What is the easiest language to learn? Unfortunately, there isn’t one or at least there is no straight answer to that question. The answer is that it depends. It depends mostly on these three factors: your native language, the complexity of the target language sounds, and its grammar difficulty.
If we tried to classify English on some objective scale without considering your native tongue, it would probably fall somewhere in the middle – not too easy but not terribly hard either.
There are certain challenges about learning English that can make the task more difficult for pretty much all learners. The first one that comes to mind is the th sound. Actually, these are two possible sounds and both are unusual and hard to pronounce for most non-English native speakers. But somehow everybody still understands those words even when they are mispronounced.
The second difficulty is that English spelling often makes no sense because the rules don’t seem to apply equally across the board. You can have the same combination of letters being read completely differently in three different ways. And the third example of the challenges comes later on when you start learning phrasal verbs. But I don’t think that last one is so different in many other languages.
On the other hand, there are many things that are very difficult about other languages that you will thankfully not be dealing with in English.
While English has only three grammatical cases that are pretty simple to use, Hungarian has eighteen! German has seemingly endless combinations of adjective declensions. Mandarin has a simple structure but is one of the hardest to pronounce and speak for most of us. Reading Thai was an impossible task for me as a tourist but speaking the basic words were fairly simple and I was always understood. Jump over to Vietnam and the situation was totally reversed – I couldn’t even hear the difference in the sounds when my pronunciation was being corrected. Ugh, very frustrating!
However you cut it, there is one thing you can’t deny – English is everywhere. Most people have heard it plenty before and can say a few words of it without ever trying to learn it.
You can also witness the exact opposite effect in countries that overdub all of their movies and television to their native languages such as in Italy or Spain. Travel there and you can sadly testify that at times it can be hard to find people who can understand the most basic English words. And when you do find them, it is obvious that they hardly ever hear any English.
The big question here is which is the best online course to learn English. I think that the honest answer is that there is certainly no perfect course. I believe that you will not be able to learn English or any other language from one source. And I don’t think you should.
Different teaching methods offer different ways of learning and some may work better or worse for you. Besides, being exposed to various types of materials and presentations can only help you learn. And different styles of teaching and learning can keep you on your toes which gets your brain more involved and in turn helps you learn faster and more importantly remember more.
The biggest obstacles when learning a language have to do with simply remembering. There is a lot of new information and there is only a limited amount of it that your memory can absorb, at least that it can absorb at a time. And an even smaller amount of it can become a part of your permanent memory. This is why you often hear that people who have taken a language in school for years can barely remember a handful of words.
The old school classroom method of learning is simply not effective. There are newer approaches that tackle the shortcomings of the old ones and that’s still not enough. Technology has given us new ways of learning but there are still no shortcuts. You still have to roll up your sleeves and spend time studying and taking in new information. So it’s only a matter of organizing yourself to devote enough time for it and trusting that the methods will produce results. And they will – if you understand what the challenges are.
I will give you a handful of options and explain some of these challenges along the way. So, without further ado (not adieu) let’s get started.
- Best Online English Courses
- Business English Communication Skills
- Udemy English Language Courses
- Rocket Languages
- The Pimsleur Method
Best Online English Courses
Business English Communication Skills
Get better at writing and speaking English to improve your professional communication for successful business interactions and increase your business success.
I am starting my reviews with Coursera because I know there are people who like having educational institution names on their resumes. You will not get the biggest bang for the buck this way because you’ll probably end up spending a couple of hundred dollars. That being said, this is still a solid course and I want to give you a wide range of options to choose from.
There are only a handful of English learning specializations available at Coursera and this one is by far the most popular of them. If you are not familiar with Coursera’s specializations, they are collections of several courses that end with a final practice called Capstone Project and earn you a Specialization Certificate.
Coursera doesn’t have fixed specialization prices and instead charges monthly. So there is always that gnawing conflict between wanting to complete your course as fast as possible so you can pay less and doing it right and actually remembering what you learned to get what you paid for. I recommend going with the latter!
These courses are mostly taken by students who are already busy so it makes the most sense to take the lessons using their suggested schedule. In this case, we are talking about 55 hours that should take you 4-5 months to complete.
This business-focused specialization consists of:
- Write Professional Emails in English
- Speak English Professionally: In Person, Online & On the Phone
- Build Your Professional ePortfolio in English
- Take Your English Communication Skills to the Next Level
The first course of the specialization is all about business English emails. It starts with basic professional email structures, what to do. and what things to avoid. It also covers general and always useful and needed punctuation and capitalization. It then moves into email specific topics such as subject lines and email organization. The next two weeks (assuming you follow their suggested schedule) are spent on specific types of emails: introductions, announcements, requests, and apologies. In the final week, you will learn about how culture affects business email writing.
