As a kid, I loved playing trading card games.
You know—games like “Yu-Gi-Oh!,” “Magic: The Gathering” and “Pokémon.”
My friends and I battled one another using monsters and powerful spells. In these games, we always started out with a basic set of cards, a “starter pack” of essential tools for the game.
But eventually we would get new, specialized cards to expand our collection. These “expansion packs” had unique spells or characters that we could use, and the goal was simple: to make ourselves unbeatable!
I think learning English is a lot like playing one of these trading card games. You start with a limited but essential set of tools, and then find many resources to expand your learning.
You also discover which learning styles suit you best and you adjust your tools accordingly.
So with all that in mind, I have compiled a list of English learning tools that should be beneficial to all language students, divided into two parts.
The first part deals with the “starter pack:” English learning tools to teach you all the basics of English. The second part deals with the “expansion pack:” customizable resources to sharpen your skills. You can pick and choose whichever ones you need to get all the way to English fluency.
13+ Essential and “Expansion Pack” English Learning Tools to Keep up Your Sleeve
Starter Pack: Essential Tools for Every English Learner
There are many tips and techniques to effectively learn a language. Below are seven crucial learning resources that every self-taught student of English needs.
A Good Dictionary: “Oxford English Dictionary”
You cannot properly learn a language until you have grasped the basic vocabulary and know all the essential phrases. So having a good dictionary at your fingertips—and consulting it when you encounter new words—will help your vocabulary grow quickly.
You might be wondering which English dictionary you should invest in, so it is always better to go with a trusted name like “Oxford.”
The “Oxford English Dictionary” is a great resource because it contains more than 600,000 words and is constantly being updated. You can also keep a dictionary app downloaded on your phone for quick and easy reference.
Make it a point to open the dictionary to a random page every day and learn the meaning of the first word that catches your eye. That way, within a year, you will have added 365 new words to your ever-growing vocabulary.
A Grammar Reference: EnglishGrammar.org
Vocabulary is only one part of the language learning process. You also need to understand the rules of the language and how sentences are constructed.
The fundamentals of English grammar are very important and you can start learning them right away with a decent grammar reference. EnglishGrammar.org is a useful resource that contains lots of free-to-download grammar exercises, quizzes and a list of basic rules.
The grammar topics are neatly arranged into categories, which makes it easier to browse and learn. There are also links to other online tools to check your work for correct grammar, plagiarism and word counts.
YouTube Lessons: Speak English with Misterduncan
Yes, memorizing grammar rules is very important when it comes to mastering a language. But you will only know that you have become proficient in English when you can hold full conversations. Hence it is very important that you learn to speak it well and also listen to native users speak English, as that will help you get the hang of pronunciation, diction and accent.
I recommend that you subscribe to Misterduncan, which is packed with interesting two-hour videos. It is like attending an English speaking class from your home.
You can browse the playlists to watch videos on specific themes, or just watch the videos in sequence. Misterduncan often covers current events, cultural topics or just whatever is on his mind, which will help prepare you for any conversation in English. Even better, he often hosts “live chats” where he talks in English and responds to viewers’ comments.
Want English lessons in your headphones? Podcasts are the perfect way to take English lessons with you anywhere.
One of the most popular and effective English learning podcasts is EnglishClass101. They offer more than 1,500 video and audio podcast lessons. The lessons are designed to be engaging and culturally relevant with fun hosts.
Moreover, these lessons come with detailed PDF notes to help you retain information. There are also lots of vocabulary learning tools, including flashcards that automatically make sure you review words before you forget them. You can even join a community forum of other English learners and speakers.
English Learning Apps: FluentU
FluentU gives you “the best of both worlds” when it comes to learning English: immersion learning and focused language study.
What do we mean by that?
Well, FluentU gives you authentic English videos, like movie trailers, music videos, inspiring speeches and more—the type of thing native speakers watch. But you never have to worry about missing a word! FluentU has interactive subtitles, vocabulary lists, flashcards and fun quizzes built into every video.
As you watch, you can click or tap any word in the subtitles for an instant definition and grammar info. FluentU will also point you to other videos that have the word so you understand how to use it in any context. Once you are done watching, FluentU makes sure that you remember the words from the video with challenging but fun exercises.
It is a fun, simple way to learn English the way native speakers use it in real life. You will also explore all kinds of culture from across the English-speaking world. This in turn will make the learning process more enjoyable, engaging and memorable and you will develop greater confidence in your study skills.
The videos are organized by genre and level, so it is easy to find the ones that work for you. Best of all, you can practice anytime, anywhere with the FluentU app for your iOS or Android device.
Online Language Mentors: Verbling
With a language coach, you will have a qualified professional who will give you immediate feedback and guidance on how to improve your English. Many of you may be too busy to attend a local English class, but hiring online English tutors is often a more convenient and affordable option.
There are plenty of sites devoted to language coaches, but I suggest you check out Verbling. There, you can easily select teachers by their rating, experience, cost and availability.
You will see where teachers are from, which is helpful if you are trying to learn a specific type of English (American, British, etc.). You will also see what other languages they speak and possibly find one who can talk in your native language if necessary.
English Spelling and Grammar Checkers: Grammarly
Misspelling words or making grammar errors in your English writing can create a bad impression. That is why you should always endeavor to speak and write in correct and coherent English. Of course, if you make a mistake, you should forgive yourself and learn from it—but there are many tools that you can use to avoid making such mistakes in the first place.
