Naomi Sveholm: 3 Reasons language teachers should be language learners first

As a language learner-turned-teacher, I believe all language teachers should study another language—especially with another teacher. There are numerous benefits to practicing what you preach, but I’m going to cover just a few.

  1. Teachers often find themselves in a sort of bubble: they’re focused on leading their own classes and rarely see other teachers at work. Being part of a language class boots me out of my bubble and allows me to observe other teachers at work. I can see firsthand what I like and dislike about certain styles of teaching and I often get new ideas about what to do—and sometimes more importantly, what not to do—in my own classes. I had a particularly bad first-level German teacher who lectured too quickly and way too much, while his co-teacher was fantastic, giving us a variety of activities and challenging us just the right amount. Being a student in this situation brought my attention to the specific strengths and weaknesses of each approach.
  2. As a student, you can observe other students more than you can as a teacher. Teachers should have a very active role in the classroom and it’s not always possible to truly observe individual students. When I’m not the one on the spot, as a teacher or being called on, it’s often easier to notice different learning styles and think about how specific activities work for a general audience, plus consider how to adapt them for unique situations.
  3. It’s good to remind yourself how hard it is to learn a language. I’m much more empathetic when I remember how overwhelming it is when you understand nothing at the beginning (especially with a new alphabet), and how frustrating it is during language-learning plateaus. And while I know that listening can be useful to absorb the cadence of a new language, I’ve also seen the advantage of having a teacher force me to speak.

My teaching has certainly reaped the benefits of being a language student and I think every other language teacher can benefit as well. It’s a great way to get new ideas, observe others and become more empathetic toward your students. If you’re a teacher and you’ve never studied a language with a teacher, I encourage you to do so. I know I’m a much better language teacher from my experiences as a language student.

Naomi Sveholm is a Voxy tutor.

New Data Shows 77% of Beginners Can Improve Their English Proficiency with Voxy

We know that new English learners can use Voxy to improve their proficiency level in a matter of a few months. But how much time do learners really need to devote to their English course each week to see results?

According to our recent data, 77% of 0-Beginners—or learners who have have had little or no prior experience learning the language—will see their English proficiency improve by one level with about one hour of practice on the Voxy platform each week over four months. By contrast, learners who only put in 35 minutes were able to maintain their level but found it difficult to improve. And with just a little extra effort, learners who practiced for 66 minutes per week saw their proficiency improve by two full levels within four months.

Want to learn more about how Voxy can support your company’s beginner English goals? Click here to request a demo.

Voxy Wins 2016 Brandon Hall Group Silver Award for Best Advance in Unique Learning Technology

Voxy is very proud to announce that it has won a Brandon Hall Group silver award for excellence in the Best Advance in Unique Learning Technology category.Silver-TECH-Award-2016-blog

This award recognizes Voxy’s learning technology, which includes a patented natural language processing tool that enables Voxy to publish new instructional content every day and a flexible approach to language proficiency leveling that allows Voxy’s product to be aligned with any other proficiency scale in the world.

“Voxy is honored to be recognized for its best-in-class technology platform and its personalized approach to language learning,” said Voxy CEO Paul Gollash. “We are committed to delivering superior learning outcomes to corporations and educational institutions around the world, and our ability to develop innovative technology solutions is central to that mission.”

Voxy’s patented content processing tool can turn any type of content into an effective English lesson. This is especially beneficial for organizations that want to digitize their existing curriculum, for example, or turn their organizational content—like onboarding materials, company memos or training videos—into educational content on the Voxy platform.

Voxy has also developed technology to map its proficiency scale and Voxy Proficiency Assessment (VPA®) test results to any scale in the world. This is a major breakthrough in testing technology, and allows Voxy to create custom proficiency scales for any partner without sacrificing the pedagogical integrity of the Voxy platform.

“We congratulate our Technology Award winners, and also thank them for leading the way in designing and utilizing technologies that empower organizations to enhance—and in some cases transform—their organizations,” said Rachel Cooke, Chief Operating Officer of Brandon Hall Group and head of the awards program.

Entries were evaluated by a panel of independent senior industry experts, Brandon Hall Group senior analysts and executives based upon the following criteria: the product’s breakthrough innovation, unique differentiators, value proposition and overall measurable benefits.

To see the full list of Brandon Hall Group Award winners, please visit www.brandonhall.com.

Brett Fogarty: The Unique Experience of Learning Online

Teaching a language online is certainly a different experience than teaching in a physical classroom, and most people like to point to its limitations and drawbacks. But do we ever consider the undeniably unique experience of being in an online language class?