The second course is about speaking English. The first three modules are focused on types of direct communication which are: conversing face to face, communicating in online meetings and video conferencing, and lastly phone conversations. The next module focuses on how to best prepare yourself for an interview and even includes a helpful lesson on body language. To put it all together and apply the new knowledge, the final module lets you create a presentation which is another very important business skill.
In this day and age, it is impossible to avoid online aspects of work and having a digital portfolio or at least an online presence with a resume is a must. With that in mind, this module covers all the aspects of it from how to create an online CV and build yourself as a brand, how to showcase your work, write effective summaries, use the right language, and even how to network and connect to other professionals in your industry.
By the time you get to the Capstone Project, you will have new skills and it will be time to take them to the next level. You’ll have an opportunity to communicate across cultural boundaries, develop a stronger writing style and create more engaging emails, deliver another short presentation, and maximize your skills by using more advanced writing and pronunciation.
The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the top research universities in the United States based in Atlanta. In their own words, they are committed to improving the human condition through advanced science and technology. The courses are taught by Gerry Landers, Amalia B. Stephens, and Karen Peterson, all of them highly educated and experienced at teaching languages in the US and worldwide.
Coursera works with top universities around the world who offer courses, specializations, and degrees in a wide variety of subjects. There are video lectures, readings, quizzes, auto-graded and peer-reviewed assignments, and community forums.
Most students are very happy with the results they got from attending this specialization.
“Excellent course that has helped me to gain my confidence back in relation to public speaking, writing efficient emails and prepare presentations.”
“Great course! Short videos, great classes. Prof. Landers teaches in a light and efficient way.”
“A very good course, I improved my pronunciation and I learned how to speak professionally.”
Being a business program, this is definitely not a course for English beginners. Although there is no specific designation for it, I would estimate that it requires a B1 level of English proficiency, possibly A2/B1. It includes all the business essentials and will look great on the resume. If your language mastery is not quite there yet or you are looking for more general English help or you want to spend as little money as possible, keep reading. Otherwise…
Udemy English Language Courses
I can no longer cover an education topic these days without going to my favorite learning platform Udemy.
The truth is that depending on what you need, it isn’t always the best choice, but it always has something to offer. Not only that but the offers are plentiful, many are of great quality, and the prices are very affordable.
Unfortunately, what you won’t find on Udemy is an English course that is structured to take you through each proficiency level and cover all the language skills you will require to master it. Not that there literally aren’t any programs like that – I actually start my recommendations with two such offers. I just think there are other methods that are better for that. What Udemy is really good at is courses in specific niches or areas of your particular learning needs.
So rather than finding one or two courses that stand out and droning on about them, I’ve decided instead to give you a list of courses that excel at covering certain skills that can help you take them to the next level. This is not what I set out to do but once I started digging on Udemy, it just made sense to do it like that.
If you are a beginner or you’re looking for a more traditional curriculum, you will want to check out the next two reviews below. But before you do that, look at these titles of my recommended Udemy courses as there is bound to be something there for you as well.
- Complete English Course: Learn English Language | Beginners
- Complete English Course: Learn English | Intermediate Level
- English Grammar Launch: Upgrade your speaking and listening
- English Grammar Launch Advanced: Upgrade your speaking
- Master The English Verb Tenses
- Learn English Speaking Course-How To Speak English Fluently
- English Fluency: How to Sound Like a Native English Speaker
- Perfect English Pronunciation: British English
- English Vocabulary Launch: Upgrade your speaking
- 500+ American Slang | Spoken English Vocabulary Course
- English Made Simple: Vocabulary For Business
- Basic English Writing
- English Writing Essentials: Perfect Your Written English
- English punctuation made easy
- Building Your English Brain
- How to Learn and Memorize the Vocabulary of Any Language
- Improve English by Movies
- Conscious Listening
This is a company that’s been around since 2004. That may not sound very long in language learning or the offline world, but they are one of the first (if not the first) to offer online language learning courses. They started humbly with simple MP3s and PDFs available for Spanish and French only. These days, they have courses for a dozen languages that are technologically much more advanced than when they first started, and there are 1.2 million students who have signed up for their programs!
For learning English, there are Rocket Inglés and Rocket Eigo that were created specifically for Spanish and Japanese speakers (respectively). I will focus on their standard Rocket English course, of course.
The Rocket English course is one of the best online English courses for beginners. At the time of this writing, unlike most of the other Rocket Language programs, their English course has only one level available, the beginner level. The goal of this course is to bring you to a good conversation level. So the expectations of the course are that within eight weeks, you will be able to:
- Speak English to others
- Understand people speaking English
- Learn more at a faster pace
- Have fun while learning
You can use Rocket on your computer online or you can download their free app for your iPhone or Android phone. Lessons can also be downloaded so that you can listen to them on the go. Most features are the same on all platforms. If you are connected to the internet, your progress will be tracked so that you can continue from where you left off. But you can also use most of it offline as well.
