EDUKWEST #63 with Brad Patterson of SnaPanda

EDUKWEST on tour has always had a special feel to it and as much as I like connecting with great start-up people via Skype, I have to say that I truly enjoy visiting companies when I have the opportunity to do so.

Episode 63 is such an on tour video, I’ve met with Michel Nizon and team of Edulang at their office in Morlaix, France. Yes, innovation can happen in the most remote places and I love that this is possible thanks to working online, connecting with people and the possibility of finding customers all around the world!

Brad Patterson who is Edulang’s community manager introduced me to their latest product called SnaPanda.
SnaPanda as Edulang describe it is the dictionary of the 21st century. It is an application currently available for Android phones and soon to be found in the iTunes store as well.

The app is designed to assist adults when preparing for one of the standardized tests in English in the way that you take you mobile phone, you scan a word and you’ll automatically get its definition and further examples on how to use it in context.

You also have the option to save it and to add it to your custom list of vocabulary for test prep. Brad demos the functions of SnaPanda extensively during our EDUKWEST, so that I believe you’ll get a good feeling for the product.
I think, he’s found the ideal job for him and is very passionate about what he does. So besides his work for Edulang you might have a look at his general activity in ESL and EFL, he tweets @brad5patterson.

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Audio only:

1. EDUKWEST #63 with Brad Patterson of SnaPanda     

Additional Links:

SnaPanda App:
SnaPanda on Twitter: @SnaPanda
SnaPanda on Facebook: SnaPanda on Facebook
Brad Patterson on Twitter: @brad5patterson
EduLang Blog: A Journée in Language
Brad Patterson on LinkedIn: Brad Patterson

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Kirsten Winkler is the founder and editor of EDUKWEST. She also writes about Social Media, Digital Society and Startups at

  • Hey Kirsten-

    Thanks again for sharing this with your community.  It was one of my first interviews ever, so please forgive the goofiness and the fact that I never looked at the camera.  Oops !  Would love to hear what folks out there think after giving our panda a try.  

    Cheers, Brad

  • Rickinalbi


    A couple of questions.

    1.   What dictionary is SnaPanda is using?

    2.  In the video, the SnaPanda dictionary used the word “apprehension” to help define the word “afraid.”  A large percentage of my ESL students who don’t know the word “afraid” aren’t going to know the word “apprehension.”  Is there a way to move within the dictionary to do this sort of follow-up work?

    3.   How does SnaPanda handle phrasal verbs — If the learner comes across the sentence “I put my new, red pajamas on” and the reader did not understand the phrasal verb “put on,” what happens?

    4.   I can see how this product would help students who are ready to use a single-language dictionary, which excludes most of my beginning and intermediate students.  Moreover, most of my advanced students prefer a bilingual dictionary for translations of a single word — it’s just more efficient for them.  They want to know the meaning of the word in the text they are reading, and then continue on.  Isn’t this product really designed more for monolingual English students who are increasing their vocabulary?  Granted, these students are also “English learners,” but are definitely not part of the ESL or EFL student community.

    Thanks in advance.


    • Great questions, Rick and I’m glad to be digging into a Kirsten Winkler post with you once again 🙂

      1)  SnaPanda uses Princeton’s open source dictionary, WordNet.

      2) The next step for SnaPanda is to be able to search any word within the definition provided.  From a pedagogical stand point we support students using a L1 dictionary.  From there, we may choose to develop L2 dictionaries ie.  english-french, however, we’re not quite there yet.  Beta panda 🙂

      3) The most recent version of SnaPanda has a new approach to phrasal verbs— whereas originally you could snap “multiple words”, now if you snap “put”, you will find “put up with”, “put on”, “put down” etc.  We’ve found this approach more user-friendly.

      4) Many users have requested the multi-lingual dictionary, and it’s in the road map, as well as the business model.  I’m going to approach this issue from a more global level, and also from “the teacher thinking of the best mode for his students” (which isn’t necessariliy what the students find “most convenient”).  

      At an advanced level, wouldn’t it be better for students to “saturate” a bit more in the target language ?  Of course with intermediate/beginner levels, this may provide a bit “too much” challenge, but then again, there is a significant percentage of smartphone users out there that are already intermediate or beyond.  I think those are the users who we’re targeting.

