Fact or Fiction

Fact or Fiction: Common Language Learning Myths

In collaboration with ELT Jam, Pearson asked Voxy’s Chief Education Officer Dr. Katharine Nielson to join nine other language experts to dispel some commonly held beliefs about English instruction. The resulting report, Fact or Fiction, examines 10 widely accepted “truths” about English language learning. Each chapter covers a separate area of focus, including using technology for instruction, teaching digital natives and assessment, among others.

Dr. Nielson argues against the idea that beginner learners need to start with “the basics” before they can learn what they really need to know.  With clear examples and evidence from research in task-based language teaching (TBLT), she explains that learners of all levels can begin with content that’s relevant to their real-world needs and goals, making instruction not only more relevant and effective, but also more engaging.
Voxy News

Timothy Murray Joins Voxy’s Board of Directors as Executive Chairman

Voxy brings a seasoned education technology executive on board to help expand into new global markets

Voxy is pleased to announce that Timothy L. Murray will join its board of directors as Executive Chairman.

“I’m thrilled to welcome Tim to the Voxy team,” said Voxy CEO Paul Gollash. “When I met Tim during his tenure at K­12, I was impressed with his deep understanding of technology products and his experience building global organizations that can bring them to market. Tim’s track record of running successful public and private software businesses will provide the board and management team with an incredibly valuable perspective as Voxy opens new markets and new channels.”

Mr. Murray is an accomplished executive with decades of experience working for successful public and private companies. Most recently, Timothy L. Murray joined K12 Inc. (LRN) in April 2012 as President and Chief Operating Officer, where he continued through December 2015. He has also held executive positions at Pulsepoint, Inc., Datran Media, Dialogic Inc., Cross Match Technologies and Riversoft Plc.

Mr. Murray is currently the Chairman of the Board of Middlebury Interactive Languages, the CEO of Redline Speed Worx and a Director of Clarke Group. He is also an Operating Advisor to Red Oak Growth Partners.

Mr. Murray began his career at AT&T in 1980, and over the next 20 years was promoted to positions of increasing responsibility, including in sales, marketing, operations, engineering and product management. He left AT&T in 2001 after serving as Executive Vice President, Business Service Operations.

“Voxy is the first purpose-built, scalable platform for English language learning that I’ve seen,” said Mr. Murray. “While old-line education publishers struggle to transition to a digital world, the Voxy platform is adaptive, data-driven and mobile-first. And Voxy’s patented technology that dynamically creates learning content at an extremely low cost is truly game-changing. These are huge competitive advantages that, along with a resolute focus on efficacy, will uniquely address the future needs of the $100B+ ELL market.”

“Tim’s experience building global distribution networks for high-quality education products like Middlebury Interactive Languages will be a huge asset as we grow,” said Voxy Chief Education Officer Dr. Katharine Nielson.

Teacher's Corner Header Image

Brett Fogarty: Why I Teach

Teaching English as a second language (ESL) is probably one of the most multifaceted occupations you could ever pursue as a career. It requires a unique skill set, including loads of cultural empathy and a chameleon-like ability to adapt to a variety of settings. A lot of the teachers are itinerant—staying in different locations year to year, finding work in small local schools or through online platforms—while others follow ESL careers in public and higher education. Many try it abroad and abandon it quickly thereafter, an interesting footnote in their personal histories.

When I landed in Japan in the fall of 2006, a longterm career was the last thing on my mind. Instead, after a quick day or two of training, I was teaching my first 45-minute class. This was my intro into the world of ESL. I remember using a sticky textbook with a smiling child on the cover (the class was all adults), the expectant looks on my students’ faces, and how unequipped I felt to meet their expectations.

So why, more than 10 years later, do I still find myself teaching ESL?

The short answer is visible and measurable progress in technology that is leading to improved progress with students. In the past 10 years, there has been a sea change in education technology. Video conferencing and platforms are faster, closing the gap between the physical classroom and the virtual one. Outmoded ways of ineffective instruction in language learning are giving way to a contextualized, personalized, task-based method that feels like a fully organic way of learning. At the start, learners may be tasked to talk about their families, their jobs, their favorite TV shows. In other words, their actual lives. We’ve thrown away the sticky textbooks, burned the ESL worksheets and dispensed with grammar rules learned by rote. It’s a very exciting time to be an ESL instructor.

Finally, this promise of technology and blended learning environments is becoming fully realized. Edtech companies are figuring out the best way technology and teachers can serve ESL students who haven’t had access to the forward-thinking instruction and technology many take for granted. For instance, do you know you can take a free online course on Modern and Contemporary American Poetry from the University of Pennsylvania? Go right now and sign up, you’ll see.

