From left to right: Nichole Wallace, Paul Gollash, Michael Preston, Jake Schwartz, Jonathan Harber, Stephanie Dua.

Solving the Problem of Adult Literacy

I recently had the opportunity to participate in an event focused on adult literacy here in the United States and around the world. The XPRIZE for Adult Literacy, an award program sponsored by the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, is a competition designed to bring the brightest and most creative minds in education and technology together to transform the lives of low-literate adults. “What we need,” said former First Lady Barbara Bush, “is a recipe for big ideas, bold solutions and team building.”  I was thrilled to be a part of this event, and feel confident that the passionate and dedicated educators that this organization brings together are poised to have a huge impact on this significant societal problem.

Literacy is the biggest equalizer we know. —Barbara Bush

In the United States, more than 26 million adults have low literacy skills, and less than 2% of those adults have access to literacy programs. For the adult participants in programs funded by the Barbara Bush Foundation, there are often major hurdles to overcome—these individuals have an average annual income of $10,000-12,000, and typically read at less than a fifth-grade level. The issue of adult literacy is closely tied to English proficiency, not only for people living in English-speaking countries like the United States, but also for the two billion people worldwide who need to learn English for economic advancement. In New York alone, 23% of New Yorkers have limited English proficiency and about 1.6 million people don’t speak English at all.

Low literacy levels—and the need for language acquisition in general—is such a massive problem that needs tackling. English in particular is the global language of commerce, the language of the Internet and often a key driver of socio-economic advancement. When I started Voxy five years ago, I set out to create a product that would help billions of people around the world learn English more effectively and therefore give them better opportunities in tomorrow’s global job market. Today, Voxy uses cutting-edge technology and empirically-tested academic research to improve the way people learn English: We’ve lowered the cost of getting authentic, up-to-date English content, provided instruction to remote areas of the world and capitalized on the power of mobile learning to reach people who didn’t previously have access to high-quality online learning.

I’m extremely proud of what Voxy has accomplished so far, and also excited for a future where Voxy’s powerful platform can be used to support those who need to become literate in their first or second language.

To hear from the other very talented presenters on how they’re working to increase adult literacy, check out the video by clicking here.

Interested in competing to win the $7-million prize? Register your team at adultliteracy.xprize.org.

Paul Gollash is the Founder and CEO of Voxy.

Paul Gollash is the Founder and CEO of Voxy.

 

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6 Ways to Start the Conversation

One of the most exciting things about learning English is the opportunity it creates to meet and form relationships with so many new people.

Whether you’re being introduced to someone for the first time or catching up with an old friend, there are many ways to greet someone. Since a greeting sets the tone for the conversation that follows, it’s nice to have some variety in your personal “word bank”.

These 6 phrases each mean something slightly different – so make sure you read the explanations! – but are all great ways to greet someone.

  • How’s it going?
    • This is an informal way to say, “How are you?”
  • Long time no see!
    • This may look strange as a written sentence, but it’s a common thing people say when they haven’t seen each other in a long time.
  • Pleased to meet you
    • This is another way to say “Nice to meet you.” It generally has a more formal connotation and can be used when you’re meeting a new person, like a new co-worker, for the first time.
  • Look who it is!
    • In informal settings, this is a way to express excitement about seeing a friend.
  • Good to see you
    • Just like it sounds, this phrase is used to say you’re happy to see someone again.
  • Glad to put a name to a face
    • Many times, we’ll talk to someone via email or over the phone before actually meeting them in person. This is what you can say when you’re finally meeting someone face-to-face after communicating with them in other ways for a while.

Now that you know how to use these different greetings in different scenarios, try one out! Whether it’s someone new that you’re meeting for the first time, or an old friend that you haven’t seen in ages*, you’ll be able to start the conversation on a much more personal note with these phrases.

*BONUS: “I haven’t seen you in ages” is similar to “Long time no see!” and is another way to greet someone you’ve missed for a long time.

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5 New Ways to Say “I Don’t Know”

One of the first things that most people learn how to say in English is “I don’t know.” This makes sense, since there will always be a lot of things you don’t know when you’re learning a language. And that’s ok! Feeling confused and making mistakes is part of learning, and it’s a good thing.

But, the fact that you’re just learning English doesn’t mean that you have to use the same boring phrase that every other learner uses. Even if you’re a beginner, you can express yourself in English with more personality.

Here are some different ways to tell someone that you don’t know the answer to his or her question, instead of just saying “I don’t know”:

  1. I have no idea.
  2. Who knows?
  3. Don’t ask me!
  4. Beats me!
  5. Your guess is as good as mine.

Bonus: “I dunno” is something you’ll often hear native speakers say, or even write. This phrase is used in direct place of “I don’t know” and is considered slang. Try to say it out loud. See how you’ve just eliminated some of the letters?

Now that you have some more ways to say “I don’t know” – and you understand that not knowing is a key part of language learning – go ahead and try them out yourself. Leave a comment and let us know how it goes!

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Phrasal Verbs in English

A great way to build your English confidence is to practice the casual phrases native speakers use. One thing you’ll hear in a lot of conversations with Americans are phrasal verbs. In this post, we’re going to help you learn what these are and how to use them correctly.

A phrasal verb is a group of words that act like a verb. Phrasal verbs are made up of a verb with a preposition or an adverb. Remember, you need to use the preposition or adverb to express the meaning of the phrasal verb. Without it, the verb has a totally different meaning, so you might end up saying something you really don’t mean to!

Here are a few examples of useful phrasal verbs in English.

 

to give up: to stop trying, to admit that you cannot do something

 

to look up: to search for something on the Internet, in a dictionary, etc.

 

to get up: to wake up and leave your bed

 

to run out: to use up the available supply of something

Watching these videos is the first step towards improving your English and building your confidence. The next step? Try using one of these phrasal verbs the next time you have a conversation in English. You may just be surprised by how natural it feels!

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10 Ways to Say “You’re Welcome”

We all know that it’s polite to say “Thank you” to someone after they’ve done something nice or helpful. But did you know that “You’re welcome” isn’t the only way to respond when someone thanks you? Here are a few more ways to say “You’re welcome” in English.

  1. You got it
  2. Don’t mention it
  3. No worries
  4. Not a problem
  5. My pleasure
  6. It was nothing
  7. I’m happy to help
  8. Not at all
  9. Sure
  10. Anytime

All of these phrases mean that the person was happy to help you and that you shouldn’t worry about thanking them. In other words, they mean “You’re welcome!”

Bonus: The next time you thank someone, don’t be surprised if he or she responds with “Thank YOU!” If someone says this, it means that not only were you being helped, but you were helping someone else in return.