The 8 Best Online English Classes of 2020
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The 8 Best Online English Classes of 2020
- EnglishClass101: Best Overall
- USA Learns: Best Budget
- BBC 6 Minute English: Runner Up, Best Budget
- BubbleBee TV: Best for Visual Learners
- Duolingo: Best for People in a Hurry
- Let’s Talk: Best for Busy People
- Academic English on OpenLearning: Best for Advanced Learning
- Upper-Intermediate English at Universitat Politècnica de Valencia: Runner Up, Best for Advanced Learning
Learning English isn’t strictly done in a traditional classroom setting anymore. In fact, the best online English classes are designed with the student in mind, providing instruction in a modern, student-friendly way that’s perfect for remote learners or students looking to bolster their skills outside of a formal setting.
Depending on your needs, you might be searching for different features in your educational experience, so we’ve rounded up the top picks for best online English classes. Whether it's for travel, a professional change, or just for fun, there's a course that's right for you.
Best Overall: EnglishClass101
For a comprehensive English learning experience, EnglishClass101 is one of the best choices out there. Whether you’re just starting out or have some English language experience already, there are loads of lessons for all levels of learning—over 1,600 and counting.
The classes combine video and audio podcasts for a well-rounded approach, as well as written notes to sum up each lesson. This is English language learning geared specifically toward adult learners, so the instructors are enthusiastic but never patronizing. There’s also a community forum where you can interact with other learners and help each other practice.
While you can access some lessons and resources with a free account, other courses and features require a paid membership. There are three options available for purchase, and you can choose between one-, three-, six-, 12-, and 24-month memberships: Basic (ranges from around $8 to $96, depending on frequency), Premium (approximately $25 to $240, depending on frequency), or Premium+ (about $47 to $549, depending on frequency).
Features behind the paywall include detailed flashcards and quizzes, as well as the option to record your pronunciation and compare it to native English speakers.
The site has built out a robust brand that also encompasses social media—its Instagram account, for example, has a strong presence with well-organized, bite-sized lessons. So, even if you choose to stick with the free option, you’ll get plenty of information.
Best Budget: USA Learns
Founded by the Sacramento County Office of Education and funded until 2008 by the U.S. Department of Education and the California Department of Education, USA Learns is one of the best budget options for English learners because it’s totally free of charge.
The site offers thousands of language learning activities that cover all the fundamentals: grammar, spelling, pronunciation, vocabulary, aural skills, and more. Its approach isn’t necessarily stylish, but it is ideal for a no-frills and effective learning experience.
One of the most interesting things about USA Learns is that, thanks to its government resources, it’s also a resource for U.S. citizenship candidates, with a four-unit course designed to guide them through the process. The English language lessons aren’t just targeted at citizenship applicants, though: They’re for anyone trying to learn the language.
The core curriculum uses a multi-pronged approach that teaches students to read, write, listen, and speak English. The videos are a little old-fashioned and don’t have a modern production value, but the basic structure makes sense. They put you “in the classroom” and provide easy-to-follow lessons from expert teachers.
Best Runner-Up: BBC 6 Minute English
As the name implies, well-known British broadcaster BBC is behind this simple, real-world program. It’s completely free to listen to, and each “episode” is only six minutes long.
New lessons are released every week, and there are archives dating back to 2013. The structure isn’t quite your typical “language lessons” format, either. Instead of interactive lessons that are specifically about grammar and vocabulary, the program sounds like a conversational radio show, with different topics every week.
Not only does the six-minute “talk show” format help English learners get used to different accents, but it provides a valuable skill that can sometimes be missing from formal language lessons: understanding it in everyday contexts. The programs each tackle individual, interesting topics in science, humanities, pop culture, and other fields, posing a question or a topic at the start of each one and then discussing it for the rest of the episode.
Important vocabulary is highlighted, but the key is its practicality in everyday conversation, which makes it less formal and potentially more useful for listeners.
Best for Visual Learners: BubbleBeeTV
If walls of text and basic flashcards don’t work for you, then a stylish, highly-visual program like BubbleBeeTV could be your best option. There are several different components to the program, but they all are colorful, well-organized, and visually interesting.
In addition to the video series, BubbleBeeTV has creative printables—including monthly freebies—that help learners practice English in informal, everyday ways. Along with the pre-filmed classes on specific topics, there are options for customizable lesson plans and chat sessions that offer a more personalized and visual experience.
The sessions from BubbleBeeTV are broken down into several courses, each covering a different topic such as verb tenses and structures, English for job interviews, English for phone conversations, and more. They include a mix of audio and visual learning, with workbooks and exercise sheets alongside catchy videos and lectures.
