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Learning English Online — A Resource Guide

Copyright 2017 Jeffrey Hill

Published by Jeffrey Hill at Smashwords

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Table of Contents



BBC Learning English


Business English






How to Learn English


Language Exchange

Language Learning Programs


Movies and TV Series


Online Teachers and Tutors






Songs and Music



Top Ten ESL Websites








When I began teaching English at the end of the 1970s, the internet as we know it today did not exist. English teaching and learning materials were almost exclusively physical, i.e., books and audiocassettes, though of course we did have TV and radio back in those days! The videocassette recorder was the latest teaching technology, and I well remember organising an exchange with a French teacher in England. She would send me videocassettes of English programmes that she had taped off air, and I would do the same in French. In fact, I've still got those videocassettes. They are gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere in the school – even if we no longer have a VCR to play them on!

How times have changed. Nowadays, learners of English have access to an unlimited amount of authentic material in the form of online news, blogs, e-books, podcasts, YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, etc., etc. Not to mention all the sites and resources specifically aimed at English learners. And you don't even have to be sitting in front of a computer any longer — mobile learning on smartphones and tablets has become commonplace. With this wealth of material, one might think that it would be much easier to learn the language. The problem is that the sheer amount of material can be overwhelming. How can you find the most suitable English-learning resources for your level and needs when a Google search for "English listening intermediate" (for example) returns over six million results? The good news is that I have done a lot of the work for you. Over the years, I have identified and tested hundreds, if not thousands, of sites. I have also reviewed many of them on my blog. And that is the knowledge that I am pleased to be able to share with you in this guide.


Who is this guide for?

Anyone who is learning English as a Second or Foreign Language (ESL/EFL). Teachers will also find it useful as a library of English-learning resources for themselves or their students.

Can you really learn English online?

While there are online programs which provide courses for complete beginners, I would strongly recommend finding a tutor or joining a class (online or face-to-face) for anyone in that situation. However, if you are a learner with a basic knowledge of English, the resources listed in this guide will enable you to improve your level by working on specific weaknesses (grammar or listening, for example), or by supplementing work done in class. The guide will also be useful for anyone who has finished their studies and wants to 'keep up' their English.

What's the most effective way of learning English?

Despite the wonderful opportunities for learning provided by the internet, the reality is that there are no magic solutions. Learning a language (and not just English) still requires a lot of hard work and motivation. Here are just a few tips (check out the resources on the How to Learn English Online page for more detailed advice):

Fix your objectives. Ask yourself why you want to improve your English. Is it for travel, for work, to pass an exam, or just for your own pleasure? Do you want to speak more fluently, read books in English, write better essays, or something else?

Make a plan. First, identify the areas you need to concentrate on to achieve your objectives. What, when, where and how will you study? Try to study regularly. Half an hour a day is better than two hours once or twice a week.

Motivate yourself. Preparing an exam like the TOEIC or planning a trip to an English-speaking country can be very motivating if you find learning English is a chore.

Make learning enjoyable. There are hundreds of things you can do to improve your English, so concentrate on those that you are most interested in (movies, music, news, literature, etc.).

Be an active learner. Just watching movies or listening to songs in English probably won't do much to improve your level. Watch movies or series with, then without English subtitles. Make a note of new vocabulary. Create flashcards. Revise regularly. Learn from your mistakes. Take control of the learning process.

In fact, recent research into what is known as 'deliberate practice' has shown that "how expert one becomes at a skill has more to do with how one practices than with merely performing a skill a large number of times. An expert breaks down the skills that are required to be expert and focuses on improving those skill chunks during practice or day-to-day activities, often paired with immediate coaching feedback. Another important feature of deliberate practice lies in continually practicing a skill at more challenging levels with the intention of mastering it." [Source: Wikipedia]

How should I use this guide?

Check out as many sites as possible and stick with those that you find most useful/interesting. The categories are not exclusive. For example, to avoid repetition I have put news apps under 'News', but not under 'Apps'. To find all the resources for a particular keyword (e.g., 'intermediate', or 'app'), you can do a search in your reading app.

Good luck, and please e-mail me if you find any broken links or have any suggestions for resources to include in a future edition of this guide.

