. The main goal was to remove all the unproductive apps and replace them with more useful ones.
As a result, I replaced social media with various educational and brain training apps, settling on Duolingo, Lumosity and Elevate. All in all, I’d say this was a positive change. The whole process of using my phone to wake up in the morning was much quicker – brain training woke me up a lot more than social media. In just the two weeks since I started this, I also feel like I’ve noticeably improved my skills in each of the three apps. How well this translates to real skills, I have yet to find out, but it definitely feels like I’m achieving more than I would have otherwise.
However, there were drawbacks. The productive apps were much more mentally tiring than mindless scrolling. This was especially true with Lumosity, as doing badly in a game could lower my overall statistics. As a result, it was at times stressful. What’s more, I found that it did actually make me less sociable. Not from using social media less – as I said, I rarely interacted with it. Instead, I found it more difficult to move between brain training and real-life conversation. I found myself saying “hang on” and “just let me…” a lot more than if I’d been scrolling through content I didn’t really care about. Due to the round-based nature of each app, it requires a lot of attention for the duration of the round.
So I guess what I learned from this was that, yes, it was valuable to use more educational apps over social ones, but I may eventually have to get over my denial that I need to spend less time on my phone. Shame.
Individual app reviews
Unless stated otherwise, all of the apps below are free to download but also have premium versions.
This is my favourite app for learning foreign grammar. It’s easy to use, well designed, and very extensive. I currently use it to revise the languages I have A levels in and learn two others, although I’m not sure how well it works as a stand-alone teacher if you like things spelling out for you. Nevertheless, it’s the best grammar-learning tool I’ve found so far.
Lumosity uses various brain-training games to improve various areas of cognitive thinking. This is one of the few apps that I actually pay for premium for, as I enjoy it so much. Without premium, you can access three random games a day in your daily workout, and then practice just those, but premium gives you full reign over all ‘workouts’ and games. That said, the game ‘Train of Thought’ somehow manages to emulate an anxiety attack. You have been warned.
Another brain-training app, this one focuses on more explicitly academic skills; maths, writing, reading and speaking. It begins by testing you on these skills to set the initial difficulty, and then gives you daily challenges in each area. I don’t have premium and so can only access three games a day, but have still found it especially helpful to hone my editing skills. As you can tell if you read the draft that I accidentally sent out, I need all the help I can get with that!
Other apps I tried
This is probably a good app if you want to spend time learning science and maths, but it required too much focus for me to get into. It essentially works on daily mini-lessons, followed by a puzzle based on the above material.
I would recommend this to anyone that writes anything. I’ve only ever used the free version, but it acts as a spelling and grammar checker even for websites that don’t have their own. Be warned to use your common sense, though, as like any AI it’s not always perfect.
As I’ve been saying on pretty much every post I’ve done about revision, this is a great flashcards app. Anyone can upload a course on any topic, and then you earn points that add up across all courses you study. As the changes haven’t fully rolled out yet, I don’t know how much of an impact this will have on the features I enjoyed most, but I would still recommend it for both language learning and revision.
One of those apps that blocks your phone, Forest is designed around the idea of growing ‘trees’ if you refrain from using your phone for a certain amount of time. This is another app that I paid for premium, as the whitelist feature allowed me to ensure I was only using revision apps for the allotted time – many other apps just have a blanket ban, which doesn’t work well if you revise using apps. There’s also a desktop version, and they can sync.
Like Memrise, this is good for flashcards, especially if you’re revising for something. It has a bigger variety of ways to use your set of flashcards than Memrise, but without the all-time leaderboard that motivated me. Personally, I use both.
As I mentioned a while back, I will forever defend eBooks. There are a variety of these; I use the Kindle one, but many operating systems have their own inbuilt versions. The app is usually free to download, and then you just buy books. My boyfriend also uses Manga Rock to read manga, which is a one-time payment to access lots of different manga volumes.
None of the above content is endorsed or compensated in any way by the companies mentioned. If you have another favourite educational app, please feel free to comment below – I’d like to give it a try!