Which websites do you recommend (3)?

Recently I was looking for free web resources that might help with different word forms. For example, you want to know all the word forms/families that stem from “organise”, as well as definitions and examples of usage. I wasn’t looking for a traditional dictionary, but something more innovative.

After some searching, I stumbled across some mindmap websites, many of which required a subscription, but then I found this one:


(click to enlarge)

I think it’s really clever and was what I was looking for. You input a word at the top of the screen and you see a mindmap of words connected to it. On the left, you have a legend explaining the colour coding in the diagram. Hover your cursor over any of the words and its definition appears. Then double-click on one of the words and it spawns a connected mindmap. You can even print it.

So how is this useful for training?

Well, for learners who enjoy visual stimuli, this could prove more effective than paper dictionaries. For me, it’s also great fun!

Use the news to keep up to date!Funky-Old-TV-300px

News on-demand

One easy way to keep your English up to date is to regularly read, listen to and watch news bulletins. Probably you are aware of the news broadcasts in your own home location, so your knowledge of the context and background will help you when attempting the English version.

If you don’t have much time, then the BBC‘s one minute international news could be perfect for you. The bulletin on their website usually contains three or four different news items. Needless to say, the speed of delivery can be quite fast and there are no subtitles, so it’s good for training your listening skills! The content of the bulletins changes during the day, so it is usually up to date. Another useful feature is that you can experience a variety of British regional accents as there seems to be a wide variety of newsreaders.

The BBC video is a recording (so you can stop,  restart and listen again), but what about live news?

Live news from around Europe

UK-based Sky News offers a live streaming service. Try it out!

The BBC World channel is often part of cable/satellite packages, as is euronewsFrom its HQ in Lyon, France, the channel streams live news with reports and commentary in a variety of British accents. Reports are broadcast regularly (currently every 30 minutes), so if you miss something the first time around, it will doubtless reappear the next time around. If you watch euronews as part of a cable/satellite TV or TV bundle, you can change the language in your TV’s audio settings.

Looking for an American accent?

CNN may be part of your cable or satellite TV package. If not, you can access the website and select which edition (US or International) you prefer. On the web, live streaming is also available on the ABC website.

Or perhaps you’re planning on visiting Australia?

Try out the on-demand 90 second news bulletin provided by ABC news Australia.

What else?

For financial news, there are some specialist channels broadcasting free over the Internet or also via cable/satellite. Watching Bloomberg is free and you can also select a region-based stream via their website – Europe or US.

Do you know of any other news streams? Just let me know. Happy viewing!


How quickly can I move between CEFR levels?

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is used to classify language learners’ performance according to six levels ranging from A1 (beginner) to C2 (proficiency), but is it possible to quantify the number of hours required?

Generally, it is recommended that learners spend about 200 hours in order to progress from one CEFR level to the next (see e.g. Cambridge). Not within your budget? Don’t worry – the number depends on individual circumstances and includes self-study and exposure to the language outside of the classroom; it does not mean that you need 200 hours of trainer-centred tuition.

When learning English, I find that it is usually the case that learners progress more quickly through the lower levels, while moving from C1 to C2 can be a more drawn out affair. Using basic vocabulary and structures is not really that complicated in Engish, while understanding and using phrasal verbs is a challenge to the vast majority of trainees.

For further information about the levels, see the Council of Europe document: http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/Source/Framework_EN.pdf.

How do I meet native speakers?

To improve your spoken English and get used to a variety of accents, it can be really helpful to meet some native English speakers. In many big towns and most cities, groups already exist to facilitate the task.

The idea of conversing with native speakers may appear quite daunting to many language-learners. “What do I do if I don’t understand?” “What about if they don’t understand what I’m saying?” “I’m sure that my accent is awful”. My answer to all this is “Don’t worry!” It’s all part of the speaking process to explore ways to communicate effectively. If you’re having difficulty, it may be as simple as asking your conversation partner to speak more slowly or to repeat what they said. If they are unwilling or unable to do so, just move on to someone else!

In general, people attending such meetings are pretty open-minded, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. So what groups am I talking about?

Certainly in the area where I live and work, a multitude of language-based groups have sprung up in recent years. I myself organise “language cafés” in Strasbourg (France) and in Kehl and Baden-Baden (Germany). Search for local groups that may have names based around the terms English café, language exchange, language meeting, English speakers, English meetup, even those based on the speed-dating concept. For “meetups”, visit meetup.com and enter the name of your town or city to find all the groups organised there; there’s bound to be one for English speakers among them!

There are also the expat groups, but beginners beware, you’ll probably be expected to understand the jokes too! For some of the above you will be expected to speak your native language in return (“tandem”) during part of the meeting.

If you can’t find anything on the Internet and you have an Irish pub nearby, check that out too. Some of the local groups are also part of international initiatives, such as InterNations or the English Speaking Union and you may have to pay a membership or entrance fee.

Which websites do you recommend? (2)

How about trying to find a free website designed for ESL learners and filled with stimulating and relevant materials? One which is actually entirely in English and accessible to all learners, rather than being targeted at speakers of a certain native language.

The BBC Learning English website is still a valuable resource for self-study. It has been redesigned and currently includes two courses and various individual “features”.

The courses are currently classed as lower-intermediate and intermediate. The former contains 30 units comprising video material supplemented by activities, vocabulary and grammar sections. The latter is work in progress and has no video for the moment, but seems to be aiming for 30 units too. The activities are scored, allowing progress to be tracked. However, CEFR levels are nowhere to be found.

