Category Archives: Trends

How Important is English in Your Career Development?

A recent article in The Economist titled ‘The English Empire’ noted that an ever increasing number of international companies are adopting English as their first language. While this comes as no surprise for most English learners, what’s worth noting is that global firms from non-English speaking countries are adopting English to replace their native language as the official language.

Taking China’s Lenovo for example, its CEO Yang Yuanqing set a very personal example when he made it his priority to become fluent in English at the age of 40. Despite a grueling work schedule, he made sure to set aside time studying English everyday from learning with a personal tutor to watching American TV. He now conducts board meetings in fluent English. Another Asian boss who exemplifies commitment to learning English is Hiroshi Mikitani, the boss of Japan’s Rakuten Group which operates the ubiquitous Uniqlo chain. He made his staff learn English and once warned to demote or even fire staff who didn’t reach desired fluency. Companies from Asia to Europe recognize that it’s far more efficient to conduct business in English.

This trend means that English is becoming ever more important in one’s career development. On top of communications benefits, some business leaders including the aforementioned Hiroshi Mikitani also think that the English language helps promote attributes such as free thinking and creativity amongst employees.

Does your personal experience reflect the bigger trend? We hope you can share your experience by answering the following questions:

  • How much of a role does English play in your professional development?
  • What’s your view on the role English plays at work?
  • Do you think it’s sometimes mistaken for professional competency?
  • Did you have to learn English on the job?
  • Does your employer provide English training?
  • What key factors do you consider when looking for English training?

As the creator of English learning materials for busy adults, we want to hear your thoughts!

How Much Would You Pay to Learn a Language?

The cost of language learning varies greatly. There is a plethora of free resources on one hand, but an equally diverse range of paid options on the other. Learners in theory have the freedom to splurge or spend nothing. But often how much the learner is willing to pay is determined by what learning a new language means to them. Taking learning English for instance, most learners are economically motivated. English skills often mean access to better opportunities and salary prospects. Hence learners are willing to invest more to brush up their English skills. An average 1 year course in leading English institutions costs at least $3000 to $4000 in China. And there’s no shortage of people paying. But if you’re not learning a language out of economic motivation but taking it up as a hobby, you’ll probably allocate less budget for learning. However, you might spend much more time researching resources and engaging in self-directed learning which are a cost on their own.

Price vs Results

I’m not convinced that you need to pay big bucks to learn a language well. I believe that much more important than price is focus and methods. Many learners outsource their learning to a school or teacher because they’ve paid the money and expect the institution to deliver results. While many learners who pay a lot less succeed because they’re actively involved in their learning.

Debundling of Learning

Being focused and getting the mix right (learning methods) far outweigh price. The mix being ‘input, study, output, feedback’. Learners who know that they need these ingredients in language learning and really apply them tend to be the ones who do better. More often than not the four ingredients don’t come from a single source. Learners need to find resources in each category that best suit their needs. The bliss and problem for learners are that there are massive amounts of free and paid options. How do you go about choosing and which element should you spend more money on? In the traditional classroom model, all of these elements are thrown together though teachers and students use a lot of external resources. For the student, it can be a simple and hassel free experience, though often not the best. But we’ve been seeing the debundling of language learning where students are getting each element from different places rather than relying on one class or teacher. This is true for both learners with no easy access to teachers or classes and increasingly for those who do.

How much would you pay to learn a language?

I want to throw it out there to fellow language learners: speaking from your personal experience, how much are you willing to pay to learn a language (what language did you learn)? Do you think it was money well spent? How would you allocate your budget differently if you were to do it again? Looking forward to hearing from you!

Electronic Dictionaries: help or harm?

I first came to Shanghai, China in February 2011 without knowing a single word of Mandarin Chinese. Before I got here, my friends told me that Shanghai was a big cosmopolitan metropolis where people were used to speaking at least English and Mandarin Chinese. However, it wasn’t until I got off the airplane that I finally understood that I was in ANOTHER country with a completely different language and culture, thousands of miles away from home. I was terrified.

Wise words can be fuzzyCreative Commons License Kevin Dooley via Compfight

Breaking down the language barrier is definitely the most difficult thing I have had to overcome here in China, because it’s not only about learning and memorizing grammar rules and new words. It’s also about understanding why things are said, as well as when, with whom, and how they are said. I guess it’s the same for every language you learn, right? But, with learning Chinese there is a difference: there are thousands of characters! 

Studying a language that uses characters is extremely confusing at first. When many of us grow up, we learn that “a” is “a”, “b” is “b”, etc. We give each and every single letter a phonetic value that stays the same even if we study other languages such as French, Italian, Spanish, even German or Norwegian (although their alphabets include a few different letters).

In my first Chinese class, my head almost blew up when I was told that “你” is pronounced “nǐ”. After a lifetime using an alphabet, I was now going to learn to read what I thought were “drawings”. That was when I was introduced to the world of the electronic dictionaries. When I started my Chinese class, I felt like an outcast because most of my classmates had at least a dictionary app on their mobile devices and were using it to follow the class. Meanwhile, I was still carrying around a cumbersome Chinese – English dictionary.

Slowly but surely, I decided to put aside my “chubby” friend and explore these amazing tools until, finally, I got used to them. What I came to realize as time passed by is that most students rely completely on these devices or apps for everything when they are learning a new language, Chinese in this case. I remember most of my classmates were scared of speaking Chinese without consulting with their Electronic Dictionaries first.

So my question is: Are Electronic Dictionaries harmful or helpful to a language learner? 

Personally I believe that it all depends on the user. It is true that these devices are programmed to support many languages, many words, and many sentences; but, what they are missing is the “human” factor which is nothing more than the real situations of daily life and the interaction with other people.

Electronic Dictionaries make literal translations, therefore they will translate “¿qué onda?” (Spanish) as “what wave?”, because that is the direct translation.

  • qué = what
  • onda = wave 

However, “¿qué onda?” is a very common phrase we use in Spanish to say “what’s up?”.

Dependency on these machines is inversely proportional to the confidence the language learner has with their own language skills. In other words, if the fear of mispronouncing a word or phrase or writing them incorrectly is never overcome, the fluency with the language will depend on the usage of the device.

Electronic Dictionaries are helpful if they are used as a studying tool, but become harmful once our communication skills depend on them.

universal thank you noteCreative Commons License woodleywonderworks via Compfight

Don’t get me wrong, I still use my dictionary app when I don’t know a word I hear or see on a sign and will probably use it forever because, the truth is that we will never stop learning new things about a language. That’s the beauty of it!



The Importance of Personal & Parasocial Relationships in Language Learning

7 years after teaching languages through lesson podcasts, a once in decline medium seems to be on the rise again thanks to smartphones and tablets. I’ve always been medium agnostic whether it was during the iPod/podcast hype, the awkward years following or the current revival. It’s much more about the intimate personal connection one builds with the message rather than the medium.

Making a Human Connection

In an age where digital learning has become part of the essential learning mix, I strongly believe that the role of the message and the messenger should be celebrated even more, because language learning is social. Personal and parasocial relationships are even more important in digital learning when it’s often done in a self-study fashion without the human dynamics to engage, motivate and encourage the learner. Students want to feel the same kind of human touch as they would in a classroom but with the convenience of it delivered to their location and in their own pace.

Injecting Personality in Learning 

I still remember the first time when a ChinesePod user showed up in his suit and tie and carry on luggage when he came by our office. He was from the States, learning Chinese using our product for a while. He spotted me from the office and called out ‘Jenny’ before went on saying that we ‘go back a long way’. But it was the first time we’d ever met. However, my Chinese lessons had been playing in his car everyday for the past 6 months. ‘Your voice and those long drives’, he said. I, a teacher in Shanghai was made massively available to students everywhere in the world by podcast. I still have many lovely moments like this when learners visit us to put a face to the voice and personality that they’ve developed a bond with. Learning on their own, on a computer, smartphone or tablet was made less mechanical and more alive by the personality that delivered the message.

