USA Learns: A Web-Based Tool for Self-Directed Learning

Many students like to be able to log into a computer program on their laptop, tablet, or smart phone to practice their English online outside of class. Here’s a free resource that every ESL teacher should know about: USA Learns,

USA Learns is a free website funded by the U.S. Department of Education for immigrants who want to improve their listening, speaking, pronunciation, grammar, writing, and spelling skills. However, because it is Internet-based, it is available to adult ELLs anywhere in the world. It is a great resource for self-directed learners as well as for teachers who want to give their students extra practice opportunities outside of class.

The USA Learns website offers three separate programs:

First English Course: a 20-unit, video-based beginner-level course

Second English Course: a 20-unit, video-based intermediate-level course

Practice English and Reading: 44 intermediate-level stories and activities.

USA Learns units are structured around practical, real-life themes. For beginners, these include (among others) numbers, family, money and shopping, food, doctors and medicine, and finding a new home. For intermediate students, the topics range from “Workers and the Workplace” and “Education and Information” to “Housing and Family Life” and “Civic Participation.” There’s even a unit aimed at encouraging foreign-educated immigrants working in survival jobs in the United States to transfer their professional credentials and resume their professional lives here.

What’s special about USA Learns is that each unit includes short, engaging videos that students can listen to as many times as they need to. Students can also choose to listen to the videos with or without a transcript of the text in English.

The videos are followed by a series of scaffolded activities that students can use to practice what they have learned: listening comprehension activities, vocabulary practice, writing activities and—using the microphone on their smartphone, tablet, or laptop—pronunciation practice.

After registering on the USA Learns website, students can work at their own pace, bookmarking their activities so that when they log back on, they can resume where they left off. Students can also track their scores on unit quizzes, and retake quizzes as often as they want or need to.

It’s worth noting that there’s a also special section of the website aimed at teachers and tutors who want to incorporate USA Learns into their teaching.  This section gives teachers access to a variety of teaching tips, podcasts, and links to other web-based resources relevant to each USA Learns topic.

Have you used USA Learns, or do you plan to use it with your students? Please share your experiences with us in the comments section!

Note: While use of the website online is free, USA Learns charges 99 cents to download the USA Learns smartphone app, available from the Apple App Store or Google Play.


About Alexandra Lowe

Alexandra Lowe
Alexandra is an ESL instructor at SUNY Westchester Community College, where she has taught Speaking & Listening in the Intensive English Program, English for Academic Purposes, Business English, Accent on Fluency and a wide range of ESL levels. She has also served as a consultant to the Community College Consortium on Immigrant Education, which is based at Westchester Community College. Her primary interests are bringing authentic materials into the ESL classroom, connecting ESL students to the supportive resources available at many community colleges, and promoting self-directed learning strategies that ESL students can use outside of the classroom to accelerate their learning and enhance their speaking skills.
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