Tag Archives: language learning

British Academy Schools Language Awards 2014

Call for Applications: British Academy Schools Language Awards 2014


In its second year the British Academy set the British Academy Schools Language Awards. The competition offers a series of 14 awards of £4,000 each to encourage excellence in language learning across the UK. The two national winners will be awarded an additional £2,000 each.

Schools across the country are invited to participate with the British Academy paying extra attention to projects that target learners in less advantaged social groups.

The initiative was created with the objective to increase the number of students that take languages to an advanced and degree level. Schools can apply with their projects until June 30 2014.

Full release after the break.

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EdTech EuropePlanning to attend EdTech Europe 2014 on June 12th in London? Use the promo code EDUKWEST to get 20% off the ticket price!

language learning

Language Learning needs to be Flipped

EducationInvestor April 2014This column was first published in EducationInvestor Volume 6, Issue 3 April 2014.

As an EDUKWEST reader you’re entitled to subscribe to EducationInvestor magazine at a discount. Sign up here, and you can receive 13 issues for the price of 10.

When it comes to language, Europe is in a unique position. In a small geographical area, connected by a common market and to some extent common culture, we have access to nearly all the world’s most important languages: English, of course, but German, Spanish, Portuguese and French all play major roles in global trade, too. And the European Commission is keen to get people learning: a year ago, it announced the lofty goal of making every European speak at least three languages, calling this multilingualism strategy “mother tongue plus two”.

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Cambly merges two Edtech Trends: Instant Video Lessons and Mobile

Apparently the choice of making tutoring the subject of our first EDUKWEST Live event last week was a very good one. Having been somewhat forgotten over the past couple of years it now makes an impressive comeback in the edtech news cycle.

To give you just one prominent example that was covered by even general tech blogs: Wyzant which raised $21.5 million late last year now acquired the remains of Tutorspree. But I’ll get into that story later this week.

Today I want to focus on Cambly, a new platform that connects English and Spanish learners through video chat. Sure, this sounds very familiar as startups like Colingo and Verbling are essentially fishing in the same pond.

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Duolingo hits 10 million Users – Wants to give Language Learning a Bigger Purpose


Yesterday Duolingo released a new promo video on its YouTube channel. Marketing and feel-good / world-changing agenda aside, the spot has a pretty telling message: Language, free at last. (emphasis mine).

I also just got an email stating that

“Since its launch 15 months ago, Duolingo has reached 10 million students and become the most popular way to learn languages online. No ad campaign, no gimmicks; just your support and a mission of free language education for the world.”

Looking a few years back the premise of language learning startups like Livemocha, busuu and babbel.com was to make language learning more affordable compared to their chosen nemesis Rosetta Stone. Since then Livemocha’s newsletter has turned into a sales channel for Rosetta Stone after the acquisition, promoting RS products at 60% off.

As a funny side note: if you follow the link to Livemocha’s YouTube channel on the bottom of the email, you will still find the legendary Livemocha spot with the (infamous) yellow boxes.

But back to Duolingo. If you talk to folks in the language learning industry you notice that most (all) of them are not happy about the new competitor. How can you compete with a free product that also seems to work quite well according to a study.

What Duolingo does is essentially disrupting the former disrupters or at least establishing itself as the third alternative method. busuu’s success is clearly its global community of language learners and babbel.com has chosen a more technology based approach similar to Rosetta Stone.

Now, of course we all know that there is no free lunch and, to use another catch phrase, if the product is free you are the product. Duolingo is selling this over a call to join a movement, giving your language learning a bigger purpose

“With Duolingo there is no tuition or subscription fee. It’s 100% free. Instead students like us give back by helping to translate websites, news and Wikipedia articles. It gives our personal language learning journeys a bigger purpose.”

I can see why many folks in the space see this storytelling as misleading. In fact Duolingo users are Mechanical Turks but instead of getting paid a couple of cents per task, they get “free” language lessons in return. Sounds good but they should also know how much their work is actually worth and whether language lessons, as good as they might be, are an adequate recompense.

The new spot is definitely a step-up from the first one that was more toned down yet also mentioned the business model behind Duolingo, adding the layer of being part of a global movement to better the world through language learning.

I also think people underestimate the power behind such global communities. Just recently Viki, the online community around translating and adding subtitles to popular TV shows, got acquired by Rakuten. One of the rumored bidders was Google.

Since I first heard about Duolingo and its concept I was pretty sure that the startup is one of the upcoming acquisitions by Google. Not only did Google acquire Luis von Ahn’s first startup reCAPTCHA but if Duolingo can prove that a global community can offer nearly instant translation of every web page, Google just has to write that check as it perfectly fits the overall strategy that we can see with Google Glass, Google Translate and other related services.

And if you think about it, von Ahn also took a site out of Google’s playbook in terms of the business model. Give the users a great service for free and make money based on their data and content.

The Importance of Edutainment in Language Learning

Jenny Zhu ChinesePod

Editor’s Note: This post was first published on The Hum of Language Acquisition, the official voice of OpenLanguage.