About the author

Jeffrey Hill was born in Plymouth, UK, but now lives in Le Havre, France, where he has been working at the EM Normandie Business School since 1991, teaching general and business English, and preparing students for the TOEIC and TOEFL exams. In 2004 he was awarded an MBA from Liverpool University.

Since 2011, Jeffrey has been project manager for the EM Normandie’s iTunes U site, where he has published several top-ranking courses. In 2004, he started The English Blog, which now has well over 9,000 posts and several million page views. More recently, he created the Crossword English website, which features a daily ESL crossword. He has also had two ESL crossword books published and self-published three others as PDF e-books. In 2016, he was responsible for developing the school’s free English-learning app, SmartEnglish by EM Normandie, which features his own Essential Business English course.

Jeffrey has a life-long love of teaching and learning languages, and is delighted to be able to share his experience with you in the pages of this guide.

Academic English AND Study Skills

You may be confident when using English in everyday situations, but the English you need for studying is rather different. It is what is known as 'academic English', and is the type of language you need for reading and understanding study materials, and writing about a subject.

So if you are studying or planning to study in an English-speaking educational establishment, or preparing to take one of the main academic English exams, here are some resources that will help you.


Academic English Online — Paid courses from Macmillan English (some have IELTS or TOEFL practice).

Academic English Online — Self-study materials to develop writing, reading, speaking and grammar skills.

Academic Writing — These OWL resources will help you with the types of writing you may encounter while in college.

EASE (Essential Academic Skills in English) — Two self-access courses: Listening to Lectures and Seminar Discussions.

English at University — BBC Learning English series that brings you the English words and phrases you need to help you through your first year of study abroad.


Skills for OU Study — Tips and guidance on effective study from the Open University.

Study Skills for Students — Proven tips and techniques for studying smarter.


IELTS — The official IELTS website.

IELTS Essentials — Free sample practice tests.

IELTS Skills — Macmillan app with practice exercises and interactive tasks to help you develop the four skills you need to master for your IELTS Academic exam.

IELTS Test Prepcast — Podcast giving free lessons to IELTS Test candidates.

Road to IELTS — The free version has 10 hours' worth of practice materials.

Take IELTS with British Council — 30 hours of free test materials.


4Tests — Two free TOEFL practice tests.

How to Prepare for the TOEFL Test the Right Way (FluentU)

Prepare for the TOEFL iBT Test — Official test prep materials from ETS.

TOEFL Go Anywhere — Tips, sample questions and quizzes from ETS.


Mobile learning has become very popular, and there is no shortage of apps for learning English on your smartphone or tablet. Some are free, some are paid, and some are free with paid features (aka freemium). The problem is sorting the good from the not-so-good (and the downright bad).

When I got my first iPad back in 2012, I started a blog called iPad English, where I reviewed many of the leading ESL apps of the time. The site is no longer updated and some of the apps have disappeared, but it's still worth checking out. I've also reviewed a number of apps on The English Blog (which is still going strong). I'll put links to these reviews where relevant.

The first app I'm going to talk about SmartEnglish by EM Normandie, which is my school's 100% free app for learning English. I'm not saying that it's the best app available, but it does provide a fun and effective way to improve your listening, vocabulary, and speaking skills. The app currently features four totally separate courses: Make Friends in English, Get Around Town, Useful Phrasal Verbs, and my own course, Essential Business English. Each lesson begins with an animated video, followed by a series of interactive language activities. You can even record yourself speaking. I could go on, but the best thing to do would be to download the app, which is available for iOS and Android, and see for yourself!


British Council Apps — The British Council has a number of apps in these categories: Grammar, Listening, Games, and Kids.

Cambridge University Press Apps (Android) — Includes several apps for learning English.

Collins Business English: Listening (iOS/paid) — Perfect tool for executives looking to improve their English listening skills, and anyone who needs to learn English in a business context.

Conversation English HD (iOS/paid) — improve your English conversation skills with 20 complete lessons, and learn over 200 common English idioms and expressions. Read my review.

Dictionary.com Dictionary & Thesaurus (iOS/freemium) — Over 2,000,000 definitions and synonyms, and many extra features. Read my review.

ELSA — ELSA, which stands for English Language Speech Assistant, is a mobile application that functions as a personal pronunciation coach.

