How do you learn English in your free time? Do you meet internationals in cafés, do you self-study using books, do you get on the internet? When it comes to learning many people have realized they are not going to acquire the language just by sitting in classrooms. But not everyone has the opportunity to walk out to the street and start practising with the passers-by. Most of us, who are learning English, don’t live in an English-speaking country. And many of us are shy to meet strangers in the street anyways. So how do we do it?
If you are reading this blog post you know what the answer is already…
We are in English learning heaven these days as tons of interactive resources and platforms to communicate live with others are available online. Think online dictionaries with pronunciation, think Duolingo – the growing star on the language learning market, web apps with voice recognition system like English Central or all these interactive grammar/vocab quizes. Think Skype, Facebook, Youtube, Live Mocha, iTalki,… and you’ll know where I’m heading.
So here is my pick of the best of the best, tested on me and hundreds of my students in my English courses.
For language cuddlers
1. Test Your English – vocabulary test
First of all you want to know where you stand. Take this vocabulary test and find out your score and a description of your level in comparison with native speakers and speakers around the world.
TIP: Write down your score and do the test again in 6 months and in 1 year. If you are working on your English, there is no way that number wouldn’t increase. The more you surround yourself with natural English, the higher the number will be. All you need is – focus!
2. Bab.la – largest online dictionary and more
My absolute favourite these days. And guess what? It’s built by its users! From 27 countries. All words are shown in context in many example sentences which are also translated! You don’t see that anywhere else online. Pronunciation included. This is an incredibly promising website as apart from the dictionary they have other tools which are superbly handled.
TIP: Check out their Phrases section, Vocab learning section (with flashcards) or Quiz section. Can’t wait for their mobile version!
3. Fraze.it – words in context
You need to learn words in context. Not from a notebook with lists full of unrelated words but on flashcards/post-it notes with example sentences. But where do you find such example sentences? You can go to a dictionary OR you can use Fraze.it! The web application lists hundreds of sentences from NewYork Times, The Economist, CNN and other news sources to show how words and phrases are used in real language.
TIP: Use the filter on the right to choose whether your word appears at the beginning or the end of the sentence (Rule) or in which tense (Tense) and context it’s used (Context). And you can scroll down to find the word’s synonyms. Everything in one place!
4. Ozdic – collocations dictionary
About 5 years ago one of my best Christmas presents was a collocations dictionary (I know, I’m crazy, right?). A collocation is a fixed expression of two or more words that go together, like “fast food” or “go to bed”. A collocations dictionary is thus very useful if you want to know which words go together, e.g. with the word “choice”. When I found it exists online it was like second Christmas for me.
TIP: This is particularly useful for bloggers and those who need to write more complicated texts in English, such as essays, business proposals or presentations. So most of us!
5. English Central – record yourself
The only paid website on the list. And rightly so. It’s simply brilliant. Watch short clips from movies, talk shows, news, commercials etc. with subtitles and then record yourself pronouncing sentence by sentence, receiving feedback afterwards via a voice-recognition system. It’s like Youtube, only much better! You score points for each word pronounced correctly so you can compete with others as in video games. I cannot recommend this website enough!
TIP: You can register through my link to see what my other students are working on and to compete with them.
6. Duolingo – free online language lessons
Gamification of language learning at its purest and possibly best in the free waters of today´s world wide web. This website is gaining more and more attention as highly positive feedback from users around the world flows in. Very friendly interface with an owl mascot called “Duo” and a language learning system full of points, rewards, badges and praise. You learn through various types of exercises in units ranging from basic to advanced levels in 20 different languages, including Czech! And I really like the fact it´s all spoken language, nothing too formal/academic.
TIP: Don’t give up. Many students are reporting to me that their English improves if they stick to it for at least a month! I suggest you subscribe to the mailing list so that Duolingo sends you email reminders motivating you to keep learning.
7. Lyrics Training – recognize words in songs
If you like music and have been learning a lot of English from songs, like me, you’ll love this website. You find a song and your level and you play the song. You must fill in the missing words, depending on your chosen level, where 10%, 25%, 50% or 100% of the words are missing. It’s perfect for your listening skills as they don’t let you listen further until you guess the word correctly (you do have an option to click the “Give up” button though).
TIP: Work with at least 5 songs per week and watch your English improve. Drastically! I promise!
8. Humans of New York – real people, real stories
Sad, happy, heart-breaking, inspiring, everything that life brings to ordinary New Yorkers… Short stories with portraits of those in the stories. Or one of the most popular Facebook pages out there, with 13 million followers. Follow it, it’s the best reading practice for you.
TIP: When you don’t want to miss a post from a Facebook page, do it like this.
9. Learn English – idioms, phrases, vocab 1x denně
Possibly the best FB page for learning English. 3 million fans, thousands of likes and shares speak for themselves. Simple examples of spoken English. There´s nothing to add, just follow and work on it, baby.
TIP: This is exactly the type of FB posts that you can follw on your mobile phone (if you´re into mobile FB). Bite-sized pieces of language a few minutes a day, go for it!
10. Lucie Podhorná English – great FB page about spoken English (CZ only)
Lucka is a very smart young lady living in my hometown of Brno, teaching English and Swedish to locals. I had the honour of meeting her a couple of times and teach with her once and completely fell in love with her. Same as her page which is incredibly funny, highly informative and best of all – deals with everyday English phrases and grammar points that we all make mistakes in. Perfect for advanced levels, you will never get bored.
