Best of the Rest: Free Online Resources to Consolidate and Build your English Language Skills

By David Rose

The internet is often described by parents, teachers, governments and many others, for a wide range of social reasons, as a double-edged sword – something with both positive and negative sides.

The same principle holds true if you consider the internet as a potential source of free tools to help you consolidate and/or build your English language skills, either for specifically professional or more general use.

There is a huge range of practice materials online – for example putting ‘English practice exercises’ into produces “about 45,300,000 results” – yes, really, over 45 million!

However, besides many requiring subscription and you then receiving a barrage of unwanted spam, the real issue is quality. How reliable are they? Are they correct? Do they provide ‘real’ language use or simply an ‘artificial’ type of scholastic English? Equally, do you have time to check so many possibilities and evaluate which are better quality and more useful? I’m assuming no.

So, I’ve tried to bypass these issues for you by providing a quality (rather than quantity) list of some of the best online tools to help you develop your English language skills in the following 8 categories:

1. General English               4. Writing Skills        7. Exam English

2. Professional English     5. Pronunciation      8. Dictionaries

3. Listening Skills                6. Reading Skills

And here they are…!

1. General English

(a) BBC Learning English

You surely already know the BBC – but do you know they have a large, dedicated section of their website specifically designed for people trying to improve their English language skills?

Main content: general and business English, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and listening.

(b) British Council ‘Learn English’

The British Council – the UK’s official cultural representation abroad and one of the leading training organisations for English as a foreign language – has recently redesigned and upgraded its websites with a large range of free, high-quality self study materials.

Main content: grammar and vocabulary exercises, listening (podcasts, videos) and online articles on relevant language themes.

2. Professional English

(a) British Council Learn English Professionals

 The second of the newly upgraded British Council websites is dedicated to work-related English study.

Main content: wide range of articles and connected listening activities/podcasts on professional areas from business ethics to viral marketing.


This site offers a wealth of language-building activities for a wide range of professional sectors.

Main content: large archive of business English vocabulary targeted by sector e.g. accounting, banking, finance, sales, marketing, project management etc. plus an archive of business grammar exercises.

3. Listening Skills

(a) Eviews Native English Comprehension Lessons

A very useful site providing you with listening exercises for a wide range of English native-speaking accents.

Main content: Audio files plus comprehension questions for British, American, Scottish, New Zealand and Australian accents on a wide range of interesting, real-world topics.

(b) Voice of America News

The US equivalent of the BBC World Service, providing up-to-date news and special reports in ‘International English’, specifically designed for non-native speakers to build their English comprehension skills.

Main content: Audio and video files covering current affairs on a full range of topics, such as: world news, arts & entertainment, health, science & technology education and business.

(c) TED Talks

TED is a non-profit organisation aiming to spread ideas and discussion from leaders in their fields on current affairs, arts, culture, technology, business and more.

Main content: Video presentations (subtitles available in over 80 languages).

(d) From Our Own Correspondent

A 30-minute weekly podcast from the BBC’s leading correspondents looking in depth at stories in the world news.

Main content: Podcast (audio) – currently over 60 episodes in their archive.

4. Writing Skills

Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL)

An excellent resource – designed by a reputable US university for its non-native students – to help you develop your writing skills.

Main content: Exercises on sentence structure, style, punctuation and spelling.

5. Pronunciation

(a) How j say

An online pronunciation dictionary for British English, also available as an app for Android phones and iPhones.

Main content: Searchable dictionary with sound files for the exact pronunciation of over 140,000 words.

(b) BBC Learning English

A video-based course from the BBC to help you improve your ability with the most important pairs of sounds and sentence-level pronunciation features in British English.

Main content: Video and audio models of sounds and exercises to practice them.

(c) Ship or Sheep

Pronunciation models for the 29 ‘minimal pairs’ in British English – pairs of similar sounds that can easily be mispronounced or misunderstood by non-native speakers.

Main content: Video and audio models of sounds and exercises to practice them.

6. Reading Skills

(a) Project Gutenberg

An archive of e-books available for free download from a range of leading authors, tailored for your PC, iPad, Kindle or Android phone.

 Main content: Over 33,000 e-books.

(b) The New York Times Learning Network

The New York Times’ Learning Network uses the daily news to help you build your reading comprehension skills and vocabulary.

Main content: A constantly updated series of global news articles with comprehension questions to test your understanding.

7. Exam English

(a) Flo-Joe (FCE/CAE/CPE)

The most well-renowned and popular website to prepare for the Cambridge University First Certificate (FCE), Advanced (CAE) and Proficiency (CPE) exams.

Main content: Authentic ‘Reading’ and ‘Use of English’ exam papers, together with exam-focused vocabulary building and writing exercises.

(b) Exam English (IELTS)

A good range of authentic IELTS exam papers and exercises to help you build your language knowledge and exam technique.

Main content: General /academic reading and listening exam papers, IELTS-focussed grammar and vocabulary exercises and a sample writing paper with model answers.

(c) Canada Visa (IELTS)

Authentic practice tests and tutorials for the IELTS exam.

Main content: Two full exam papers for general /academic reading, listening, speaking and writing with corresponding video tutorials providing useful exam tips.

8. Dictionaries

(a) Word Reference

The best free online dictionary on the web, favoured by professional translators, proofreaders and interpreters.

Main content: Bilingual dictionaries for numerous European and world languages, a thesaurus and a searchable forum where you can post your language doubts for linguistic professionals to answer.

(b) Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

A dictionary focused on real contemporary English from one of the leading publishers in the field.

Main content: Searchable monolingual English dictionary with audio files giving UK and US pronunciation for common words and example sentences.


I hope you find these links useful to help the ongoing process of improving your English language and communication skills.

Equally, I welcome any recommendations fellow trainers or readers may have for useful links to add to this list.

I’d invite you to contact me at if you feel your organisation can benefit from my company’s personalised, cost-effective communication skills training services in both Brussels and across Europe.

You can find out more information about the range of training services we offer by visiting us at

© David Rose 2011


Filed under 4 English Language Skills

8 responses to “Best of the Rest: Free Online Resources to Consolidate and Build your English Language Skills

  1. Very useful, thanks, David!

  2. Pingback: Prepositions: Small but Tricky Little Things… | The LACS Training Blog

  3. Casey

    This is helpful!

  4. Neri

    Terrific post! This is a great resource for everyone preparing for the IELTS.
    I actually operate an IELTS coaching centre in Australia, and we have a tonne of free resources on our website too. Check them out at

    • Thanks for your positive comment Neri.

      Feel free to share our blog content with your students by linking to it on your site – our articles on public speaking and writing techniques will also prove useful for the IELTS exam.

      I wish you every success with your work at Education Hub.

      Best regards,


  5. You are providing very helpful information.Thank you

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