App Review: Scrabble and Angry Words (or how to use word games to increase your vocabulary)

Posted on 15/03/2012


Word games are a great way to stretch your linguistic muscles and learn new vocabulary. You can, of course, buy word searches in magazine format, or play a solitaire game of Scrabble on a traditional board. But if you have a smartphone or a tablet, these days there are many other options.

I was excited to find the Scrabble app a few months ago. You can choose between English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. You can play a physical opponent –

A Spanish Scrabble game completed.

Image via Wikipedia

just like with a real board, except you don’t have to add up the scores, which in my case is a great relief. (You also don’t have to look up words in the dictionary to prove or disprove the validity of a word – thereby eliminating arguments. Maybe.) You can play against yourself, too.

But the great thing language learners is that you can play a virtual opponent, and you can choose your level. (I’d recommend you go with “easy” to start with, even if you are quite advanced: this is harder than it seems in a foreign language!) The ghost in your iPad will invariably use words that are new to you, and this is where the learning begins.

Look them up.

Write them down. (You do have a vocab notebook, don’t you?)

Challenge yourself to write sentences with them.

Challenge yourself to  write a story using five, or ten, or all of the words.

But even if you do none of those things, it can still be fun and worthwhile. (I have a completely unscientific theory that when you don’t use your language skills, they travel towards the back of the brain. The longer it is since you last accessed them, the harder it is to find them again. Using them once in a while, even for a game, keeps them further forward, and easier to access.) Plus, if you are the competitive type, it can be a good way to motivate yourself – bettering your own score or beating your virtual opponent.

Of course, it’s more fun still to play a real person, particularly one whom you know. I was sad that Words With Friends only exists in English. I’m a lot happier now that I’ve discovered – thanks to a student of mine – a newish app called Angry Words. Aside from its ingenious name, easily the best thing about it is its availability in multiple languages: English, Spanish, French, German, yes – the usual suspects – but also Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Catalan, Portuguese and – bafflingly – Brazilian.

Just like Words With Friends, you can invite Facebook and Twitter friends, and also find “random opponents”. (Which may be the easiest way to find someone to play with, until this app catches on.) There are a few teething problems with some of the functions, but I expect that will be resolved in an imminent update. Also like Words With Friends, there’s a free version – where the ads are frankly not that intrusive – or you can pay for an upgrade. And there are push notifications reminding you when it’s your turn to play, and funky little tunes when you play a word.

So really, what are you waiting for? Download Angry Words, and start practising your language skills in the supermarket queue, on the metro, or from the comfort of your own bed. You might even make some new friends in the process.


— for more hints and tips on language learning, buy Conquering Babel: A Practical Guide to Learning a Language here in the US and here in the UK.

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