TIP: The page is in Czech but I am sure if you write to Lucka, she will work on that ;). She is very excited so many people are interested in her work.
11. Mr Duncan – funniest teacher online
If I had to name just one Youtube channel where to learn English, this is the guy I’d pick. No wonder he has over 50 million views, he has kept his videos fun, highly educative and professional for many years. He cracks me every time with his dry British humour and I dare say he has no competition. I wish there had been someone like Mr Duncan when I was learning English as a kid.
TIP: Like his page on Facebook and as you are doing this choose to “Get Notifications”.This way you will be reminded regularly to follow a lesson. There are 88 lessons and more coming.
12. Easy English – video interviews in the street
A small section at a much bigger “Easy Languages” Youtube channel which promotes learning languages without coursebooks, socially, from people in the streets. At the moment there are 16 videos 3 – 5 min long, all subtitled and all very enjoyable to watch. Real people with different accents answering questions like “What do you like about your city”, “How is the nightlife here?”, “What are the people in your city like?”. Watch the one from London. Most of them are from England and there is one from NYC. A very promising project!
TIP: If you like learning this way, watching ordinary people in the streets speak about different things, go to these two links: Real English (American interviews) and Luke’s Podcast (London interviews).
13. Conversation Exchange 14. Babel Village 15. Speaky 16. How do you do
If you are outgoing and enjoy speaking to people, the best way for you is to go out and meet people. How do you do it online? Some people play online games and learn by communicating with other players (and many report it’s a great way to learn English), some people join communities around some passion, some like discussions about children or dogs. If you don’t have anything specific to talk about but would like a conversation partner you can try language exchange websites. They are for free, you just build a profile and choose your convo partner. I highly recommend to speak only to native and fluent English speakers in order to hear correct language and learn authentic spoken English.
TIP: More about starting with language exchange websites here. You can also use EOT materials if you want a bit more structure to your conversations and would like a proper learning experience. Check out how you can use them to your benefit.
For readers and listeners
17. Voice of America News – American podcasts
Very popular resource for learners of English, you can find so much here. Listen to “radio” or watch short tv news programmes, depending on your favourite topic. The stories are divided into three levels so it´s best for learning new words (in bold) and the texts are all recorded in very comfortable speed for English learners. The videos are all subtitled.
TIP: I love listening to VOA programmes, it’s like listening to real American radio (my favourite is “Jazz America” because I like jazz), you can find them here.
18. British Council – British podcasts
British Council represents the highest quality when it comes to language teaching. If you find a better resource for podcasts, please, let me know. This website offers many podcasts from categories such as “Elementary podcasts”, “UK Culture” or “How to videos”. It has it all: before/while reading activities, transcript and a lot of vocabulary and listening exercises that you can do on your computer while you listen or watch, or print out and do when you want.
TIP: There is much more on the British Council site to discover, including Business English, Grammar, IELTS exams, Games, so enjoy! It’s top notch, as the Brits would say.
For disciplined students
19. Coursera and 20. Future Learn
They say not many students finish open university online courses which are for free. So this is for those who are highly-motivated to learn more about a specific topic, are disciplined and dedicated and are serious with their study time. Go and explore! This to me is the most fascinating thing happening in education and I myself am a big fan of MOOC – massive open online courses.
TIP: Go to the culture learning sections, for example this one on British language and culture.
21. Couchsurfing – free stay with locals
If you don’t know Couchsurfing, this paragraph is for you. And you don’t necessarily need a passion for travelling (who doesn’t though?!), all you need is an open heart and willingness to make new friends from abroad. Through this website, where you need to register (for free) and make a profile, you can find people anywhere around the world who will host you for free. It’s a social website, like a travel version of Facebook. It’s best to watch this video to understand the concept. And ideally(but not necessarily) you also host people at your place. You can meet the world in your living room. And speak English as much as you can!
TIP: It’s absolutely safe as it works through a reference system, bad guys get spotted quickly (they get negative feedback immediately). So to start off when creating your profile try to get as much positive feedback about yourself as possible.
22. Nightswapping – you host you travel
This is a completely new service and the minute I found out about it I fell in love with it. It’s something between Couchsurfing and Airbnb. You don’t have to pay for your accommodation when you stay with people but you also have to host people. For each night you host, you get a night to spend anywhere in the world. And staying with locals, let’s be honest, is the absolute best way to learn English. For me anyways!
TIP: To get ideas where to go and what to see you can visit the “Go, See, Write” blog for very interesting articles in simple English. The blog is run by a lawyer turned traveller and what a gem!
23. Help For English – best Czech website I occassionally meet someone who has never heard of this website. If you are one of those people, just go and see for yourself. It’s really the best out there in the Czech lands.
25. Anglicky s BBC – tried and tested radio programme Do you remember Jitka? BBC Prague once produced a set of superbly-worked out courses on many topics and they are now all downloadable from the BBC website. A true gem, do check it out.
I am now preparing a much more conscise e-book with tips where and how to learn not only online, but also offline. If you´d like to be among the first ones to know about its release, sign up with your name and email here: