With over 840 million speakers worldwide, English is second only to Mandarin Chinese as the world’s most popular language. For those at home in their own countries, learning English has several advantages: expanding ones’ social circle; opening up more business opportunities; or allowing one to better enjoy English pop culture.

However, for those who wish to become U.S. citizens, learning English is absolutely indispensable. In addition to a civics test about U.S. history and government, candidates for naturalization are also required to conduct a brief interview with a USCIS officer who will test their English proficiency. Since failing this test can cause your application to  be denied, it’s a good idea to study up. 

Fortunately, there are many tools to learn English as a second language that are both effective and budget-friendly. Here, we’ve gathered together some of the best cost-effective tools you can use to learn English.

Use the BBC

The British Broadcasting Corporation, or BBC, is the oldest national broadcasting organization in the world, as well as the largest by number of employees. Aside from being a great source of English broadcasts, which any student can listen to as an aide to boost their listening skills, the organization also offers free online courses in over 40 different languages. Courses include lessons, activities, and tests which educate users on phrases, vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar, enabling users to learn English without paying a cent.

There’s an App for That

Instead of wasting hours on your phone playing Angry Birds, why not learn a language for free? There are many popular phone apps that promise to teach users how to speak a new language. The most popular of these is Duolingo, which was named Apple’s App of the Year in 2013 and continues to be one of the most widely-used language apps. The app uses adorable animal graphics and sound effects to turn learning English into a fun game in which users “score” points to reach new levels of challenges.

Another popular free language app is Byki, a downloadable flashcard program that allows users to learn new words in the new-old fashioned way. Three vocabulary lists are available for free, and additional content sets cost about $8 each.

Connect Through the Web

The internet enables users to connect to people around the world in seconds, and people who are learning English can use that to their advantage. Examples of free sites which connect students to native speakers around the world include Mylanguageexchange.com, which has more than 1 million members, and interpals.net, which has a nice interface that makes connecting fun. Couchsurfing.com, while not specifically designed to help people learn English, is also a great way to connect to native English speakers. If you need a more personal approach, you can also book an online teacher at italki.com, which has over 3,000 teachers and tutors. Prices range from $10 to $30 USD an hour, which, while not free, is still very affordable.

Read, Watch, and Listen

Of course, as any second-language speaker can tell you, the most effective way to learn any language is to become immersed in the culture. With English, this isn’t difficult to do. Some of the most famous and popular music, TV shows, movies, and blogs in the world are in English, and most of them are easy to access. A simple Netflix account will give you access to hundreds of English movies and shows, which you can watch with or without subtitles. Through the internet, you can read English newspapers, magazines, and blogs, and apps like TuneIn Radio will let you access English and American radio stations for free.

Learning English is a huge challenge—but money doesn’t have to be the thing holding you back. Like many other things in life, you will get as far as you are willing to work!


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