Some features are free via BubbleBeeTV, but for classes like Personalized English Lessons and English Chat Cafe, the company asks you to email it for cost and details. Other courses like Fluent English in a Job Interview are offered for around $12 via Udemy.
Best for People in a Hurry: Duolingo
When it comes to quick and convenient language learning, it’s tough to beat Duolingo. The free language learning site offers a variety of dialects, including English, via its signature, bite-sized lessons to learn as you go.
The courses are broken down into larger categories, with smaller exercises nestled inside each overall lesson. Completing classes on different concepts then “unlocks” more challenging concepts, mimicking the structure of a traditional course, but with a fun, game-like structure that keeps you motivated.
The real upside to Duolingo, though, is that it’s well-suited for learners on the go. After all, studying a new language can be intimidating, especially at the beginning. Here, you can choose to complete entire lessons in one sitting or take a five-minute refresher—whatever works for your schedule (and attention span).
There is a desktop site and a mobile app, with options to enable and disable certain aspects of the lessons (such as the audio and speaking portions). So, even if you’re in public or in transit, you can still get in a little learning.
Best for Busy People: Let’s Talk
Looking for quick English lessons that don’t sacrifice usefulness for brevity? This free, YouTube-based platform is a favorite for millions of subscribers for its simple and fun video lessons.
While it doesn’t skimp on the basic concepts, the channel’s focus is more on helping new English speakers learn a wide range of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Most videos are 10 to 15 minutes long and focus on one concept at a time. Along with fundamentals and in-depth grammar lessons, there are videos focused on more everyday topics such as slang words, conversational vocabulary, and how to avoid mixing up similar verbs.
Let’s Talk doesn’t just deal with the words themselves, though. There’s an entire section of the channel devoted to teaching non-native speakers how to speak English with correct pronunciation and a neutral accent (or, to be more specific, how to speak with a non-regional American accent).
In addition to these informal lessons, the channel includes videos targeted toward students prepping for The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test, with helpful videos to practice for all sections. If you’ve only got a few minutes but prefer visual and video learning, this channel has you covered.
Best for Advanced Learning: Academic English on OpenLearning
Once you’re past the basics, you’ll want to shift to learning more complex concepts in English. Classes on “academic” English are geared toward helping students who are, perhaps, going to an English-level college and need a boost. But they’ve got the skills and tools that advanced English learners may need—college-bound or not.
This free class is for advanced speakers who have a grasp on grammar and vocabulary and are looking to learn more about structure, cohesive arguments and essays, discussion, and similar topics. The OpenLearning course on academic English is writing-centric, but it also includes lessons on speaking (for discussion and presentations) and listening skills focused on finding main concepts and remembering specific facts and details.
This is largely a traditional course, with lectures, videos, and quizzes for the main concepts along with interactive projects that allow students to work together to practice their new language skills. It’s a straightforward, no-frills approach to mastering advanced English-language skills, ideal for learners who are looking to be able to carry on more in-depth, complex discussions, and understand nuances of formal and informal language.
Best for Vocabulary: Upper-Intermediate English at Universitat Politècnica de Valencia
Through the educational platform EdX, the Universitat Politècnica de Valencia offers a professional certificate in higher-level English language. The program consists of a package of four distinct courses (roughly $180 total) focusing on language for business, modern life, globalization terms, and technology.
Each class is designed to take about three to five hours per week for four weeks, centering on the vocabulary, conversation, and writing skills of the four topics. It’s a more practical set of classes, meant to teach useful concepts and vocabulary for real-world conversations.
Whereas more basic English language classes may focus on simple vocabulary and grammar concepts, this certification specifically targets the kind of vocabulary necessary for more professional and everyday situations. Instead of repeating sentences with the names of fruits and endless verb tenses, the lessons focus on practical applications: casual conversations about sports and movies, answering common interview questions, writing letters, and so on.
Those are the kinds of skills intermediate to advanced learners are likely seeking, so this package of mini-classes may fill in some of the gaps left by more general courses.
How We Chose the Best Online English Classes
We reviewed a wide selection of English language courses and evaluated them on several criteria, including content (vocabulary, grammar concepts, etc.), practical applications, user interface, pricing, and course design/structure. The options listed above are intended to cover some of the most common categories that students might be seeking: affordability, ease of use, and learning beyond the basics.
The free options were chosen specifically because of the high quality they exhibited within the no-fee category. Courses in all categories range from for-profit companies to universities to nonprofits, offering students a wider array of options and learning styles.