English All Stars (iOS) — Improve your English with these tried-and-tested lessons from some of the internet's most popular English teachers.

EF English Bite (iOS) – 5-minute English lessons. Every day you will learn one new phrase that you can use in real life.

English at Work (iOS/paid) — Learn over 150 useful English words, phrases, idioms and expressions for use in your office or workplace.

English Grammar in Use (iOS/Android/paid) — Comprehensive grammar app for intermediate learners. Read my review. Watch demo video.

English Idioms Illustrated (iOS/freemium) — Discover the secret history of more than 160 beautifully illustrated English idioms.

English Idioms Interactive (iOS/freemium) — 45 cartoons illustrating some of the funniest English idioms, plus quizzes and information. Read my review.

English Tutor (Android/free) — An award-winning language robot created to help English learners practice speaking English.

Google Translate (iOS/Android/free) — Translate between 103 languages by typing. Read my review.

Grammar App (iOS/paid) — Multiple choice format that provides you with over 200 tutorials and over 1000 Questions. Read my review.

Grammarman (iOS/$0.99) — 20 exciting comic adventures. 100s of quiz questions, and handy hints to help you in your quest for better English grammar, vocabulary and spelling.

HelloTalk (iOS/Android) — The language app where your teachers are native language speakers from around the world. Watch a video. Read my review.

Learn English GREAT Videos (iOS/Android/free) — British Council app featuring 24 videos about UK culture. With scripts, glossaries, and questions.

Learn Hot English Magazine (iOS) – Monthly subscription-based magazine. Free to download with free preview issue.

MosaLingua — Apps for General English, Business English and TOEIC, all using the MOSA learning method based on spaced repetition. Watch demo video here.

Newsela (iOS/free) — Improve reading skills by reading news articles at different levels. Read my review.

Olive Green The Movie (iOS/Android/paid) — Innovative blend of an interactive action movie and an English language course. Read my review.

Phonetics Focus (iOS/freemium) — Fun resources to help you improve your pronunciation and knowledge of phonetics.

Phrasalstein (iOS/Android/free) — Fun app for learning phrasal verbs from Cambridge.

Sounds (iOS/Android/freemium) — The ultimate mobile English pronunciation aid, for students and teachers. Read my review.

Sounds Right (iOS/free) — British Council's pronunciation chart for learners and teachers. Read my review.

Speaking Pal (iOS/Android) — Combines video with automatic speech recognition software that tests your English speaking skills.

Terminology Dictionary (iOS/free) — A browser for the English language – part dictionary/thesaurus and part research tool. Read my review.

The English Learning Lounge (iOS/Android/free) — Get over 20 years of high quality ESL teaching experience in one app!

The Internet Grammar of English (iOS/Android/free) —Course in English grammar written primarily for university undergraduates. Read my review.

The Phrasal Verbs Machine (iOS/free) — Animated illustrations of 100 phrasal verbs set in the circus world

Towns & Cities (Android/paid) — Supplemental language tool for English learners using hip-hop music as its main channel for communication and engagement. Read my review.

Wordflex Touch Dictionary (iOS/freemium) — Converts your word entries into attractive trees which you can move, drag, and reorganize using touch gestures. See demo video here.


Newsy (iOS/free) — Mobile version of one of the best news sites for English learners. Read my review.

The Economist World In Figures on iPad (iOS/free) — A fun, data-rich reference guide for the businessperson, educator and stats geek alike. Read my review.

Pocket (iOS/Android/free) — The app I use the most. Saves articles from your browser to read on mobile devices.

Yahoo News Digest (iOS/Android/free) — Get a summary of all the important news events. Digests are delivered twice a day. Read my review.


6 Apps For Learning Languages, Ranked By How You Like To Study (Bustle)

The Essential Guide to Apps for Learning English as a Second Language — 97 more apps!

BBC Learning English

As part of the BBC World Service, BBC Learning English has been teaching English to global audiences since 1943, offering free audio, video and text materials to learners around the world. The BBC Learning English website, which was launched in 1997 and revamped in 2014, remains one of, if not the best place to find self-study resources for learning English. As such, I decided it deserved a whole page to itself.

