What is Interactive English?

CW Deziel

The Internet makes many English language learning tools, communities and resources available to anyone with a computer and a connection. Interactive English, which uses audio-visual prompts to assist in learning and self-testing, is one such resource. Interactive English websites typically contain pages of visual aids that can be activated by the user with a mouse click to generate spoken or written vocabulary or to link to a quiz for self-testing. The term "interactive English" is also used by brick-and-mortar English schools to refer to a style of learning that involves discussion, role-play, and frequent interaction with the instructor.

An interactive English program might be useful for a foreign student studying English as a second language (ESL).
An interactive English program might be useful for a foreign student studying English as a second language (ESL).

In a typical language school setting, many learning methodologies rely on passive activities like listening and reading. While these activities are necessary for any student wishing to learn English grammar and vocabulary, they must be supplemented by others to facilitate the acquisition of communications skills. Interactive English-learning techniques help develop these communications skills by requiring a response from the student, whether it be by engaging in discussion with fellow students, interacting with the instructor, or working with audio-visual teaching devices. Interactive learning methodologies are based on the theory that reproducing language for the purpose of direct communication accelerates the assimilation of grammar and vocabulary.

Interactive English exercises can be used online and allow for self-testing on basic skills.
Interactive English exercises can be used online and allow for self-testing on basic skills.

Many interactive English exercises can be effectively utilized online without the need for an instructor. A typical interactive reading exercise, for example, facilitates comprehension and vocabulary acquisition by supplying a written passage with several multiple-choice questions based on it. An interactive grammar exercise might consist of a sentence with a missing verb and an attached multiple-choice quiz supplying several verb tense constructions. A student can use the tests both as a way of learning and as a method of increasing confidence by self-testing.

While many online sites devoted to helping users learn English are unambiguously constructed as "schools" with interactive English aids like audio-visual and grammar tools, there are others that can be just as helpful to a student wishing to learn communications skills. These include online communities of English learners that encourage chatting, e-mails, and voice exchanges between students. These interactive English communities are usually moderated by qualified instructors, and though they can effectively supplement experience in a physical classroom, they may also stand alone as a student's only resource for interacting in English. Such communities have the advantage of exposing students to a wide spectrum of "classmates" from many different countries, helping them to learn about and appreciate cultures other than their own while they learn English.

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Discussion Comments


I taught ESL to adult refugees at a community college for about 10 years. They learned reading and writing skills quicker than speaking, listening and pronunciation. They seemed to like doing grammar and vocabulary games and exercises on the computer. They liked the repetition and checking their answers until they mastered the skill.

However, is what they really wanted to learn as fast as possible was to speak English naturally, like an American. They also wanted to be able to understand American speech and to improve their pronunciation as much as possible.

I provided lots of opportunities to role play, to talk about the present, past, and future. I provided them opportunities to practice conversations with native speakers. Pronunciation practice was difficult with so many different languages in the classes.


I taught ESL to elementary age children for five years in a public school. I think that using the computer to teach English in an interactive way is beneficial on a limited basis. Word games, elementary grammar, interactive conversation, and reading exercises would be appropriate for this age group.

Using computer programs should be a supplement to regular classroom interaction, not the primary method of teaching.

I feel that elementary ESL students learn best by hands-on activities in small groups. They need to learn conversation and listening skills in a natural and authentic way. They require the teacher and other English speaking children to be models for learning English.

So, using computer programs is one of many ways to teach English to young children.


@MrMoody - There’s another dimension to interactive learning English programs which hasn’t been mentioned, and which, I believe, is one of the most dramatic uses of the new technology. It’s the use of voice recognition technology.

There are many language learning software applications – English instruction included – that use voice recognition to help the student in their conversational skills. This takes English instruction to a whole new level, creating an immersive conversational experience where the student can interact verbally in a variety of different settings provided by the software.

I personally believe that people learn English faster by speaking it and hearing it, rather than by simply reading from a book or doing lessons on paper.


@Charred - I say amen to everything you just said. I’ve used interactive English grammar exercises online and don’t feel the least bit threatened by the technology.

Like you said, it’s a tool and an aid. Frankly, I dislike teaching grammar, so if a web-based tool can do it better than I can, all the while making it fun for the kids instead of making them feel like they’re eating broccoli, I’m all for it.


I taught English as a Second Language for four years and have seen first-hand the use of technology in the classroom and what a boon it can be for learning.

Not only did we have computer labs with generic English instruction software but we also had multimedia programs that used prompts and games to engage the children’s senses, and enable them to learn words and concepts very quickly.

I am a strong believer in interactive English lessons. I realize that some critics deride these technology-based approaches are “edutainment,” but it should be understood that these tools are meant to supplement the teacher’s English instruction, not replace it.

The teacher should also be smart enough to figure out when the educational value of the software is being smothered by its entertainment value, and quit using the tool if it’s no longer effective.

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