Top Ten ‘Free’ Learning English Sites

This is a personal selection of English language learning sites that I use and encourage my students to use.   Please feel free to comment or send me links of other sites that you recommend.


1.  BBC Learning

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Superbe site!  It’s huge!  Everything you need from business english to general english, the news to worldwide recipes, with grammar, vocabulary, podcasts, listenings, video clips, forums, blogs … etc etc.  The site is continuously up-dated with new material added every day.

Slight drawback:  Not so good for the ‘absolute beginner’.   Site aimed at pre-intermediate and plus.


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Created by Sean Banville, this site really deserves recognition and credit.  An enormous archive resource containing texts, listenings and vocabulary consolidation exercises on a large variety of current affairs subjects.  The format is the same for all texts, and each text is accompanied by an incredible ammount of material which can be used to classroom/group learning or selected for individual learning.

Half-an-hour of english learning per day?  Listen, read, gap fill one of these texts.

3. British Council Learn

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Elementary podcasts included on this site!  In fact, all level podcasts and video clips with interactive exercises and transcipts available.  An essential resource.   Learning is fun!

4.  Real

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I like this site.  It may be a little difficult for elementary students, but by hearing the same question asked to many different ‘real people’ on the street you hear many different answers, voices and accents.  That’s important in learning English.


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Semi-real conversations with transcipts and quizzes to help you learn new vocabulary and expressions.  An excellent choice for those busy  ‘ten-minutes-a-day’ type students.  But keep it in your favourites and do visit it for ‘ten-minutes-a-day’.   At least!


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Another podcasts site strongly based on developing listening skills.  That’s so important, and does also help with developing speaking skills whilst building up vocabulary and strengthening grammatical structures.

7.  The English Blog

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There are many English blogs on the internet, but this is my favourite.  A new blog every day with cartoons, video clips and texts based on current affairs/news topics.   It also contains lots and lots of links to other very good English learning and English language blogging sites.

Perhaps for the more advanced students, but it’s fun.  A good way to learn what is happening in the world whilst also studying English.


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A good site to work on your English grammar.  Clear explanations, exercises and video clips.


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Another English grammar based site for French people who like to have English grammar explained in French.


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This is an excellent site!  To access a lot of the material here you do need to subscribe.  However, I strongly recommend the freely available monthly news articles   (click on link) for reading practice, with comprehension and vocabulary building exercises, which can greatly help to expand your knowledge of the English language.

English language facts

Some of these facts are already out of date!

– At least one billion people speak or are trying to speak English at the present time. (The British Council)

– 300 million people are currently learning the English language.  (The British  Council)

– More Chinese people speak English, than English people.  (Bill Bryson)

– There are 400 million mother tongue speakers of English.*

– English is the medium for 80% of the information stored in the world’s computers?*

– English is used as an official or semi-official language in over 60 countries. *

–  English is used in 85% of the world’s organizations. *

– English is the language of navigation, aviation and of the Ecumenical Council of Churches.*


So – here’s the ‘truth’ of the English language story as told in 2011

The English language continues to expand!   Two billion people worldwide are now studying English!

If you want to be global, you’d better start learning!

Speaking origins

It may not suprise the more chauvanistic reader that it was women who set us all off nattering.  Anyway, such is the conclusion of female author, Dean Falk (2009), who states that with the development of the prehensile thumb, consequent advances in fine-motor skills enabled more skilled handling of ‘tools’ and as a result, women working with tools needed to set their babies down to get on with their tasks.  This freaked the babies out.  Women thus learnt to shush and sooth the babies with baby-talk (‘motherese’).  This, Dean Falk characterizes as being ‘musical, high-pitched, slow, exaggerated and pleasing’.  Thus, apparently, appeared proto-language.  Initially it had a highly emotional (right brain) content for it evolved out of animal calls.  Later, to pass on their tool-handling skills to older children, instruction-giving (left brain) evolved necessitating the development of more complex speech.  This became possible as physiological morphology around the throat and palate evolved facilitating a wider range of sounds. Musical transmission of emotional content and ‘meaning’ transfer through differentiated symbolic sounds, then merged.  Hence, languages today are a blend of right and left brains working together in conjunction.

Complex communication is undeniably a defining human facet. ‘The device (the telephone) is inherently of no value to us’,  said a Western Union internal memo in 1876.  And how wrong they were!  Any means of communication possible has been snapped up by our species to pass on information both mundane and important:  From African tribal drums and Indian smoke signals, to pony express and pigeon post, to telecommunications and the internet.  Communication is a compulsive social need.  As individuals, we are alone without it.