Perhaps the biggest advantage is students getting to connect with each other. This may sound less significant to jet-setting denizens of cosmopolitan cities, but I’ve worked with students who had never even been on an airplane before, and now here they were, interacting in a global language with people from all over the world. Attending school abroad or moving overseas can be costly decisions, and while the experience is certainly valuable, what about the students who want to meet others and learn English but don’t have the means to do so? Online learning helps to fill this gap.

Learning a language online also harnesses the full power of the internet in a way that traditional in-person classes often cannot. According to independent monitoring by W3Techs, just over 55% of the most visited websites had an English-language homepage in 2015. The content on the internet—of which the dominant language is English—can be the best and most reliable way to learn the language. In traditional classrooms, this requires a smartboard or projector. But in an online classroom, students can immediately connect to authentic content published for native English speakers. This gives students access to galaxies of input: thousands upon thousands of videos, conversations, articles and more, all with a teacher by their side.

It’s hard to predict what learning a language online will look like in 20 years—or 50. Social media platforms and other companies are investing heavily in virtual reality (VR), for example; and while many still regard it as a novelty, it is exciting to think what an online class would look like in virtual reality. With or without VR, it does seem like online learning will continue to close the gap with physical classrooms and that a virtual presence will become as valuable as a physical one. There will always be a human element to it as well, seeing as language is the primary way we express our humanity. For now, we should be happy these doors are opening.

Brett Fogarty is the Lead Tutor at Voxy.

Brett Fogarty is the Lead Tutor at Voxy.

Voxy Goes (Back) to the White House!

Voxy’s Chief Education Officer, Dr. Katharine B. Nielson, PhD, was invited back to the White House last month to participate in an event called English for All: Technology in English, now in its second year. Voxy was one of just five private-sector organizations represented; others included Newsela, Global English, Voice of America’s Learning English and Digital Promise.

Voxy’s Chief Education Officer Dr. Katharine Nielson presents at English for All: Technology in English.

Voxy’s Chief Education Officer Dr. Katharine Nielson presents at English for All: Technology in English.

English for All was originally created to spark a dialogue across disciplines on English language learning and educational technology, and this year’s forum was focused on the American English E-Teacher online platform and scholarship program. One of the main goals of this program is to promote democratic access to education and teacher training, with an emphasis on low-resource areas across the globe.

Because digital resources are inconsistently distributed and prohibitively expensive in some places, there are significant challenges in providing education to both learners and teachers. Did you know that in 2014, only 19% of people in Africa had Internet access, compared to about twice that in Asia and more than four times that in the U.S.? Or that in Egypt, there about 28 million Facebook users, but only 800,000 in Bahrain? These vast discrepancies in Internet and mobile access, preferred social media platforms and limited access to information under restrictive governments can result in major barriers to education around the world. English proficiency is one of the most significant factors affecting economic mobility, but without access to quality instruction online, many lack the resources they need to learn the language.

Furthermore, English teachers themselves are often short on adequate training. Teachers need to learn how to leverage new technologies in the classroom, many need to improve their own English proficiency and there’s a gap in collaboration between teachers who are credentialed and those who are not.

“One of the most exciting parts of the event was getting to hear from the Regional English Language Officers about the different challenges that students and teachers face and how dependent those challenges are on context and region,” said Nielson. “Finding a way to take advantage of the benefits that technology can bring to the language-learning process—while at the same time meeting the needs of learners in parts of the world with limited access to electricity, let alone Internet connectivity—is an exciting opportunity for this working group.”

English for All addressed these issues during a “hackathon,” where small groups were tasked with brainstorming prototype products that could solve problems in the English learning space. For example, Nielson’s group worked on a plan to engage students and teachers through social media and considered ways that social media could be incorporated into the classroom. The ideas generated in these sessions will be piloted by Iowa State University as part of their e-teacher online course in educational technology.

Voxy also offers an online teacher training course called “Teaching English: Pedagogy and Best Practices,” designed to teach instructors the most effective approach to second language acquisition (SLA) for teens and adults.

One of the key takeaways from English for All is the clear potential for collaboration between the public, private and nonprofit sectors to improve the way technology is used for English teacher training around the world, and for empowering English teachers to use technology in ways that will resonate with learners and improve their ability to teach efficiently and effectively.

English for All: Technology in English was made possible by the White House Office of Global Engagement and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Photos courtesy of the Department of State. To learn more, please click here.