The Word Vine

The Word Vine is an addictive interactive puzzle created by Chris de Carteret.  The player gets a list of words which can combine together to make compounds. For example, grapevinegrapevine, and cherrypitcherry pit.  The player also gets a graphic of a vine, with nodes leading off in one or more directions. For example, at the basic level, the word list might be apple, sauce, and tree, which can be combined to make apple sauce and apple tree. At the “hard” level, there are more words and more ways to combine them: bone, cake, check, dog, egg, fly, fruit, grape, guide, list, pound, salad, vine, wish, which can be combined to make compounds like fruit fly, pound cake, egg salad, fruit salad, wishbone, grapevine, checklist, wish list, dog bone, and so on. Making a list of compounds may be easy, but the words (shaped like leaves) can only fit on the vine one way! It’s a race against time as you try to figure out how to organize the leaves on the vine.


Chinswing is a global voiceboard–a site where registered members can post comments to threaded discussions and a variety of topics.  You can listen to the discussions without registering, but if you want to contribute to a discussion, you must register.  (Registration is free and is very easy to do.)  Most discussions are in English, but there are some in other languages, like Japanese and Spanish.  The discussions are sorted into categories (“channels”) such as “Health and Wellbeing” and “Society and Culture.”  Within each category you will find sub-categories.  For example, under “Society and Culture,” you can choose “Current Events and News,” “Education,” “Global Issues,” “Language,” etc.  The main page tells you how many threads exist for a given category; for instance, there are 24 threads under “Books and Literature” but only two under “Theater” (category: “Entertainment & Arts”).

I started a couple of threads for my beginning Listening Speaking class at the Maryland English Institute, and I was pleased to find that English language learners from several countries found my threads and posted contributions.  One of them is “What’s your favorite…?” and the other is “I have a cell phone.”   For more advanced students, there are plenty of interesting-looking threads to choose from.  Many of these have been inactive for months, but as soon as someone posts on them, they will appear on the start page under “Listen to the Latest,” and those who contributed to them earlier will get an email informing them that there is a new post (unless they have disabled this).

What is nice about Chinswing is that you can think about your post for as long as you want before you record it.  You can even write it out and read it, if you want to.  You can preview it before approving it, so if you made a mistake and want to correct it, you can re-record it.  When you are satisfied, you can approve it and it will be posted immediately on the thread.

You can also upload a small photo of yourself from your computer to your Chinswing profile so that when people listen to your contribution, they can see what you look like.  This is optional.  You can also use your real name or a pseudonym.

Real English

This site was created by Mike Marzio, who has an English school in France. Twenty years ago, Mike was frustrated because his students had limited opportunities to listen to native speakers speaking English informally, so he and his friends began recording short interviews with native speakers of English in various countries. Now you can access videos of the interviews, which have been categorized into five levels (beginning, intermediate I, intermediate II, intermediate III, and advanced). Each level has about fifteen interviews. Some of the videos are also available with captions here. You can also sign up for a free introductory subscription to Real English Online, which has lessons with exercises to accompany some of the videos. (In order to access lessons for all the videos, you need a paid subscription.). Mike adds new material all the time. This is a great opportunity to listen to native speakers speaking naturally in different English dialects.

Note: You will need Real Player to listen and watch most of the interviews, although some of them are viewable with Windows Media Player and Quicktime. Links to free downloads are available on the site.

Dave’s ESL Cafe

Dave’s ESL Cafe is the grand-daddy of ESL/EFL websites. Dave Sperling was experimenting with ways to use the internet to teach and learn English when most of us still didn’t know what email was! The ESL Cafe is a vast site with many pages of interest to both students and teachers of EFL/ESL. If you click on STUFF FOR STUDENTS at the top of the homepage, you will find pages devoted to various types of quizzes, slang, phrasal verbs, idioms, and more. There are forums where you can pose a question about English, and two chatrooms, one for teachers only and one for students and teachers (you will have to register if you wish to participate in chat). There is a podcast to listen to, over one thousand ESL/EFL links, and lots more. It would take a week just to explore everything that is here.

Reading for Pleasure

Reading is the best way to improve many things: reading comprehension and speed, certainly, but also grammar and vocabulary. If you read modern novels with a lot of dialog, it also helps you improve your speaking. If you “read” audio books, you can even improve your listening by reading! (If you live in the U.S., it is best to borrow audio books from the public library; the ones that you can buy in a bookstore are usually abridged, or shortened, versions of the paper books, so if you are reading as you listen, you may get confused when the audio book skips something.)

You can read anything that interests you: newspapers, magazines, novels, short stories, graphic novels, children’s and young adult books, biographies, history and other nonfiction, and websites are all good! If you start something but find it too difficult or boring, stop and choose something else. Remember, this is reading for pleasure. If it isn’t pleasant, don’t do it.

Your reading material should not have so much new vocabulary that you need a dictionary to understand every sentence or paragraph or page. If you have to look up too many words, reading will not be a pleasure, and you will not want to continue doing it. Choose materials that are easy enough for you to understand the main ideas without your dictionary, but which have some words that you don’t know. You will begin to learn these new words naturally, even if you don’t look them up in the dictionary, as you encounter them in different contexts. It’s okay to use your dictionary occasionally, but it’s not necessary. You are not going to take a test on what you read, so if you don’t understand every detail, it doesn’t matter. Remember: this is reading for pleasure.


FreeRice lets you drill vocabulary while actually helping to feed hungry people in the world. It’s true! The site’s sponsors pay for the rice, which you “earn” ten grains at a time by selecting the correct meaning for the word you are given. (Don’t worry! There is no penalty for mistakes, and they even tell you the correct answer.)

Joe Heim writes in the Washington Post that FreeRice was created by John Breen, a computer programmer and father who was watching his son study for the SAT (Scholastic Achievement Test, which most college-bound American high school seniors have to take). Breen thought he could make vocabulary study more enjoyable while at the same time helping the world’s poor. (Breen had already created two other online sites to fight poverty and hunger: The Hunger Site and

Wait a minute, you may be thinking, English is not my native language! These words are going to be too hard for me! Well, they are definitely challenging, but Breen says that the words in the database range from pretty easy to extremely difficult, depending on the level (there are fifty levels in all). The program assigns you a starting level based on your first few tries. Then, you change your level with your right and wrong answers. If you get three words correct in a row, your level goes up; make a mistake, and your level goes back down. For more details, visit the FAQ page at FreeRice.

Click here to try it out!