This is why I continue to tutor: Because it still matters, and there are still students who deserve the best of what our technology and progressive methodology have to offer. I’m a long way from that classroom in a small town on Kyushu, but it’s still a place that I think about. We all have to start somewhere, right?

Brett Fogarty is the Lead Tutor at Voxy.

Brett Fogarty is the Lead Tutor at Voxy.

Language Learners' Needs Video

Should language learners try to sound like native speakers?

Today we bring you the latest segment in a video series by Voxy’s Chief Education Officer, Dr. Katharine Nielson, who’s answering all your nitty-gritty questions about how people learn languages.

When teaching and learning a second language, we often look to the native speaker as the ultimate model, but is this a reasonable goal? Most learners will never have the same command of grammar as native speakers, but does that mean we shouldn’t focus on improving their grammar skills? According to Dr. Nielson, it all comes down to why learners want to learn a second language and how they plan on using it in the real world.


Did you miss the first video of the series? Check out Dr. Nielson’s detailed overview of second language acquisition here.

Dr. Katharine B. Neilson, PhD, is Voxy's Chief Education Officer.

Dr. Katharine B. Nielson, PhD, is Voxy’s Chief Education Officer.

Voxy Patents Innovative Approach to Second Language Learning

Voxy’s Totally Unique Approach to Language Learning

Voxy recently received a patent for its innovative approach to language learning, but why is this so important and what makes Voxy’s approach different from other methodologies? Voxy’s Chief Education Officer, Dr. Katharine B. Nielson, breaks it down for us.

VOXY: What does this patent mean for Voxy?

KBN: One of the things that makes Voxy unique is our ability to efficiently create language learning materials from authentic resources, such as news stories, videos, songs, audio recordings and images. We’ve developed a method that allows us to do this by using both natural language processing techniques and review by language learning experts. This allows us to harness the power of automating certain parts of our materials development process while also keeping the unique benefits that only trained language instructors can bring.

What exactly is keyword extraction, and how does Voxy apply this method to language learning content?

Keyword extraction refers to the process of identifying the keywords that are most relevant to understanding the meaning of a text. Voxy takes this one step further and also chooses words that are important for learners at specific levels to learn. Voxy’s approach uses both individual keywords as well as key phrases and collocations, which are words that frequently go together (like ‘business plan’ or ‘such as’).

Why is it so important to provide real-world content to learners, rather than write new instructional material from scratch?

As wonderful as language teachers are, they are not subject matter experts on every topic in the world. We need to give learners examples of the types of written documents they’ll encounter in everyday life, from news articles to Tweets and emails. We also know from empirical research that people aren’t very good at writing dialogues that mimic the types of exchanges that happen in real life. For example, in a textbook you might find a dialogue that looks like this:

Customer:  I would like a cup of coffee, please.

Server:  Of course, one moment please.

In reality, that exchange might look more like this:

Customer:  Can I get a venti with room?

Server: (No response.)

Teaching with real-world materials is more efficient, realistic and practical because learners get examples of the language they will really need to accomplish their goals without being exposed to things like scripted exchanges that won’t actually help them.

How do you know which words and collocations are the most relevant to people learning English as a second language, and why does that matter?

The most important words are the ones that help learners understand the meaning of the texts, audios, and videos that they encounter, and this is why we start with a keyword extraction approach that finds those very words.  In addition, there has been research on the words necessary for language learning.  For example, depending on both the proficiency level and needs of the learners for whom the resources are chosen, we select words that are among the 1,000 most frequently used words in the English language and words that are used frequently in academic and scientific articles, as well as phrases that scientists have identified as the ones most useful for non-native speakers.

Not all keyword extraction techniques are created equal—what does Voxy do differently from other content publishers that makes its lessons so unique?

Other publishers rely on more manual processes and human beings to produce their materials. Voxy’s approach of using a combination of natural language processing techniques and human review allows us to create thousands of hours of content in a scalable and unified way at a much, much faster rate than other language learning companies.

Voxy’s approach to content creation has big implications for partner organizations that want to customize content for their learners. Can you explain how Voxy can turn any piece of content into an effective lesson?

Because we can quickly and easily transform real-world content into lessons, we’re able to create units for partner organizations using their existing real-world materials in an efficient and scalable way. After working with an organization to analyze the English needs of various job roles, we can take video recordings made for Human Resources training, employee handbooks and internal correspondence and create relevant language learning lessons for employees.

Dr. Katharine B. Neilson, PhD, is Voxy's Chief Education Officer.

Dr. Katharine B. Neilson, PhD, is Voxy’s Chief Education Officer.