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English Language Teaching Global Blog


12 Ways to Boost Language Skills with Independent Learning

Young woman reading a bookNowadays the Internet provides numerous possibilities for students to improve, polish and master their English language skills. In my lessons I introduce these options, explaining how my students can use them and inspiring them with my own personal experience.

I have divided these resources into two main groups:

  1. for receptive skills, with 2 subgroups: reading and listening
  2. for productive skills, with 2 subgroups: writing and speaking

In each group there are several useful resources. Choose the most appropriate ones for your class.

Receptive Skills

Productive Skills





1.Fiction literature 1.Radio 1. Social networks 1. Social networks
2.Professional literature 2.Audio books 2. Language learning communities 2. Language learning communities
3.Bilingual parallel texts 3. Films  3. Writing Clubs 3. British Council
4.Newspapers, magazines, online news 4.Podcasts  4. Private journal 4. Speaking Clubs
5. Blogs 5. Conversations 5. Couchsurfing
6. Scripts 6.Music 6. International learning and volunteer programs

In this post, I’ll be looking at Receptive Skills. I’ll cover Productive Skills in my next post.


1) Fiction literature

This is the best option for those who love reading. The choice of books is enormous, from historical adventures to mainstream and children books. It’s possible to relax and learn new vocabulary and grammar constructions simultaneously. Project Gutenberg is a free online library.

2) Professional literature

If your students are learning English for a specific purpose (e.g. Engineering), reading professional literature is a great way of improving students’ knowledge in that professional area, and in English at the same time. You could also try reading the lectures of world-renowned academics, which are now uploaded to the websites of many leading universities. MIT’s Open Courseware and Coursera are two examples.

3) Bilingual parallel texts

On one side you’re given English text, on the other there is a translation in your native language. This option is convenient for those who like to read original texts of any complexity, without having to stop to look up unknown words. This resource is very helpful, as the structure and ability to look at the translation immediately allow students become more confident in reading and lessen their fear of long texts.

4) Newspapers, magazines, online news

Nowadays there are plenty of news websites and online resources for reading, e.g. BBC News, Daily Telegraph, Reuters, and CNN. By reading online news, students kill two birds with one stone – they read articles that are interesting and relevant to them, and learn a lot of new words that are common in press reporting. Reading these daily and writing down any unknown words will help students develop their vocabulary.

5) Blogs

There are thousands of blogs on the Internet dedicated to different themes – travelling, fashion, gardening, children, phychology, etc. Use a service like Technorati to find relevant blogs. Several times per week bloggers update their pages with new stories. Like with online news sites, students will be interested in keeping up with new posts and will learn at the same time.

6) Scripts

This is one of the most amazing resources for improving reading skills. We all have our favourite films, and reading the script can be a great way of entertaining students and showing the use of English in more natural, informal settings. The same will apply to plays. Sites like AwesomeFilm, and The Daily Script have loads of movie scripts available as PDFs.


1) Radio

There is possibly no better source for listening practice than radio. There are hundreds of different radio stations where you can listen online, so try listening to a station from a different country to your own. It also helps to listen to different dialects and accents, e.g. British English – BBC Radio, American English – Voice of America, Canadian English – CBC Radio, Australian English – ABC Radio Australia.

2) Audio books

There are advantages and disadvantages to listening to audio books. The lexis can be learned quite easily, however not everybody likes listening to books. It is a matter of preference. Audio books can be downloaded for free from, for example, the University of South Florida’s Lit2Go program, New Fiction, and LibriVox. Or they can be purchased from sites such as Audible and AudioGo.

3) Films

This is an ideal way to master listening skills, as all three VAK styles are used: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. If something is unclear, it is easy to rewind back and re-watch that section of the film until it becomes clear. Reading the script before watching, or watching the film in students’ native language first, will also help. Repeat words and phrases, imitating the actors’ intonation, will help to get students’ kinaesthetic memory working.

4) Podcasts

Short audio lessons or stories recorded by native speakers are what will really help students. Choosing podcasts at the right language level for your students, and with themes that are interesting and relevant to them, is crucial to maintaining students’ interest and motivation. You can even subscribe to podcasts to be sent the most recent episodes automatically. Try a service like ESL Podcast.

5) Conversations

Encourage students to find a friend – either a native speaker or someone with a good level of English – and to talk with them in English. Thanks to social networks such as Facebook, Skype, Google+ and Lang-8, it’s very easy now for students to connect with native speakers and improve their English effectively.

6) Music

Listening to music is a great way to develop English skills. When you are listening and singing your kinaesthetic memory is working. Even if it is difficult to understand the lyrics, music is poetry and is often very idiomatic. Students will pick up key phrases and words to add to their vocabulary.

Helen Stepanova is an English language teacher, teacher trainer and author, currently working as a Business English teacher in Latvia. In this guest post, she looks at some of the resources available for improving students’ receptive language skills.