Learning English - Guide to Free Online Resources.

A guide and portal to some of the best free websites to improve your English


Welcome to my Internet pathway for learning English

The BBC and the British Council are both good places to start exploring as they provide the most comprehensive selection of English learning activities at different levels.
At the BBC, listen to world news as well as audio broadcasts on business, sports, education, science, youth, arts & drama, features, music and religion. There is also a special section on English language learning which has audio clips and listening comprehension exercises. Topics include news, study skills, science and technology, speaking English, business, society and culture, and English for beginners.
The British Council site includes test yourself, words, audio, grammar, songs, magazines, games, stories, poems, postcards and links. You can practice all your language skills here.
For some quick revision, explore Study Zone from a Canadian university. It's wonderfully easy to navigate with clear and simple explanations and exercises sorted by level and theme.

Beginners, however, may like to start with a colourful page of activities here or with more formal courses on Learn English Online. There are also annotated lists of sites sorted by language skill and by level on the excellent ESL Independent Study Lab portal (select level 100).

For a tour of some of the best free sites to help improve your English at all levels, read on . . .

Test your level

For an idea of your level try English4today which is easy to use but will email your results; it will rate you on one of four levels.

If you are preparing for one of the international tests of English like TOEIC, TOEFL , Cambridge or Bulats, Exam English provides some practice tests.

This is perhaps one of the most difficult skills to improve where the Internet is a goldmine of resources. Remember that you do not have to understand every word to get the gist. Moreover, watching a video will certainly help you to understand the context.

The English Listening Lab Online is a very clean site with audio using native speakers from Canada, US, England, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia talking about a wide variety of subjects. In support, there are the transcripts and some well presented quizzes. You can also select by country.

Using only American speakers, Randall's Cyber Listening Lab is a well designed site with many general listening quizzes sorted by level.

Lingual Net has movie extracts sorted by category with subtitles and quizzes. The videos are slow to load but it is worth it as there is a wide variety to choose from. You can also chat with other visitors.

TV news channels like CNN, Sky and BBC have videos for current news items with associated articles and links. CNN has a daily 10 minute student news with transcripts.

Besides current news videos, ABC Australia contains a big well-structured audio archive of radio current affairs reports with transcripts. You can choose any day back to March 2005 and select a specific report or use the search function. The transcript archive actually goes back to 1999 but without audio.

Designed more for the learner, literacynet provides a selection videos of older CNN and CBS news stories with associated learning activities.

The BBC Learning English web site is a gem and is frequently updated. You could easily spend all your time on the wide range of activities here. More advanced learners could also try one of the BBC radio programmes which are available to for up seven days after transmission. There is also a regularly updated soap opera called The Flatmates which is specially written for English learners.

Voice of America has news items recorded specially to help learners. It includes the scripts and is limited to 1500 words, short sentences and no idioms. If you find that too easy try the main VOA site .
Podcasts, which are basically just downloadable audio files, are rapidly increasing in popularity and allow access to radio-style programmes on an infinite range of subjects. You could try searching for a subject that interests you on one of the Podcast portals. Vodcasts (videocasts) should become more common in the future with the growth of sites like Youtube and Myspace.

To google is now an expression in the English language and probably the quickest way to find useful sites but make sure you use Google.com or Google.co.uk to highlight English sites.

Using English as a means rather than an end is likely to improve your level more easily. The Internet is ideal for this as you can pursue your own interests on specialist sites written in English such as the Lonely Planet travel guide and forum. At Imdb, cinema buffs can find a wide variety of viewer’s opinions about virtually every film ever released. Here, you can watch movie trailers with comprehension exercises.

If you want to get up-to-date with the latest expressions, slang and street language, Urban Dictionary provides some interesting reading. Definitions of expressions, new and old, are submitted by anybody and then rated by visitors. Much of the content seems to emanate from the Hip-hop community. Sing365 provides a comprehensive database of song lyrics and Scriptorama is the place to find movie scripts.

Are you good at solving mysteries? At MysteryNet.com, you can get some good English practice solving short mysteries by reading and listening.

Explore your relationships, your intelligence, your emotional health, your career/profession, or your general knowledge - Tests, tests, tests ... provides more tests than you will ever need. In addition to giving you some knowledge about yourself, it's a good way to increase your English vocabulary. The "just for fun" section has a big choice of mini tests like the "sense of humour" or the "couch potato" tests.

Have you ever wondered why the British take so many tea breaks or what happens on April Fool's day or bonfire night or how the education system is structured? Learn English takes a light-hearted look at British customs, traditions and culture.

If you want to catch up on the news why not visit one of the many newspaper sites. Online Newspapers is a comprehensive portal with thousands of newspapers classified by country. Most of the principal quality and tabloid newspapers are online including the famous British Times newspaper - not to be confused with Time magazine published in the United States.

To read news from a range of political and social viewpoints, you could start with The Guardian, The Independent, The New York Times and the tabloid Daily Mirror. In the United States, The New York Times has a special learning section and a daily news quiz. Their archives go back to 1851 and are now free.

Tower of English has an excellent collection of games that will help you learn English while you are having fun.

Help with vocabulary is not far away. The famous Cambridge dictionary has audio and phonetics to help with pronunciation. In the unlikely event that this does not provide a clear answer, try Onelook. It is a meta-dictionary which will search over 900 online dictionaries and the results are sorted by topic - art, computing, business, science etc.

Wikipedia is a marvellous up-to-date encyclopedia which is created with articles submitted by the general populous. It covers almost every topic under the sun and is surprisingly well-written. Links to relevant external web sites are included which may help you collect information for your projects. Simple English Wikipedia is highly recommended as it uses fewer words and easier grammar than the original English Wikipedia.

More and more chat rooms are adding video webcam facilities which could be used for speaking practice from home or a cybercafe and numerous blogs exist where you can read and add comments.
For something more structured for English learners, visit English Forums or English Club to read and participate in discussions and comments written in more of a spoken than written style. These sites are specifically designed to practice English on a wide variety of topics ranging from law, sports, books, travel to more controversial subjects.

At English Baby, the focus is on using today's American pop-culture, like movies, music and conversations, to teach you how Americans speak. You also have the chance to practice what you learn with lessons under the themes of slang, music, eavesdropping, movies and real life. There are also chat rooms, message boards, and the chance to make e-pals.

To work on accent and rhythms visit Train Your Accent or Fonetiks to learn more about regional variations.

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression" - For help with your CV and covering letter, get some tips from English Club. They also have a clear guide to business presentations. You may find Europass useful to create your CV in a European model or to make a European language passport to describe your language skills.

Grammar revision and practice

"As long as the world is turning and spinning, we're gonna be dizzy and we're gonna make mistakes" - Mel Brooks.

To remind you of the key tenses you will find some clear examples here but if you want to go into more detail try Edufind.

Then go to Dave's ESL cafe or the British Council for some quizzes to test drive your grammar skills.

Activities for ESL Students has many quizzes, tests, exercises and puzzles for grammar and vocabulary. These are graded as easy, medium or difficult.

Finally, for a bit of R&R, why not attempt to win a virtual million dollars. Click on the "play online" button on the Who wants to be a millionaire site.


Toulouse Capitole University language resource centre.

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