The total running time of the course lessons is over 120 hours. Another great and unique thing about Rocket is that it allows you to take your own learning path. This is a great and important factor because while it is mainly an audio-based course, it does feature all learning models: listening, reading, writing, and speaking.
We all learn differently so it is imperative to use various learning approaches. Some of us learn better when reading or writing it down and others retain info best upon hearing it. There are those who need to see the information visually and connect the ideas presented while many of us prefer to get more hands-on and involved.
We each have our own preferences that help us learn better and faster. More importantly, none of us are only one type but a mix of several or all types in varying degrees. Rocket takes this fully into account and offers maximum exposure from all different angles. This approach is called VARK as it includes the four main learning styles for the four primary types of learners – visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. This is a crucial element in language learning or any learning for that matter.
Interactive Audio Lessons
There are 30 interactive audio lessons in the course. They are the essential parts of the course that are designed to become the main building-blocks of your English speaking ability. The main and unique approach used when they were created is called “chunking”. What that means is that the segments are separated into smaller units that make it easier and more effective for you to learn.
Having 20-minute lessons is much easier to digest and fit into our busy modern schedules than the traditional 60 or 90-minute lessons. And with a limited selection of new information being presented at once, you have a much greater chance of being able to remember it.
One of the main interactive features of the lessons is the use of a voice recognition algorithm. It places you in an actual conversation. You listen to your instructors, you read what they said, and you record yourself repeating those same sentences. The app then compares your recording with the original and assesses how good your pronunciation is. You then have to repeat it until you get it right.
Once you are done speaking, you get to do some more listening and add the writing skill practice to it. You listen to a word or a phrase from the conversation and type what you heard. Each module is also followed by a multiple choice quiz to help you remember the most important topics from the lesson. There are flashcards that include thousands of word and help you strengthen your skills, train your brain, and have fun too.
Language & Culture
In addition to the interactive lessons, there are 32 so-called Language & Culture lessons. These lessons extend the vocabulary and grammar learned in the main lessons into real-life examples and situations that are useful on their own. Through cultural information, they let you discover the finer points of English grammar and increase your fluency quickly and easily.
Members Q&A Forum
If you get stuck with anything, you can log into the forum. There you can talk to other students and Rocket staff. It’s an easy way to get the answers to your English language questions.
If after the first eight weeks (or 60 days, to be exact) you are not happy with Rocket English, you can get a refund. And it doesn’t have to be for the lack of any fulfilled expectations that are listed above. It could be for any reason – or really no reason as it’s no questions asked. Just let the customer service know and they’ll refund you.
Geez, when I talk about the guarantee like this, it sounds as if you probably won’t like the course LOL But my point is that you don’t have to worry about it. I’m sure there are people who take advantage of this kind of guarantee but the majority of people are good and they would feel bad refunding a course that works. And having well over a million customers is a very strong quality statement.
This is a very effective modern language course that takes advantage of all the advanced technology and psychology available for language learning. Not only that, but it employs many proven methods that are essential for learning fast and retaining your new knowledge.
Oh, and did I mention there is a free trial as well?
The Pimsleur Method
This is one of the oldest and most well-established methods available for learning languages. It’s unfortunate that some people think its age makes it outdated because that’s not true at all. There are some older and hugely commercial names like Rosetta Stone that are lagging behind the rest of the industry these days, but Pimsleur is not one of them.
There was a point when their pricing strategy wasn’t helping them – it was just too darn expensive. And their apps weren’t working properly and were relatively boring. But they’ve since changed their pricing packages and added a subscription option in the US which is pretty inexpensive. And the app has been updated as well.
Dr. Paul Pimselur is one of the most important names in modern linguistics when it comes to language learning and consequently teaching. Through his research in the 50s and 60s, he has defined several language acquisition elements that have become a cornerstone of his method. Those are not his only scientific contributions but that’s what interests us here today.
Gradual Interval Recall
The most important aspect of Dr. Pimsleur’s work has to do with so-called spaced repetition. His most revolutionary findings are in his work on memory. What he had found was that if you are reminded of a new word at gradually increasing intervals, each of those repetitions will help you remember the word for a longer period. That is until you forget it again and that’s why it’s important to continue the repetitions.
But there is no point in just repeating at random because a) it may not help you remember if you are repeating it too late and b) you may be wasting your time if you repeat it too soon. So in order to be most effective, he defined very precise intervals to be used in language learning. His intervals start immediately at 5 and 25 seconds, 2 and 10 minutes, and repeat at 1 and 5 hours. They then continue the following day, at 5 days, 25 days, and they finally end at 4 months and 2 years.