Grammarly is one of the most well-known and effective English correction tools out there. It will hunt for spelling and grammar errors in your writing—including emails, social media posts, documents and more. The cool thing about Grammarly is that it is really good at considering the context of your writing. It can tell if you are using the right word or grammar depending on the sentence as a whole.
It will even notice weak words or phrases and make suggestions to strengthen your writing.
Best of all, Grammarly does not just point out your mistakes. It will actually explain the mistake to prevent you from making it again in the future.
Expansion Pack: Adaptable Resources to Meet Your Learning Goals
Once you are familiar with the learning resources mentioned above, then it is time to fine-tune your education and focus on specific skills or problem areas. The resources below can be adapted to your learning needs and budget and keep you moving towards English fluency.
An English Study Group
Most of the resources I listed above are wonderful for self-teaching. However, learning always becomes faster and more enjoyable if you also have a study partner or a study group to practice with.
Start with your local library, university, English organization or even an English-style pub. Ask if there are English-language groups that meet regularly.
If there is no one in your community who is willing to study English with you, there is no need to fret. You can use social media to find online study-buddies!
Social networking websites like Facebook usually have tons of groups that you can search and join. Simply search with relevant keywords such as “English study group” and you are sure to find local or online communities that are interested in learning English as well as make some new friends.
You can also check sites like Meetup, which is specifically designed to bring people with common interests together. Search again for “English study group” or related terms to find practice partners in your area.
English Word Games
A lot of language learners struggle to find the right words for a particular topic or emotion. This is precisely why expanding your vocabulary is so important. There are many ways to learn new words, but one of the most enjoyable is to learn by playing games.
Games are a great “expansion pack” English learning tool because they are usually short and specific. You can find ones that focus on the vocabulary that matters to you, and you can make time to play them whenever you have a free moment.
There are plenty of apps for word games, but my favorite one is Catena. It is a colorful game where you need to rearrange letters to spell different English words. You can play solo or with a friend and there are different difficulty levels.
Then of course, there are games like Scrabble, a classic board game and a great option for group learning. And finally there are plenty of pen-and-paper games that you can try out with your friends and study partners in your free time, such as Hangman and Name, Place, Animal, Thing.
These last two games are perfect for studying themed vocabulary. For instance, you can play Hangman with only household nouns, or you can change the categories of Name, Place, Animal, Thing to focus on different word groups (e.g. Sport, Food, Clothing, Thing).
Books and Newspapers
Unless you regularly immerse yourself in the language, it will sound strange and unfamiliar to you. So to master English, you have to ensure that you read English a lot.
Developing a love for reading in English is not hard, either! Just choose reading resources that are naturally interesting to you.
- Project Gutenberg is one of the largest databases of legally-sourced free books. You can download some of the classics of English literature from there.
- Love catching up on the headlines? The Guardian is a well-known British news source and The New York Times is a well-known American news source.
- For poems, fiction and longer non-fiction stories, check out The New Yorker.
You can subscribe to educational newsletters and learn English right from your email inbox! Here are some good options for your “expansion pack.”
- VOA Learning English is a great newsletter for learners across all levels. If you are interested in mastering American English as well as learning about current affairs and interesting facts, then VOA is the one for you.
They even have a special option called “VOA Learning English Highlights” which will provide the latest news and featured content at a level that works for English students.
- Daily Grammar: Need to focus on your grammar? Get easy-to-understand English grammar lessons emailed to you everyday. You will even get a grammar quiz to try out once a week.
- Remember FluentU from the “starter pack?” FluentU also has a weekly English learner newsletter, delivering resources and study tips straight to your inbox. You will also get hints on how to get the most out of the FluentU learning program. Just sign up from the subscription box on the righthand side of the FluentU English Learner blog.
Quizzes and Worksheets: AllESL
As an English language learner, you must understand the value of constant language review. A good way to check your learning progress is to take quizzes periodically and try to solve worksheets and exercises. The more you practice and keep reviewing what you learn, the better and the more confident you will be.
AllESL has a range of English-language worksheets that you can choose from. Each worksheet focuses on a different topic so it is easy to find the ones that matter to you, from difficult grammar to basic vocabulary topics. The worksheets are also conveniently organized by type so you can choose listening worksheets, vocabulary worksheets, etc., depending on your specific needs.
English Language MOOCs on Coursera
Finally, an extremely efficient and effective way to learn a language is to sign up for an online course. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are a specific type of online course that are created by universities and educational institutions. In many cases you can even earn course credits or a certificate to put on your resume.
Coursera is one of the best websites for MOOCs. You can find a wide range of English classes to suit your needs. Just hover over the “Explore” menu at the top of the homepage, then select “Language Learning,” then “Learning English.” From there, you will be able to choose online English courses based on the specific skills you want to learn, what your level is, the university offering the course and more.
Topics include everything from business English, to English for Spanish speakers, to difficult English pronunciations.
It is the perfect “expansion pack” tool to help you learn exactly what you need at any stage.
Now you have the full deck to master the English language! These English learning tools will help you build your perfect “starter pack” and “expansion pack” to become a fluent and confident communicator at the pace that works for you.
Archita Mittra is a freelance writer, journalist, editor and educator. Feel free to check out her blog or contact her for freelancing/educational inquiries.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.