‘We don’t deserve students’ attention, we earn it!’  This is a motto that I live by in my daily work, a thought perhaps echoed by many who teach adults or young kids. Students come to the classroom and go through motions, but are they really learning? As educators, we are competing with all sorts of media distractions for students’ time and attention. The internet and mobile devices have made it an even more fierce and head-on collision. But instead of fighting or ignoring it, we can actually take our cue from the media to make our work better.

Those who’ve seen Sal Khan’s videos can probably attest to his amazing gift in explaining complicated concepts and connecting with students. This ability is especially important in the lecture and input stage to introduce key concepts to students. It can also be found in many teachers, but not all. However, with the help of technology and multimedia, we can now centralize engaging and effective instruction and broadcast it to masses of students so that they can benefit from the best instruction.

There’s an crucial element in this types of lesson media, one that I call ‘edutainment’ where the content is as engaging as it is educational. Think about your favorite teacher at school and what they did to ignite your interest and engage you with the subject. You looked forward to their class and each class was a deeply rewarding and fun experience. You would never fall asleep listening to them. They were superstars in their arena. That’s what I am talking about.

At ChinesePod, we pioneered the concept of ‘edutainment’. It led me to firmly believe in the power of edutainment in inspiring students and delivering great instruction at scale. There are innate qualities which make one an ‘edutainer’ but there’s a lot that can be defined, trained and practised. I’ve often found that the best teacher presenters might not be the best curriculum designer or writer. Different skill sets are required. When setting up a team to curate edutainment content, I look for people with different skills to balance engaging star qualityand academic depth. If one overrides the other (and there are many examples of that), the content isn’t going to help students succeed. The pedagogy needs to be the backbone; the engaging factor brings it to life.

Watch: EDUKWEST #37 with Hank Horkoff of ChinesePod

In the past year, I’ve had the chance to coach other language educators to produce and publish their edutainment content on OpenLanguage. I am very proud of the results we’ve achieved with teams such as Arabic Anywhere and Ruspod who are creating deeply engaging content with solid academic design.

One of the other products on OpenLanguage EnglishPod China was recently awarded Best Education Content in 2012 by iTunes China. And I keep mentoring new teams to help  educators produce and distribute their language courses on OpenLanguage. I hope our work will help students get high quality edutainment content from the best teacher presenters and academic experts no matter what language they are learning.

But edutainment alone isn’t enough. It’s best used in the input stage to get the ball rolling. Students need tons of study, practice and feedback to internalize the language. I will write about my experience designing those in future posts. For now, let’s hold the thought and work to engage students.

Watch: EDUKWEST #93 with Jenny Zhu of OpenLanguage

Language Garden

Language Gardening – Using Grammatical Mind Maps in Language Learning

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by David Warr. He has taught English for 20 years, in Europe and the UK, where he currently resides. David set up the company Language Garden which is devoted to making quality language materials for learners of all ages and abilities. He regularly presents in schools, teaching teachers in the art of language gardening. You can follow David on Twitter @DavidWarr.

Language Garden

Standing in a warehouse recently in-between shelves packed to the ceiling with rolls and rolls of sinamay, the material produced by tens of thousands of small family-run enterprises in the Philippines and which takes three weeks from when it is first extracted from the inner bark of what, to the untrained eye, looks just like a banana plant, to the final interwoven lattice that is now the predominant material in hat designs for weddings all over the world, standing here, I was talking to the director of the company, a softly-spoken, upright honourable man who should have retired years ago, but who couldn’t help popping in to do a few jobs on the Saturday morning when my wife and I were visiting to buy stock for her business. He was telling me that when he first started importing and selling sinamay about 20 years ago, he was selling 2000 metres at a time, to large, well-established milliners who produced thousands of hats, all of the same design. He would never have imagined that now, his orders are for one metre of Cafe au Lait, two of Cranberry or Whispering Blue, bought by cottage industry hat-makers who specialise in custom-made designs for their clients.

Everywhere we look, the spirit of customisation is strong. As the dictum goes: we don’t want choice; we just want exactly what we want. It has been a strong motivator in the direction I have taken with my business, Language Garden.

I liked school, but it was not without its moments. One seems especially significant to me now, years on. My geography teacher – and I really liked geography, and still do, it’s how I became an English language teacher, I wanted to experience all these countries I’d read about in books – he showed me his folders from his university days. It was an attempt to make me pull my socks up, a call to arms. His folders were beautiful, and he was rightly very proud of them. They were A5 in size, so they had that dusty book feel. And his handwriting, it was so tiny, delicate but robust, slanting forwards like so many left-handers’ do, a dark blue fountain pen the tool of his trade, and it was all perfectly positioned kissing the lines. There were paragraphs and indentations, sub-headings and footnotes, all without a single mistake. Here I was with the Venerable Bede, for it was his Bible to the physical landscape, an uncorrupted, incorruptible temple to the cause and effect of river drainage systems and soil erosion.