Perhaps the best thing about BBC Learning English is that many of the materials are delivered as full-length courses, a service which would you usually have to pay for. However, each component of the course is standalone and can be studied on its own. This means the learner can choose the best way to study — by following a full course or by following the individual materials most appropriate to their needs. A new feature is site maps, which allows you to find a particular grammar point or language area to work on. You can see the site map for the Lower-Intermediate Course here, and find out more about the current and future courses here.

Here are direct links to the courses:

Lower-intermediate course

Intermediate course

Upper-intermediate course

Advanced course

As well as courses, they also have a range of long-running features such as 6 Minute English, Words in the News, and The English We Speak, some of which are available as podcasts.

Although not accessible from the main English site, there are also special versions for specific languages like Chinese, Russian. You can also subscribe to the YouTube channel and on Twitter.


When the new BBC Learning English site was launched in 2014, the old site was archived, but can still be accessed here. Although the old site does not have ‘responsive design’, it does have a fantastic collection of resources including General and Business English, Grammar, Vocabulary and Pronunciation, and all 204 (!) episodes of a series called The Flatmates. Definitely worth checking out.


Blogs are something I know a bit about since I started The English Blog in 2004, and have written well over 9,000 posts in that time! The original tagline for The English Blog was "Internet resources, reviews, news, tips and trivia for learners and teachers of English", and that is still a good description. However, there are other ESL blogs available, so here's a list of the best of the rest …

5-Minute Language — A collection of articles with language learning tips that take less than 5 minutes to read.

About Words — Cambridge Dictionary's blog for teachers and advanced learners.

Bell — Learning resources from the Bell School of English.

Bloomsbury News Blog — From the Bloomsbury International School in London.

English Blogs — Articles about English life and culture.

English with a Twist — The main focus is business English but more general topics are covered too.

Espresso English — Lots of free resources, grammar and vocabulary lessons from one of the best online ESL sites.

FluentU — Learning resources, tips, vocabulary and grammar from the online language learning site. I've linked to a number of their articles in this guide.

Idiomatic — Illustrated English idioms with definition, examples, and origin.

Learn Hot English Blog — Free lessons and articles.

Linguaplex Blog — English tips for intermediate and advanced speakers.

Macmillan Dictionary Blog — Categories include Word of the Day, Language Tips, and Videos

MyEnglishTeacher.eu — A colourful, fun blog with excellent articles on grammar, vocabulary, idioms, learning English.

Pearson English Blog — English Learning hints and tips.

PhraseMix — Plenty of good advice on how to learn a language.

Random Idea English — Lessons and exercises for advanced students.

Real Life English — Over 500,000 words (in 6 languages), 24 hours of audio learning material, and 5 hours of video lessons.

Rolls off the Tongue — Presents jokes and explains why they are funny, also looks at idioms.

The ABA Journal — An impressive collection of articles on Lifestyle & Culture, Everyday & Travel, Language & Study, and Business & Work.

ThoughtCo — Interesting articles and resources for ESL students and teachers.

Virelt — Viral videos for higher-level ELT with questions and listening activities.


Subscribe to your favourite blog(s) to receive regular email updates. You can subscribe to The English Blog here. Just enter the URL 'www.englishblog.com'.

Business English

"Business English means different things to different people. For some, it focuses on vocabulary and topics used in the worlds of business, trade, finance, and international relations. For others it refers to the communication skills used in the workplace, and focuses on the language and skills needed for typical business communication such as presentations, negotiations, meetings, small talk, socializing, correspondence, and report writing." [Source: Wikipedia]

I've spent most of my career teaching in a French business school, so I'm very familiar with this area of English. Over the years I've built up a long list of Business English resources, and created many myself. The following are some of the those I've found to be the most useful.

BEhereBEthere — A fun and free eLearning website for Business English.

Blair English — 30-minute free online Business English exercises/lessons.

Business English Conversation Course — 200 short conversations with transcripts and quizzes.

Business English Pod — Provides free weekly MP3 podcast ESL lessons and audio/e-Book courses for intermediate and advanced Business English learners. Read my review here.

BusinessEnglishSite.com — A collection of grammar and vocabulary exercises for ESL students.

English at Work — This archived BBC audio series features 63 episodes with PDF transcripts.

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