Vol. 3. No. 1 M-1 November 1997
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Site Review

EF International's "Englishtown"
Reviewed by: Maggie Sokolik


There are many sites devoted to English as a Second language on the WWW. However, few of them try to pull together both substantive content and link outside resources in the hopes of providing a "complete" English language learning source. Although EF International's Englishtown clearly has this goal, as the site stands now, it still has some way to go. EF's resources show in the overall design of the site. The homepage graphics are attractive. The metaphor is that of a colorful town with blinking lights directing you to its various buildings, including: Teacher's Inn, Pen Pal Club, Junkyard, The Mall, Learning Fair, Pool Chat, and the EF English School. A row of flags at the bottom of the homepage (some active, others not) indicates the languages into which the main pages are translated.

  1. Teachers' Inn

    This page claims that the user "can read interesting articles, download or print out free lesson materials and find out about exciting job opportunities." The page where to find the "interesting articles" is called " The Brain Bar." Only three articles are archived there:

    There is also the "Lesson Material Lounge," where "you can access innovative lesson plans and other materials for use in the classroom." However, only three lesson plans are available, all at the intermediate level.

    The "Lesson Plan Links" page claims to give a comprehensive (emphasis mine) list of links to other internet sites with lesson plans and teaching materials. However, only 10 links are listed, and nearly no commentary on their contents or value.

  2. Learning Fair

    The Learning Fair is clearly the most promising content area for English language learning on this site. It consists of the following:

    1. Have You Heard?

      This is a daily quote, proverb, etc. It includes a short vocabulary explanation.

    2. Englishtown Post

      In this section, users can read "the article of the month" and post a response to a question at the end of the article. Past topics have included: Unusual Food, The Idiot Box, Bedouin Life, Collecting, Subways. and others.

    3. Culture Corner

      This appears to be a popular area: it features discussion about cultural issues, posted by users.

    4. Grammar Station

      This is another relatively popular spot on the site. Users can post their questions about grammar and receive responses from other users and presumably by EF's teachers. All of the questions and answers are posted.

    5. The Game Hall

      Two word games are offered in the Game Hall. The warning on this site notes that these Java-based games don't work on Internet Explorer for the Macintosh. Unfortunately, it also didn't work on Netscape Communicator 4.0 on a PC. It does, however, work with Netscape 3 on a PC.

      1. Word Drop

        In the Word Drop game, words fall from the top of a screen and the player manipulates them so they fall into the correct categories at the bottom of the screen, such as "food," "movies," "sports," etc. The blocks build up as the player gets wrong answers. This is a fun little game, though some of the answers were very vague ("fan" -- movie or sports?), and some just seemed wrong ("play," when put in the sports category, was incorrect). This game is available at three levels in five categories. However, clicking on the Beginning Level, General category resulted in a "file not found."

      2. Quiz Wiz

        In the Quiz Wiz, the user chooses a category and then gives an open-ended answer to a definition. For example, selecting "Occupations 1" resulted in:

        "This person works in a hospital or clinic."
        Unfortunately, the only acceptable answers for this were "nurse" or "doctor".

  3. The Mall

    The mall features books from an Amazon Books partnership and EF Multimedia's line of products.

  4. Junkyard

    The Junkyard is a peculiarly named area where links to related sites are found. Although the metaphor may be cute, I'm not sure how other website owners and developers would feel about having their pages categorized as "junk." Although most people who have web pages hope for links to other sites, I'm not sure, for example, that we want a link to TESL-EJ to be found in the "Junkyard."

    However, the description of the page is apt in some ways--not because of its contents, but because it is a random list of links with no description or organizational pattern.

  5. Pool Chat

    Chat is a very popular option on the internet, of course. This chat area does not work with Internet Explorer, unfortunately. However, it worked well with Netscape. There were five users logged into the Pool Chat, mostly discussing (as is common in chat rooms) where they were from.

  6. Pen Pal Club

    The Pen Pal Club provides ad-type listings from people of all ages and countries looking for pen pals. There are also links for teachers to sign up entire classes for pen pals. Both of these areas had a number of listings.

  7. EF English School

    EF offers two internet courses in English: NetWriting, a reading and writing and EnglishLive, a conversation course which will start in 1998. The NetWriting course usually costs $129 US for a four-week (although they offer discounts), 16-hour course in either general or scientific writing. The conversation course will offer a course in which nine students will meet in a "virtual classroom" and speak to the others through a microphone attached to their computers. The teacher will use a whiteboard and interactive exercises. There was no information on fees.

  8. Languages

    EF offers its main pages in the following languages: Chinese, English, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish. Other languages are coming in the future.

  9. Dictionary

    One of the more interesting features is the "multilingual dictionary" available in the toolbar of all of Englishtown's pages. It is actually a link to a number of other online dictionaries. However, it pops up in a small, separate window, and allows the user to do a search for an individual word. Currently, the following dictionaries are linked:

    (Note: when clicking on English --> French : "file not found" was returned)

  10. Other Issues

    The site suffers also from lack of updating. On December 11, 1997, it announced:

    "Win a free trip to London! During the month of November 1997, you can win a trip to London at EF's homepage!"
    Additionally, the site lacks any kind of sound. While it is still slightly clumsy to deliver sound via the web, new technologies are making it much easier. A professional organization such as EF should be capitalizing on the capabilities of RealAudio or other sound delivery systems that allow streaming and small file sizes.


Although nowhere on the site is there an "Under Construction" sign, Englishtown has the feeling of a very new settlement. The link listings are sparse and uninformative. The games are amusing for a short while, but don't offer much. Other content links offer little or no information. By contrast, the areas of the site that offer human interaction--chat, penpals, and discussion lists--seem active. However, this is more of a reflection on the internet than on EF's site. Chat and e-mail remain the most popular internet activities. That EF has offered these features on their site is commendable, but given the lack of substantive content here, any site that put up a bulletin board and a chat room could call itself an "Englishtown."

The search for valuable content in ESL websites continues. EF, with its financial resources, high-quality multimedia products, and history with language teaching could have done better.

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