In doing this, he created the most optimal sequence that moves the new information from your short-term memory into your permanent memory. This is a crucial element that is sorely missing in all other language learning programs.
Principle of Anticipation
The second of Pimsleur’s core key principles is anticipation. For this one, Dr. Pimsleur simply went again with how our brain already functions. One of the automatic processes in our brains is that we anticipate certain responses, reactions, or in this case words. What you will hear in the lessons are pauses that get you involved in the process and reinforce your responses. This simple process activates the creation of new neural pathways in your brain.
As you probably know, “neurons that fire together, wire together” and that’s how you retain new information. This is why anticipation combined with spaced repetition helps make the neural connections stronger and you end up remembering the new information for good.
At Pimsleur, they don’t want you to focus on building a large vocabulary. Or to be more precise, they avoid giving you too many new words to learn at once. Trying to remember too much information of any kind will definitely slow down your learning process and worse, it can cause you to get discouraged and quit. This approach goes hand in hand with their first principal of gradual interval recall because it gives you time to internalize all new words before moving on to new ones.
The last of the four principles is about having context for the conversation. This one is pretty basic common sense. When you have a setting for the communication, your brain can make other connections and use other words to integrate pronunciation and the rhythm of the exchange. This gives your memory a variety of prompts to use when we need to find the right word to use.
Listen and Learn
This method is primarily and almost exclusively audio-based. I know I talked about the advantages of having materials for all different types of learners, but consider that we learn our own native languages mainly by listening. The neural connections in our brains for each word get stronger as we use the words because we kind of have no other choice if we want to communicate.
Similarly, the Pimsleur method requires you to listen and then asks you to reply in order to fulfill their recall requirement. It makes you an active participant by going further than just asking you to repeat the word you’ve just learned. You will get prompted to remember and use the new words in actual exchange. This is exactly the same as in real life except that the timing is very particular because of the interval recall.
Oh, and back to the fact that the method is audio-based… Most of the time, they’ll ask you to imagine a specific scenario. This can be more powerful than other ways of prompting your brain. Having an illustration on a page in the book is certainly not as strong as having an image in your mind’s eye. And having those same words describing the situation written down can also distract you from making a powerful internal visualization instead.
Another cool thing they do especially for longer words is they have the native speaker who is guiding you through the language pronounce the words one syllable at a time. Not only that, but they pronounce the syllables backward! These are all cool little psychological tricks designed to help you remember and retain the information.
All of the Pimsleur English courses are designed as second language courses. They consider the specific issues that your native language brings to the table and there is a lot of speaking in your native language as well. In a traditional classroom, using your mother tongue might be a problem, but in this setting, it makes perfect sense.
One possible limitation of the Pimsleur method would be that it’s not available in your native language. These are the native languages that are currently available for learning English:
Note that most of these are only available at one level which is 30 lessons. Only English for Spanish speakers has three levels and Italian speakers have two.
You can buy either the whole course, the whole level, or five lessons at a time. The smaller packages give you an option to spend less money but buying more lessons at once gives you greater savings. If you are in the US, you can get a subscription version where you will pay monthly and have access to the lessons as long as you are a subscriber.
Before you decide, you can get the first lesson for free.
Because of the need to visualize, focus, and reply at specific intervals, Pimsleur sessions should be done with most focus possible. You total concentration is needed so keep that in mind. I’m bringing that up as if it’s not required in other courses LOL But seriously – as you will be asked to respond to the prompts in a limited time, you really need to focus a little more than in other courses. You could still do this while driving or sitting on the train, but since you are expected to respond out loud, I’m not sure if being surrounded by people would actually work.
The bottom line is that Pimsleur is probably the method that will get you speaking the language the fastest. You will have a limited vocabulary but that’s how you start. So if you are traveling to a country soon for business or pleasure, this is the best way to move from zero to being able to muster up some basic communication. As with any other course, you will need to continue learning and employ other language learning methods if you want to take your speaking skills to the next level.
And there you have it – four options that differ greatly but have the same goal. If I were a beginner choosing what to do for myself, I would start by taking one general Udemy course and combining it with Rocket English. Then, as I progress, I’d continue with Udemy taking the next level general course and adding some specific courses that deal with the topics or areas that I need to work on.
Just don’t forget that even though these companies claim that all you need is 30 minutes a day to learn English or any language, in reality, it’s never that simple. While it may be true that you don’t need to spend more than half an hour or up to an hour a day taking lessons, you should spend at least an additional hour or two being exposed to the language you’re learning. There are plenty of podcasts you can find, movies you can watch or music you could listen to. Or better yet – talk to people. This is easy if you are living in a country where English or your target language is spoken. If not, maybe you can find people you can chat with on Skype on a website like Italki.
Combine all of these, and you’ll be mastering English in no time.