What devices and programs do you need to learn English?

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The most important tool you need to learn English is a good computer, preferably a laptop (a portable computer). Your computer has to be able to play audio (through speakers and/or if you connect headphones to it) and video without issues. It's important that your computer has good space on its hard drive (say, more than 60 GB) to download some audio and video files and some programs. Your keyboard should be working fine.

If your computer doesn't have a microphone, and you want to practice your speaking (through programs like Skype) with native speakers you meet on the Internet, you will have to buy a microphone. And of course, your computer should be able to connect to the Internet without any bigger issue. So, unless your computer is a relic from the 90's or it's too damaged, I'm pretty sure your computer will fulfill these requirements.

If you have a computer but for some weird reason you don't have Internet at home, this is what you can do:

If you have a laptop, you can take it to a friend's or relative's house who does have Internet, connect to their network, and then you can use the websites and download the things you want... but don't stay in their house for too long! Copy online articles to Word (or to LibreOfffice Write... or to Notepad, whatever), download what you need, go back to your own house and then start reading/listening. It's also possible to connect to the free WiFi of any public library near you; just remember to NOT log into any website that requires a username and password while connected to a free public WiFi like that, unless you use a VPN.

If your computer is not a laptop (it has a monitor and a tower and a zillion cables behind...), you could sometimes, again, go to a friend's or relative's house who has a computer and Internet connection, use it for a bit, take out an USB drive, and then download and copy there all the content you need. Then you can pass those files to your computer at home. You could do the same with computers at your nearest public library, or paying for a 1 hour session at an Internet café. Ohh, remember to scan your USB drive with your antivirus once you put it in your computer. Hmm... but if you have no Internet, then your computer's antivirus will not be updated... you see? It's just better to have Internet at home.

If you don't have a computer, let alone Internet at home, then I suggest you regularly visit any public library near you, and that you invest as much time as you can each day doing your English learning activities there. Another option would be to pay for Internet sessions at an Internet café, but I think that "solution" would be too expensive and I don't recommend it. Instead of spending money on Internet sessions I would recommend you make an extra effort to get a second hand computer if necessary, and then you can follow my other recommendations above.

Having a smartphone and/or tablet that you are always carrying with you could be useful: You could listen to audio content in English almost anywhere you are, watch videos and you could use dictionary apps to search for words quickly. But if you don't have any of these devices (just a flip-phone that can make calls, send SMS and that's it), don't worry. Those devices are not essential as long as you have your computer.

Besides your computer you don't need any more devices to learn English. Is it possible to learn Enlgish without technological devices? Maybe. As I mentioned in the last article, you could learn to read in English using printed contents in English (like books and newspapers) and paper dictionaries, and to train your listening you could... I don't know, join a conversation group in English, I guess. But nowadays, trying to learn that way is complicated and limited. Use technology!

Computer programs

Your Internet browser, like Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome, will be your main tool to find content in English. Also, through your browser you will be able to access several dictionaries, like WordReference and Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary without having to install anything else in your computer.

Even then, it makes sense to have some content in English saved in your hard drive (to decipher later), and a dictionary program installed in your computer. If your Internet goes down, or if you are going to take your laptop somewhere without an Internet connection, having content and a dictionary saved in your computer could save you. To consume those kinds of content that you download I recommend you download the following programs:

* VLC Player: This is my favorite media player, because it can play practically any kind of audio and video format. It's awesome!

* PrimoPDF: This is a program that installs a "virtual printer" in your computer, through which you can "print" whatever you want in .pdf format. That way, if you are looking at an article in English in your browser, and you want to save it in your computer, you can go to "print" in your browser, you can select "PrimoPDF", and the program will "print" your article in .pdf format so you can save it in your hard drive.

* LibreOffice Write: If for any reason you don't have a text processor like Microsoft Word in your computer, LibreOffice write (part of the LibreOffice suite) is an excellent alternative. Write does practically everything that Word does, is open source and free. In Write you can do some writings in English and save them for later, and you could also copy-paste articles in English and save them on Write documents if you don't want to use PrimoPDF.

* Skype: You can use this famous program to chat and make calls to natives you meet on the web and tutors with whom to practice your English. If your computer has a webcam, they will be able to see you in real time if you want.

* Lingoes (Optional. I'm on the look for better offline dictionaries): Very similar to the program Babylon, but free, Lingoes is an application that allows you to load dictionaries in .LD2 format, which you can find on the dictionaries directory of Lingoes.net. Up until now I think this program is fast and efficient, and the dictionaries you can put in it are good enough.

Something else I like about Lingoes is that you can install a plugin that connects your browser to the dictionary. This is what the extension does: When you are doing something in your browser and you find a word you don't know, you can do a special click on it that you can configure (like ctrl+click or alt+click, or other combinations). This will make a little pop-up window appear with the dictionary results for that word. That way you don't have to copy-paste the word into another window to look up its meaning, which I think is super practical.

If you don't have your own computer right now, and you use a friend's or relative's, then ask him or her for permission to instal those programs. If they don't let you, or if you use a library's or Internet café's computer that doesn't allow you to install programs, you can install them on a USB drive and run them through there.

There are many other dictionaries, programs and websites you could use for your English elarning, which I will be checking and reviewing soon. I will also check apps and dictionaries for smartphones and tablets. But for now, I suggest you start with these programs.

And that's it, for me these are the most basic resources you will need to for your daily training in English. Other tools are optional.


Necessary devices: Computer (preferably a laptop), with audio and microphone, whether yours or lent (by a relative, library, etc.). USB drive to save and transfer files if you don't have Internet at home.

Necessary programs:
  • Firefox o Chrome browser
  • VLC player
  • Primo PDF
  • LibreOffice
  • Skype

Last updated: May 20 de 2015

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