Can you learn English online?

Posted on June 26, 2019

By Emily Stallard, owner of Orchid English

In recent years there are so many apps and websites promising to help you learn English online. Are they worth it?

I tried a popular app for learning French. It was OK. It gave me a vocabulary drill and probably boosted my vocabulary somewhat. I found it infuriating that the app kept drilling me on words that were almost identical in French and English. I’m used to face to face classes and a real teacher can take this into consideration.

The most important thing that the app lacked was training how to think on your feet when you’re speaking to a native speaker. Trying to make your own sentences and express your own opinions. And of course, how to understand native speakers when they are talking to you.

At the moment I’m learning Spanish. What’s really hard in Spanish if it doesn’t occur in your native language is the subjunctive. Broadly speaking, the subjunctive means you have to use a different verb conjugation depending if it’s a fact or just a wish, or desire. We have echoes of the subjunctive in English (like “if I were you” but not enough to help me much!

I spent a lot of time doing grammar quizzes online to supplement my face to face classes. It’s fine for learning verb conjugations, although studies show writing notes by hand is better for your memory. What I have noticed with learning Spanish online is that I can get good at the online quizzes, but when I’m speaking to a real Spanish person in Spanish, I don’t use this tense at all! It’s like it’s dormant knowledge.

At no point when learning online do I practise speaking, and if I did, there is no-one to say whether they understand me. I speak in Spanish class and to my Spanish friends as much as I can. I’m sorry to say that native Spanish speakers often don’t understand my Spanish sentences! Practising making yourself understood is really necessary.

One of the great difficulties with English is that the spelling can be very different to the pronunciation. The standard of English language teaching worldwide is improving a lot. In the past there were whole generations of people who learned English at school with books, but were unable to speak or understand effectively in English.

If you learn English online or use an app with no audio, you risk falling into this trap. Not only do you need to know the pronunciation, but you need to be able to pronounce it so that native English speakers understand.

If you live somewhere in the world where you really can’t have English classes in person with a teacher then it could be a good study supplement to learn English online. However, if you live in London it’s much better to have classes face to face with an English teacher. Find out what sort of classes you can have at your company here.

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