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In my English language classroom, I often tell learners that reading is one of the best ways to improve their language acquisition. If you don’t have anyone to talk to in English, pick up something and just read. Yet, learners often have difficulty in choosing level-appropriate material which makes reading challenging and frustrating. Or the appropriate reading is dry and tedious. Enter, SelfAccess.com an English study website for students of English. 

Selfaccess.com offers a comprehensive library of over 400 engaging English lessons that are built around authentic news articles from Reuters. Lessons are leveled in five stages from elementary to advanced and cover grammar, reading comprehension, and listening and writing skills. The website offers General English lessons to learners of all levels and Academic English to intermediate – advanced learners whom might be preparing for English tests like TOEFL, TOEIC, FCE, or IELTS.

Selfaccess.com addresses the potential problems of choosing an appropriate level by offering a free grammar test. From this test, learners can ascertain which lessons they should focus on. They can then search the lesson library to find a suitable lesson of interest. Searches can be done by level, topic or keywords. Reading topics are highly intriguing, amusing and challenging. In doing one such search for ‘pre-intermediate’ level, I came across over 50 different general English lessons: from odd sporting world championships (ice pool swimming in Finland) to gender issues (women in senior management) to marriage topics (did you know that an average wedding in Shanghai is $18,000 while the average salary is $2,208!)

In a language classroom, the instructor might present some front loading activities to introduce the reading topic to the student and Selfaccess.com does the same. After learners choose and click on a lesson, a page will appear with a topic related illustration and lesson objectives. The lesson might contain a focus on skills such as classifying information, describing a process or diagram, identifying points of view, vocabulary, writing a letter or completing a summary. Then a variety of exercises follow. In an upper-intermediate academic lesson on “Language, Jobs and Culture”, students had to listen to a three minute presentation, answer a multiple choice exercise based on the talk and then complete a cloze style dictation using word chunks used by the speaker.

Compared with many English self-study websites which often focus solely on prescriptive grammar rules or solely textual materials, Selfaccess.com does expose students to English study skills that will help them deduce form, function and meaning from authentic exposure to English. The exercises recycle vocabulary and subtly steer learners’ attention towards grammar points so that they begin to notice how grammar is really used in the language. A further distinction is in its use of authentic listening tasks. These listening activities are also based on Reuters or a similar topic and help to recycle and reinforce the vocabulary used in the material. Additionally, since Selfaccess.com is not heavy in visual information (which could be a downside for elementary learners), the pages are quick to load, ensuring the continuity of lessons. Most of the exercises allow learners to check their answers and give instant feedback, however, I found some where if the learners couldn’t come up with the answer, the correct one was never supplied. Some learners might find this frustrating as I did.

As a supplement or study aid, Selfaccess.com is innovative, creative and pedagogically sound. The site provides a library of newsletters containing helpful hints for studying and a useful links page that provides a wealth of information. Yet, the classroom is still the place for learners who are looking to practice speaking and more meaningful writing. Instructors can choose to purchase an institutional subscription that allows students the opportunity to use the site in a language lab or for homework purposes while exposing them to more meaningful language skills in the classroom. For example, in a unit on April Fool’s Day which focuses on listening and completing a summary, an instructor could reinforce speaking skills by having students come up with pranks, share their own April Fool’s experiences or talk about prankster figures in their own cultures. 

My students who field tested the site found it to be fairly useful and good for improving their reading and vocabulary skills. It is user friendly, visually pleasing and uncluttered. For $15 dollars a month learners can choose an individual subscription for self-directed study that gives access to all the lessons or pay $20 for a 3-month exam preparation course for your individual language level. For students who have access to the internet but not an instructor, Selfaccess.com can be a welcome addition to their English language studies.

Carrie Steenburgh is a lecturer at the University of Maine. This review was published in Folio http://www.matsda.org.uk/ 
(We have made updates to correctly show the number of lessons available and to reflect price changes.)

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