iGE: Grammar on the Go

18 June 2012

Grammar App

UCL’s innovative interactive Grammar of English (iGE) translates the grammar of the English language into a fun, easy-to-use iPhone App with the potential to benefit a huge number of people.

iGE is the creation of Professor Bas Aarts, Professor of English Linguistics and Director of the Survey of English Usage (SEU) and Sean Wallis, Senior Research Fellow at the SEU.

Grammar gap

Professor Aarts said, “Grammar has come back in a big way, including in schools. But this is not without problems because many teachers don’t know how to teach it. They feel at a loss because they haven’t learnt any grammar themselves.”

That’s where iGE can help. The App is aimed at students and teachers of English as a native language, as well as a second language and anyone else who is interested in English, such as journalists, editors and authors. It contains interactive exercises to provide the user with feedback on their answers.

Interactive excellence

For Professor Aarts, it’s about making a good quality grammar App available to anyone who wants it. He said, “There’s no complete, high quality grammar out there at the moment. There are grammar Apps available – but they’re either not written by experts, or they’re just digital versions of textbooks.”

The development team wanted to combine expert knowledge with intuitive usability. Professor Aarts said, “At UCL, we have a lot of expertise in writing grammars. The example material used in the App comes from our corpora – vast collections of language data, both spoken and written. So we use real examples to explain grammar – not stilted examples like ‘The cat sat on the mat’!”

Together with quality, interactivity is a key feature. Sean Wallis provided the technical know-how for the project: “We put a real emphasis on interactive learning and on encouraging experimentation and exploration. These are things you don’t get with a traditional textbook.”

A boon for UCL

By delivering UCL expertise to the public, the App is well-aligned with the Government’s knowledge transfer agenda. It’s great publicity for the University, and there’s money-making potential too. Professor Aarts said, “The English-language-learning market is absolutely huge. Tapping into that market is something that we really want to do.

“The App already brings some money into the English department and the Faculty of Art and Humanities. This is a great help at a time when external funding is dwindling. We hope it will allow us to continue to do our research in the Survey of English Usage.”

Future perfect

There’s plenty of scope for development. The App can be targeted at different users of English – for example, primary school children, medical students or foreign students.

And it’s not just the English department that will benefit from the new technology. Professor Aarts said, “We are developing common platforms so that other teaching material can be put on it. It was always envisaged that the App would be a pilot for future work. This is all going to be part of a strategy at UCL to develop e-learning on a much larger scale.”

The project was made possible with proof-of-concept funding from UCL Business. Prof Aarts said, “We worked closely with Dr Steven Schooling whose support was crucial.”

For more information on the App see www.ucl.ac.uk/english-usage/apps/ige/

iGE is available in a free lite version, and a full version from Apple’s App Store, and it will soon also be available as an Android App:

Download the iGE App