Top tools for developing fluency online for free. Tips for teachers and students. by Maylin Billingham - Profesora de inglés

Top tools for developing fluency online for free. Tips for teachers and students.


I am a child of the technological revolution. I may have spent my early years climbing trees and defeating boredom by sitting in the garden staring out into nothing, but the first I-phone came out when I was 11, and it brought with it a world of change that as a youngster was easy to build into my way of life. Because of that I have faith in the internet, if there is something you really want to do, there is an app out there to help you do it.

This blog is about finding those apps and websites. I recently completed the ‘Cambridge Assessment Academy’ course ‘Teaching English Online’. The course itself was fabulous and brought with it a community of teachers looking for ways to help their students continue to progress without access to daily, live teacher classes. I have scoured those sites and collected what I feel are the best tools for each key language skill. Please bear in mind these tools are not for complete beginners. Apps like Duolingo and Babbel fill those roles already. These are websites and apps that allow learners to take their understanding from basic to brilliant. They focus on fluency and pronunciation, making language learning an easy, daily habit. 

 

I am currently learning Spanish, by myself and completely from scratch. I have been using Duolingo and completing 30 minutes of practise sessions every day. As a tool, it has been brilliant, but my Spanish is still unnatural and broken. These websites don't just help with learning vocabulary but work to immerse their learners in the language itself. They are great tools to use yourself or to hand out to your students so they can work towards full fluency. 

I truly hope it helps. 

 

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Writing:

This choice was simple. 

https://writeandimprove.com/

This Cambridge developed website is truly brilliant. Focused mainly on Academic Writing, but also adaptable for letter and email writing as well as many other outlets. Write & Improve is all about taking what you can do already and making it better.

As a student:

If you are aiming to start a new job in an English speaking country, or perhaps about to start at an English Speaking School this tool will be your new best friend. It obviously corrects grammatical and spelling errors, but also helps with sentence structure and paragraphing properly. You can enter cover letters and essays and get instant feedback on your work with tips and ideas on how to improve it. Adapt your work and send it through again and again until you are happy with it. It’s like having a Cambridge Editor sitting with you in your room, whilst you work. 

 

As a teacher:

If you have a student looking at developing their writing skills this tool can be a lifesaver. Often marking and grading written work can be a slow and repetitive process. And if you only get to see your student once a week, it can be hard to really build on the improvements you want to see. In my opinion, students are most likely to see the benefits of what you're saying when they are given the chance to make changes and re-submit. 

But with language classes, especially online tutoring this can be hard to maintain. With Write & Improve the student can bring into class the BEST version of their work. The grammatical and spelling errors already pointed out and explained by the system, you are then left with the time to focus on content and phrasing, rather than spending long hours proofreading for proofreading’s sake. 

 

Reading: 

There are many tools out there that offer resources like this, and they can be easily found online. For the purposes of this blog I have settled on:

https://www.newsinlevels.com/

It is a simple, well laid out website that gives students the ability to interact daily with English without taking up too much of their time. Consisting of a whole host of news articles, written and rewritten to adapt to the English level selected, there really is something for everyone. 

 

As a student:
The website splits all articles into three language levels: 1,2 & 3. So whichever level you feel you are working at, the website is ready for you. With such a wide range of articles available, you can pick and choose which subjects you are interested in, and what level of that topic you think you can understand. Making short bursts of reading both easy and accessible. 

 

As a teacher:

This is a great exercise to assign students as a daily task. Most of the articles are short and easily understood, and students are given the freedom to choose the topics that they find most interesting, making it more likely that they will continue to do the work.
For my personal students, I will usually have a Google Doc diary, on which they copy a link of the article they read and can list any words they didn’t understand for us to then discuss in class. 

 

Listening:

Another great tool for short bursts of daily practice is my listening website:

https://elllo.org/english/levels/index.htm

This site caters to a range of levels, so teachers and students can decide which level they think works for them. It comes with both soundbite and a script so the student has all of the tools they need to practice the given language. 

 

As a student:

This site is easy to use, and like all the others on this blog, free in its basic features. The tools are easy to understand and built to help you develop your listening skills by having access to a whole host of accents and dialects, preparing you for understanding by using real world situations and a variety of voices. 

 

As a teacher:

Whilst I wouldn’t give the students complete free reign as I would with ‘NewsInLevels’, ‘Ello’ sorts out most of its topics with the language subject, i.e. “Grammar Talks 3-02 Third Person Singular.” This allows you to assign students with homework easily.  The site even provides a quiz for each talk so students can test their understanding and prove comprehension. 

 

Speaking: 

This is the only one where I struggled to decide on a tool, and this for one simple reason, I don’t believe there is any true replacement for speaking to a real person. So whilst I have included a link to a great website for helping practice and correct pronunciation, my honest recommendation for speaking practice is live classes:
https://oxinity.com/en/english-courses/?idc=111531&f=OnlineToolsBlog

Good speaking skills come from two things, practice and confidence, and neither is done easily when there is no one there to speak to. Whilst as a site we are obviously not free, our cheapest course for example, at €30 a month for weekly classes, means once a week you get to put your practice and hard work to the test. Speaking practice requires active involvement in an actual conversation, adapting to given information and improvising answers in real time. Something that, so far at least, I haven’t been able to find a replacement for without having access to another real person. 

 

However for speaking, in this list of free tools, I am choosing: 

https://forvo.com/

It works as a pronunciation dictionary, showing how English words are pronounced both in context and with a range of different accents and dialects, including British, American and Australian. 

 

As a student:

English has always been particularly hard, as a language that breaks so many of its phonetic rules. This website allows you to check or double check word pronunciations before using them in conversations. Many of my students end up saving this site to their homepage or on their phone so they can have it at hand in case they are struggling mid conversation.

 

For Teachers:
This is a great tool if you enjoy giving students speaking homework. I will encourage my students to use this if they are tasked with recording some of their written work out loud. It not only leaves less for you to correct later but also gives them the confidence to check their speech before sending it out to you. 

 

Special Mention: 

It didn't make any of my short lists, but as an app (or website) this one is great.
https://lyricstraining.com

If you or your student finds regular practice boring and repetitive this site is brilliant. It combines a host of skills, listening, reading and writing. And if you choose to sing along with the songs it is great for speaking practice as well. 

Adaptable to different levels, as well as being available in a whole range of languages, this is differently a site to bookmark and save. 

 

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So that’s it, my list of websites and how I use them, a longer blog than I planned, but I had lots to say. The internet has always been a fabulous tool, but it can either help you or distract you. For me, the trick with language learning, especially when you are also trying to maintain a full time job. Is to focus on little and often, making sure the language itself is never far from your mind. These tools allow for short tasks repeated often. Immersing yourself, as often as possible, in your new language. Speaking like a native, is only a few steps away.

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