      Again, thanks for your Qs and happy to answer any more questions, THOUGH, tomorrow I take off for the states and won’t be available until mid-week.    Cheers, Brad

      • I think it could also be very useful for someone who just would like to grow his / her vocabulary. I like to find new words and as soon as the Panda is on iOS, I will give it a shot 🙂

      • Rickinalbi

        Thanks, Brad.  I appreciate the precise answers, and am in no hurry for a reply.  Feel free to respond whenever you find time.  

        1.  I like WordNet, but isn’t it an odd choice for ESL students?  It certainly was not designed with ESL students in mind.  Among other things, there are no pronunciation cues.  I can see the business rationale — it’s open source — and I see value for young Anglophones who are working on their vocabulary.  We are also on the same page that a single-language dictionary is probably not the right tool for beginning and intermediate ESL students.  I leave the market size questions to those with the data on the subject.

        2.   I’m not troubled by SnaPanda’s current lack of bilingual dictionaries or more sophisticated search techniques.  SnaPanda is in Beta, and one can only do so many things at a time.  I’m just trying to determine how SnaPanda can help my students.  

        3.   I need to see SnaPanda’s phrasal verb approach in action to make sense of it.  A picture is worth a thousand words, as someone smarter than me once said.  The new approach, however, seems to resemble that of a traditional dictionary.  To me, that is a positive development.

        4.   I am not convinced that a single-language dictionary is always best for advanced students.  These students often are reading a text for general comprehension, and not to study the various ways a word is used.  In this case, a one-word translation from L1 is often sufficient when a single word in L2 presents a problem.  In other words, the students want the meaning of the unknown word as fast as possible, and then they want to move on.  If that’s the student’s goal, then I am reluctant to make the task any harder than necessary.  OTOH, advanced students are likely to have problems with idioms and other expressions.  A product like SnaPanda could conceivably have the edge over a bilingual dictionary in this case.

        5.  Contrary to when they are reading, students are really interested in word usage when they have to speak or write.  They need to know whether it is “it depends of” or “it depends on,” they need to know if it is “she is married with Bob” or “she is married to Bob,” et cetera.  Can SnaPanda be used when a student is writing?  Students can certainly take a picture of a word they type on a word processor and look it up.  Whether WordNet is an appropriate tool to help resolve this sort of problem is another question.

        Thanks again for your time.

        • Hi Rick.  I really respect how you’ve centered your students’ potential use of SnaPanda at the center of this discussion.  As a teacher, it’s the way I would probably approach it too, though seeing who’s already using the application, I have a more global perspective.

          Whereas Edulang typically focuses 100% on ESL, SnaPanda has a larger and more diverse draw than that. This is part of the reason that WordNet is actually a great choice considering the larger audience AND the fact that it thus provides a free version of the app for all to try.  From there, we are in discussion with publishers about diversifying their digital dictionary approach.  In the long run this would enable us to provide a “customized” dictionary for each different user— be it bi-lingual or ESL specific w/ frequency, pronunciation etc.

          At the same time, we have a feeling that dictionaries are moving away from publishers and lexicographers “control” and possibly more towards a crowd-sourced, multi-media approach.  Time will tell, but we’d love to be involved in that “opening” process.

          I like your perspective on points 4 and 5 and think it just really depends on each individual user, and each individual text, though I have a feeling you might be right in general that many times students simply want to ‘move forward’ through a text.  

          THAT BEING SAID, SnaPanda ALSO allows learners to build word lists thus having a digitalized footprint of what they’ve learned.  When compared to the ultimate quick fix of an electronic translator, I see our app as stronger for 1) greater depth/color of a word  2) review of new words encountered.

          Cheers, Brad

          • Rickinalbi

            Hey, Brad.  

            Thanks again for the reply.  Your comments on the future of dictionary development are interesting.  As I said before, I need to play with the Panda and look at its features in more detail so that I can thoroughly understand what EduLang has developed.

            Hope your flight was uneventful and that you have a safe return back to France.

            Best,  Rick

          • Cheers.  Very boring flight which is just fine by me.     Feel free to keep me posted.  🙂