It reminds me of an anecdote, the author of which I’m afraid I cannot recall, but it was told by a lady, a lady who had spent time in the company of Gladstone and Disraeli, two heavyweight British politicians, both prime ministers in their day, round about the middle of the nineteenth century, fierce adversaries who were always vying with each other for the upper hand.
“When I was with Disraeli,” she had said, “I felt I was with the most intelligent person in the world.” I admit, I didn’t feel my geography teacher was actually the most intelligent person in the world, but standing there in his office, being made to admire his perfect words, sitting pristinely on the lines, I knew I was a woefully inadequate school boy.

And then there I was, 6 years later, travelling and teaching English and swimming with dolphins, and I find this book, The Mind Map Book.

I once made up a joke:

I’ve read two life changing books. So now I’m back where I started.

Language Garden Mind Map

But heavens! What a book. It’s where I first learnt about mind maps, like the one in this post, about things you can see in your garden, if you’re lucky enough to have one, or in someone else’s, if you’re nosy enough to peek.

Now this book did change my life. It activated a mental model in me that had been lying dormant, a way of looking at the world, in this case learning and pedagogy, which until this moment I was unaware existed. The superiority of linearity that I had been forced to laud was, I suddenly, completely and amazingly discovered, not the only paradigm of perfectionism.

The most extreme example of collocation I can think of is with the word “figment”. “Don’t be so ridiculous! It’s just a figment of your imagination.” You can’t have a figment of anything else, so language teachers should, cannot not, teach “figment” without reference to “imagination”.

“Collocation” refers to the relationships words have with each other, which words you would expect to find next to each other in a sentence. So although “figment” must be followed by “imagination”, this second term is far less monogamous. You can have a vivid imagination, fertile, or fantastic. I was reading about this subject in The Lexical Approach, a few years on again now, the other book that changed my life, but which took me on further still in my continual quest to improve my understanding and application of language and teaching practice.

This was the second piece of the puzzle, ready and waiting to be intertwined with the first.

Language Garden Mind MapMind maps emphasise using key words, each packed with meaning, perfect for native or fluent speakers who can fill in the missing words to give a talk or present a piece of writing. The Lexical Approach sees language as being made up, not of words and grammar at separate ends of the spectrum, but as word grammar, somewhere in the middle, and stresses the importance of showing the relationships between words.

So, fortuitously it must be said – I was doing some teacher training on how to use mind maps in the classroom and simply started writing the words nice and close to each other, without lines – so I came up with language plants, best described as grammatical mind maps focused on language learning that fill in the missing pieces for students who need this help. You can see examples dotted around this post.

Children and adults love them alike. I always say they bring out the inner child in everyone. And by far the biggest reaction when people see them is “Ooh, that’s nice! Can we make our own?”

This is the direction I’ve gone in, giving people the tools to make their words flow and grow in directions they’d never imagined. Some of the language plants you can see in this post have been made by teachers and children from all over the world. I imagine they feel similar to how I felt when I first started making mind maps, the feeling of liberation that my right brain could finally be welcomed into the world of academic study.

It’s the same effect I witnessed in the sinamay warehouse, where his business now concentrates on individuals who help others express their individuality and personality through their attire. It’s about giving everyone a voice, about making them feel special.

That lady had it right, I think, the one who had spoken so highly of Disraeli all those years ago.

“When I was with Disraeli, I felt I was with the most intelligent person in the world.”

Because then she continued:

“Ah, but when I was with Gladstone, I felt I was the most intelligent person in the world.”

You are most welcome to pop over to Language Garden and engage with the materials I’ve made. But of course, these days, I’d fully expect you to want to make your own.

ENT Audio Podcast

ENT Hedlines Tuesday July 3rd 2012 (Audio)

ENT Audio Podcast

ENT Hedlines

Tuesday July 3rd 2012

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Language Learning community busuu surpasses 10 million app downloads, opens office in London

busuu, an online language learning community and mobile app maker announced today that their apps have been downloaded more than 10 million times with currently 20,000 downloads per day. And if you take a look at the Twitter stream of the company and its co-founder Bernhard Niesner it seems as if busuu is growing its office staff in London. I think I see a Series A funding round around the corner.

BenchPrep raises $6 million

BenchPrep, a startup that builds an interactive and cross platform learning hub raised $6 million from New Enterprise Associates with participation from Revolution Ventures. This round of funding brings its total to $8.2 million.
BenchPrep partners with more than 20 publishers, including McGraw Hill, Princeton Review, Wiley, Cengage Learning and O’Reilly, licenses their material and mixes and matches the best content for each particular discipline.

Teachers, leave them Kids alone – in Delaware

The senate in Delaware is planning to ban schools from monitoring the social media accounts of their students. Some colleges and universities in the state have required students to download social media monitoring software on their personal electronic devices or accounts as a condition of their scholarships or participation in athletics. As a final step the bill just needs the signature of the governor to become a law.


  1. busuu.com apps reach 10 million downloads! [busuu]
  2. BenchPrep Grabs $6M From NEA, Revolution For Cross-Platform, Interactive Courses [TechCrunch]
  3. Delaware Schools to Be Barred from Students’ Social Media Lives [WSJ]