Young people today (as well as learners of all ages) are equipped with more tools for learning English than ever before. Back in the Eighties, learners relied upon private lessons, paper books, and language-learning tapes to improve their English language skills. Now there are many more opportunities online to hear authentic native speakers of English and to practice with activities like multiple-choice drills. Many of these activities are free while others cost a fee. Whereas learners in the past had to travel across the globe to practice authentic language in a real-world context, now learners utilize apps, text messaging, FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts, and more to practice their language skills. All one needs is a good Internet connection, a computer and an Android or iPad to get started.
First and foremost, one should not forget the importance of reading literature in the language that one studies no matter what the language might be. Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and other providers offer an excellent selection of downloadable books. Many prefer PDF books that can be stored in the iBooks Application of their iPads or Androids. Most experts agree that the best English speakers and writers are those who have taken the time to read extensively in the various genres including but not limited to romance, literary fiction, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Writers of great books tend to exemplify the best English so one should not bypass the digital book as a valuable tool in a world that tends to provide the fast gratification of attaining knowledge through online programs.
That being said, it is good to know there are so many apps and Internet sites for students who would like to learn English on their own, even as a means of outperforming peers at school or at work (or to attain a high score on a test). One such valuable site for acquiring English is Udemy. Udemy offers courses of all types in the English language. A majority of the teachers are native English speakers or second-language speakers of high proficiency. By taking a Udemy course, the learner builds vocabulary specific to a field of expertise. Another excellent site is The Great Courses, a site where one can purchase a digital course by Great Professors and stream it in an online, digital locker. The Great Courses site provides rather long English courses with a broad range of topics, especially in literature and philosophy. Otherwise, an advanced English -language-learner might supplement his or her studies with excellent lectures given at TED.com or by free courses offered through universities at Coursera’s website.
There is something for people at all language levels, from the early beginners to the advanced professionals. There are programs to address the needs of every learning style. No matter how young or old, everyone benefits from websites originally created for both public and private schools. Learners and teachers find a vast number of downloadable worksheets and puzzles as well as downloadable English books at such sites. Many of these learning sites are supported by the products they advertise and sell. Such sponsor’s products provide value because they tend to be related to the acquisition of English.
It would be impossible to provide a list of all sites available out there in the digital world. New sites pop up all the time when creative people design original means of teaching languages online. Rather than learning in a single venue with a limited methodology, students benefit from exposure to the variety of teaching techniques, strategies, activities, and games. Here is a list of some of my favorite sites that I have used in my experience as an English teacher. Not all of these sites fit the needs of every learner so learners need to pick and choose between these sites and more:
- Wall Street’s “English Anytime”
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary — Official Site
- YouTube.com (lessons, music, movies, and more)
At Kiz Phonics, students find valuable examples of the pronunciation of English sounds. Keep in mind that this site is American, but there are equivalent sites with pronunciation from England, Canada and other English-speaking countries. Adult learners will benefit just as much from listening to examples of pronunciation on a children’s website as will children since phonics apply to all ages. It is advisable to focus on the wide array of vowel sounds pronounced by English speakers because most second-language speakers of English are initially unaware of the way each vowel makes so many sounds depending upon the letters around it.
For unfamiliar words, I would turn to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online, to the Oxford Dictionary online, or to a general “word-of-the-day” e-mail list for which one can sign up to get daily messages with new vocabulary. Not even a native speaker will likely know all of the words that one receives in the e-mails of words each day. Students should pay close attention to the etymologies of words. An etymology is an explanation of where a word came from and possibly how it changed in both form and sound over a long period of time. The study of the origins of words makes a challenging language like English all the more fun because it links the language to historical origins and to various cultures.
When considering the meanings of words, it remains wise to evaluate a word used in context. English vocabulary is planted in a setting that enables the English-language-learner to understand the intended meaning. There are sites, including those sites with dictionaries, that explain the differences between homonyms, homophones, synonyms and rhyming words. One such site is the RhymeZone.com. The Rhyme Zone also provides a valuable thesaurus that will enable learners to understand the nuances of the English language.
ABA English offers a natural way of learning English through watching films related to real life. One of my former adult students from Italy remarked that this site was enjoyable and that it made learning English seem like less work than learning in the classroom. ABA English offers a trial period so that anyone can try out the program and benefit from their videos for free. If learners prefer to advance in the program, they can sign up for the Premium services. Otherwise, learners might prefer watching You Tube for free videos about the English language and singing along with some You Tube Music videos with the lyrics printed for singers. Singing enables learners to practice the flow of sounds in a natural way.
Wall Street English offers exciting social clubs. Students go to one their centers (centres) to participate in terrific activities that address popular culture, trends, marketing, business, advertising, and even the arts. It can be a lot of fun to make friends at a Wall Street social activity. Wall Street also offers an exciting “Village” online known also as “English Anytime” for motivated learners who need to know English geared toward success on the job, at school, and in the workforce. Wall Street English combines the best of on-site teaching with online teaching for a very reasonable and affordable price.
For serious ESL and TEFL students who wish to explore English stories in detail, one finds Pink Monkey.com, a site with an immense collection of literary summaries that are written in English. Such summaries will help learners better understand their literary studies or choose books that they might like to read. Both Cliffs and Spark Notes are similar American sites for literary inclined students of the great English language.
Last but not least, ABCmouse.com, for a small fee, teaches children activities that come directly from the classroom. One finds thousands of activities at children’s fingertips. Students click on any point and are led to an activity so that learners never run out of activities. For kids of all ages, Reading Bear will teach them 1,200 vocabulary items in 50 presentations that cover all the rules of English phonics free of charge.
As one can see, no matter where one has studied English in the past or where he or she presently studies English alone or in a classroom, there is much that the learner can study online to improve the reading, writing, listening, and speaking of English through websites and apps. Learners will find an array of activities ranging from basic, elementary phonics to university-level presentations on sites like Udemy and TED.com. No matter where you have arrived in your English language studies, you have to take responsibility for your own learning. A single teacher cannot provide students with all the knowledge they need because a teacher’s knowledge is limited and comes from a single viewpoint no matter how great the teacher might be. Thus, students should not blame their teachers for what they do not know when there are so many opportunities to explore English on the Internet. Students should always utilize research as a means of getting a better understanding of words, phrases, and idioms. It remains the responsibility of the learner to seek to cover all facets of language, especially when there are so many exciting opportunities!