Visual Understanding Environment – Free mind mapping for your brainstorming

If you like to represent your thoughts, project or plans in the form of logical maps and flowcharts – VUE is just for you. This is a free program that all students, academic workers, CEOs, managers, writers and others will learn to appreciate, thanks to its simple use and powerful options, including fully fledged presentation mode (yes, no need for Power Point!).

Visual Understanding Environment is created by Tufts University as “a concept and content mapping application, developed to support teaching, learning and research and for anyone who needs to organize, contextualize, and access digital information”. They succeeded in making a Java-based program that runs on most operating systems and allows great creativity in brainstorming and visual organisation of material.


With VUE you can:

  • Make mind maps and charts
  • Format easily and annotate items
  • Use layers
  • Analyse charts
  • Add semantic relations
  • Share your work
  • Export in several image formats and PDF (the latter is usually available only in commercial apps)
  • Map the content dynamically and use “outside” sources
  • Make presentations
Visual Understanding Environment chart sample
Speech production process "mapped" in VUE (Adapted from Lever)

This just a beginning, and for the full list of the features visit the VUE feature page. What we particularly like and wish to mention here is the “presentation mode”: by creating “pathways” (the order in which nods/items are trigged) users can “replay” the path in full screen. This, together with annotations allows seamless presentations, just like in the Power Point. Even without annotations and keywords users can have rudimentary presentations.

Other mindmapping software

We discovered VUE just recently. For some time we used XMind, but we did not like it because it requires paid version for some usable export options. The chance was then given to FreeMind, also a very good application, but we did not like the interface. Office applications not being suitable for mind maps we ventured into Wikipedia discovery – and found VUE.

The VUE homepage lists many tutorials, and that is where you can download this great program.

Top Five English Phonetic (Phonemic) Charts

Phonetic transcription that is included in quality dictionaries is great, but what use of the transcription if you do not know phonetic alphabet? We have selected for you five places with free interactive content, perfect for quick reference. The list is based on several evaluation points, including free use, interactivity, outlay and offline content. Our aim was to show phonemic charts as a reference only, and not to discuss lessons about IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).

1. Macmillan Phonetic Chart

This tool is provided to us by Macmillan Publishers and we have selected it as one of the best phonetic charts online. The outlay is very simple and straightforward. After clicking on a symbol, the phoneme is articulated, followed by a full word in which the phoneme occurs.  Macmillan Phonetic Chart is available as offline content, in form of a simple program that comes in two flavors. The first version displays the phonemes in small window. The second, however, uses full screen, which is simply perfect for presentation (realia) in a class. One of the things we would like to see is written form of spoken example word. The software is free for use.

2. Phonemic Chart by British Council

The forerunner on our list is Phonemic Chart by British Council. This simple software uses clear outlay with nicely grouped and uncluttered vowels, consonants and diphthongs. After clicking on a phonetic symbol, the sound of the phoneme is played.

Phonetic Chart by Macmillan
Phonetic Chart by Macmillan

We think that written word in which the phoneme is used or word read after the phoneme (like in Macmilan’s Chart)  would be more natural than isolated symbol. We place this tool on the second place because of its simplicity and the fact that download versions are available both for MS Windows and Mackintosh.

Chart by British Council
Chart by British Council

3. Sounds of English by BBC Learn English

The third place is reserved for BBC English. The most basic of all in the list, this tool is opened in a browser window and it is not available offline as a separate application. The chart itself is simple with clearly articulated phonemes. We have decided to select it because of quality content that is available on the same place if you decide to hang around – pages named Pronunciation tips. BBC is in the top of the game, with great lessons on English pronunciation. Each of the sounds is explained in a separate lesson, accompanied by video content. Another great site from BBC.

Chart by BBC Learn English
Chart by BBC Learn English

4. The Phonetic Chart by EFL Productions

On this site the phonemes are presented within the words, and isolated phonemes cannot be heard. It is great companion to previously mentioned charts, because it is possible to hear the phoneme in the context. However, the content is available online only. If you wish to use it on your computer offline, you will have to buy it. It would be good to mention that the software offers simple pronunciation quiz and phonetic diagram (both available online). The downside is somewhat strange voice recordings and not-so-friendly design for your eyes.

Phonemes by EFL Productions

5. The Sounds of English by

This page is the least interactive of all listed here. When a user clicks on a word, the pronunciations are played as mp3 recording (whole words are read, and not the phonemes). We decided to include the site here because it offers American and British versions of the pronunciation. To more advanced students, extra explanations in plain English will be of use and great introduction to International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The content is available online only, unless you are ready to save each file individually.

This closes our list for time being. Do you know of any great online phonetic charts? Feel free to share in the comments.