The individual features are good for “dipping into”: “The English We Speak”, “Words in the News”, “6 Minute English”, “Pronunciation”, “Drama” and “News Report” are sufficiently varied to be able to offer learners relevant items short enough to study during the lunch hour or on the train home. Video and downloadable audio and transcripts accompany the features, although there seem to be no exercises – yet.

The website is not finished, but a great deal of work seems to have gone into it already. Maybe the best bit for me is that there are none of those annoying ads that intrude on so many other web pages!

To see for yourself, go to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish and, for the videos, check out the YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/bbclearningenglish.

Is learning English via webcam effective?

A webcam makes live one-to-one conversations across countries and continents feasible for English learners, but is the method really effective?

Let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages.


  • The trainer can be located almost anywhere in the world (subject to time differences!), so native speakers should be easy to find.
  • It’s ideal for intensive speaking practice.
  • It is cheaper than onsite training for learners and companies.
  • There is less “wasted” time – travelling, parking, arriving early to set up equipment etc.
  • Session times can be kept to a minimum (I recommend 30-60 minutes).
  • The software can be free (e.g. Microsoft’s “Skype”).


  • Many learners simply prefer not to use this form of learning.
  • A reliable, fast Internet infrastructure is required; poor quality pictures and sound will have a detrimental effect on the whole experience.
  • Companies may not allow the software to be installed on their networks – the IT manager needs to be on board.
  • Trainees need to have basic proficiency already (A2) or else it will be very difficult to maintain a conversation for a substantial time.
  • Some technical knowledge is required to install the microphone, webcam and software and troubleshoot problems.
  • I find that it best works with one to one; I would not recommend it for groups or multiple learners in different locations.
  • Listening and writing practice is limited. There is the ability to type words and sentences and some software includes a virtual whiteboard.

I have personally trained English learners of all ages using solely a webcam, even tech savvy teenagers! For enhanced speaking practice, I find it can be really effective and it is not as intrusive or time-consuming as turning up at a learner’s place of residence. For companies, combining it with other forms of learning may be a cost-effective and more varied solution than the classic tuition model.

How can learners cope with so many English accents?

Non-native speakers often tell me that, no matter what their level of English, it is a real challenge to communicate with speakers sporting such a variety of accents.

So what can be done to make things easier? Well, training our ear to the different accents can be a first step; thanks to YouTube and similar sites, we can experience people speaking English from countless different regions and countries. What’s more, if we delve a little deeper into the video vault, we can find some very talented people who are actually capable – by themselves – of reproducing a multitude of different accents amazingly well.

As one example, take this lady and her British accents:

or this guy with his American and many other accents:

Then if learners want to study differences in greater detail, e.g. between American and British English, they can even start to practise themselves:

Have fun!

Which countries have the best English speakers?

A worldwide survey of adults who speak English as a foreign language reveals the cities, regions and countries that perform the best – and the worst.

It’s probably not a surprise to learn that Scandinavian countries figured among those at the top of the latest EF English Proficiency Index of November 2014. The survey was conducted by examining English test results from adults in 63 countries; the latter are assigned to one of five broad categories from very high proficiency to very low proficiency.

Denmark topped the list while Germany was placed 10th, France 29th. Some countries are further divided into cities and regions. In Germany, Frankfurt has the most proficient English speakers; in France, Alsace and Ile-de-France are the areas with the best scores.

EF also conduct a survey of proficiency in companies, the first (and only) dating back to 2012. Let’s see if it’s updated anytime soon.

Consult the survey here: http://www.ef.com/epi/

Which websites do you recommend? (1)

I am often asked which websites I would recommend for English learners.

It’s often difficult to find a website which caters for all levels, but here’s one I would highly recommend for the following reasons:

  • It’s based on the news, which is always a good talking point.
  • It offers seven different levels so that learners can choose the text that suits them.
  • There are mp3s that accompany the news items.
  • A variety of comprehension exercises accompany the news items which can be completed inside or outside the training room, online or offline.
  • For trainers, it’s a ready-made and relevant resource for any group of trainees.
  • And it’s 100% free!


English News Lessons in 7 levels with graded multi-level listening and variable scrolled-reading, and all-skills activities.

What’s the best way to learn English? (ESOL)

Face to face, blended learning, videoconferencing, telephone, self-study, e-learning, mp3s, films, individual, group, intensive, occasional, language study abroad….

The choices for learners of English as a second or other language are mind-boggling. So what’s the best way to learn? Well, the best way is the one that works for you (and your budget!). My approach is to start with speaking, a lot of speaking, even if the communication is difficult at first, it will come with practice. Then, once you have built up confidence in speaking, the other skills (listening, reading, writing) should fall into place.

To really improve your English, you have to go out there and meet people, not just take formal lessons. The lessons will give you the basis and the opportunity to learn within the safe training room environment, but what really will boost your speaking is managing the unpredictability of everyday exchanges. It’s also really important not to be afraid of making mistakes. Making mistakes when we speak is perfectly natural; feeling blocked or inhibited by grammatical constraints weakens your confidence and hampers communication, so just go for it!

For further information about my English training, visit my website www.chatbella.com or write to me at info@englishtrainer.eu. I look forward to hearing from you.