I am a baby

– I am a baby.  Sights and sounds flood my brain, but I don’t understand them.  I feel.  That much is sure  And not only physical sensations, but emotional ones too.  When my mummy holds and kisses me, I feel good.  But when I don’t see her, I feel not so good.  Then all the sights and sounds become too confusing.  They can even be scary and I want to cry.    Help!

–  I am a toddler and living is fun.  I’ve good a whole team of grown ups to feed me, change me, drive me to meetings with other toddlers, and pick me up when I fall down.   In fact, they do everything for me.   Mummy and Daddy, my two most personal assistants, organize my daily affairs.  They are good, but sometimes they just don’t understand my needs, however much I try to explain.  Other times I just do what I know is best.  But then they get cross and try to stop me.  Honestly!   Who do they think they are?

– I am a child and beginning to get this world cracked.  I mean, I should be, I’ve asked that many questions about it.  That’s the great thing about having learnt to speak;  although I don’t really know how that happened.  Nevertheless, Mummy does still correct me sometimes when I make a mistake and I do love it when Daddy reads me a bedtime story.  And if I say a bad word that I’ve learnt at school, they both frown and tell me not to repeat it.

– I am a teenager and finally understand the ignorance of my parents.  They’re really out of touch with my generation.  They don’t think or speak the same.  When I’ve finished my schooling I’m going to join an environmental humanitarian organization and do something positive for the world.  Not like them.  I might even become a Marxist anarchist.  That’d freak the old folks out!


Not alone.

David, a young man with Downe’s syndrome and severe learning difficulties, screwed up his face, stuck a finger in his ear, and hurled.  The sound was heard throughout the training centre.  He was inconsolable and no amount of coaxing or cajouling would ease his anguish.  It was a regular affair and with tears pouring out of red eyes and snot trickling down from his nose he was not a pretty sight.   He raised his tubby, five-foot, one-hundred-and-twenty-pound frame and plodded two heavy steps forward.

‘David?’  I asked, wondering where he was going.

David turned, and using his right hand made three signs signifying:  ‘I’, ‘go’, ‘toilet’.

‘David!!’ I cried out in wonder, ‘that’s brilliant!’

David stopped crying, gave a huge smile, and jumped off his feet in pleasure.

What was so wonderful?  After a year of learning Makaton sign language, David had finally strung three signs together to make a sentence.   He was communicating.  He was not alone.


What, then,  is life like without language?  Click below.

Less academically, watch here, story of Ildefonso:  ‘he had entered the world of humanity, discovered the communication of minds’.  (2:45)

Speaking English!

The need to speak is a powerful force, isn’t it?

Speaking, whether to express opinions, complaints, suggestions etc., or simply to establish and maintain human relations,  empowers. Having a voice is a democratic freedom enscribed in constitutions and universal declarations. It’s a ‘Right’ that has been fought for by suffragettes, revolutionaries and dissenters. It has been tortured, suffered and died for. Communication, beyond animal grunts, was the earliest and most unique attribute of our species. It remains the most important.  Remove it and you remove identity.  Communication skills create social identity.  Having identity means being alive.

Establishing identity in the anglophone world means learning English.  By contrast, living in France means I have to establish my identity through the French language.  This is done by improving my French language skills,  overcoming timidity and losing fear of making errors.  Yes, babies have distinct advantage over me.  They have no inhibitions nor any previous language already etched upon their mental linguistic templates.  Their trials to communicate and establish individual identity are just beginning.

Speaking is the key. That’s something the baby girl in the clip instinctively knows. Speaking is both the path and the  goal of language acquisition – and thank goodness for loving parents who patiently encourage and guide.  Adult learners, on the other hand, take language lessons with patient language-loving teachers to guide them on their way. Alternatively, if fortunate, they immerse themselves in the new linguistic environment with partners to help their new language speedily progress.

Both scenarios are opportunities to speak and practice.  They are forums, communal or private, for the display of ideas and self-identity.  During lessons content of speech  is not analyzed for its profundity or verity.  Language teachers are not philosophers, gurus, scientists or priests.  But what is important is the act of self-expression, however clumsy this may at first feel, for those nuances of meaning can only develop this way.  All babies get there eventually.  Second language learning adults too!

So speak out and speak up!  Any subject is good.  It’s the way to progress!

Good luck.