Creating High-Touch Offline Activities 

This is something that I wish I had done earlier. People need to meet, mingle and speak the language. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be in the form of a traditional class. Grassroots local meetups could be an option. The meetups have a distinct language learning purpose where learners gather together with the help of a native speaker facilitator to practice the language and meet fellow learners. Technology makes these small dispersed events more purposeful. The meetup could happen around a centralized lecture delivered in the form of a video or audio lesson. The students get together not to listen to a lecture (which they do before hand), but to practice the language taught in that specific lecture. OpenLanguage recently did out first meetup of such kind in Shanghai with a group of English learners using our product. Everyone came prepared. They got to speak a ton of English with native speaker facilitators and each other. It also gave us the opportunity to hear customer feedback firsthand, face to face and helped them with issues on the spot. This is so important for digital products as you don’t usually meet students, see and hear problems firsthand.

Many would agree that a blended model is the way to go for language learning and learning in general. The challenge now is how do we blend so that we preserve and elevate the human aspect of learning, but making it more efficient and productive for both the learner and teacher.


Technology Won’t Replace Language Teachers. It Should Empower Them.

As the co-founder of a technology language learning company, I want to say loud and clear that technology can never replace language teachers. And it should not. Teachers provide indispensable value to the learner that no technology will be able to replace: practice, feedback and motivation just to name a few. I think one of the reasons that technology has touched so little in language learning is because technology solutions either try to replace teachers or make them an add-on piece rather than understanding the core value that teachers provide and looking at ways that we can come in to make the process more efficient and effective. We need more voices like the Khan Academy in language learning. 

I’ve always believed that the problem with language classes are not the class or the teacher, but how time is spent in the class. In a traditional language class, a teacher is a lecturer, standing before a class, imparting input, i.e. giving explanations and instructions about the language. Input is crucial as it kicks off language learning, but the other half is output where students are using and producing the language based on the input. However giving input usually becomes what the class is mostly about. In a traditional classroom, at least 70% of the time is spent on input where students passively listen to the teacher and take notes. They are left with so little opportunity to actually use the language. That’s why so many of us fail in language classes or feel we learned more speaking the language in real life than in the class.

Now imagine a flipped language class where students listen to a lesson audio on their way to class; In that audio teacher presenters give a lecture where they explain the language while students browse the lesson text on their phone or tablet. Students don’t need to sit in a classroom to find out what certain words mean or how to use a grammar structure. Instead, they do it in their own pace, whenever they have the time, desire and need. When students go to class, they talk to their teacher using the language they’ve learned on their own; It won’t be perfect and they’ll have lots of questions, but that’s precisely the point. We want them to use the language under the teacher’s guided practice. This way, the teacher would be able to spot problems and give students corrective feedback. It makes learning more efficient, more personalized and more engaging. This simple model should be how technology and teachers work together to help students. In many ways, technology should not be about reinventing learning as it is about making the old more efficient, effective and personalized. Why force students to do everything online when the face to face session provides clear value? In the same sense, why have students sit in a classroom and listen to a lecture if they could do it with the help of technology on their own? 

Each time I talk about the flipped language class, students, teachers and entrepreneurs think it makes so much sense. But that’s not how 99% of language learning takes place. In reality, the traditional classroom and technology are living in parallel universes rather than integrating into a blend to elevate what each other excels at. Granted a lot of language learning incorporate technology and the teacher. But they are mostly clumsily forced together to satisfy the market. Something as simple as using technology to preview and review and spend class time on practice and feedback seems to elude most schools, teachers and entrepreneurs. I think a lot of it is fear, inertia and lack of student empathy. The last thing many schools and teachers want to do is reinventing what they do in the class with technology thrown in to the mix. While many entrepreneurs either have too much faith in technology replacing teachers or get frustrated that the old school doesn’t share their new vision.

As an entrepreneur myself, I am occasionally guilty of it. But the fact is most students need teachers to learn a language. If we are not working with teachers, we are going to fail students. No matter how advanced technology becomes, using sophisticated adaptive learning systems sometime aren’t as good as learning how to say ‘how are you’ from a real person and carry on that conversation. It’s our duty as entrepreneurs to communicate our belief to teachers, working with them, supporting them rather than cutting them out of the picture or making them an add-on piece in our service. That’s why on OpenLanguage, teachers always use it for free. We want to get you using our content and tools to teacher students, manage their studies and help them improve. I am very thankful for all of the invaluable feedback that teachers give us OpenLanguage. Things like multi-media homework and remixing courses were inspired by their requests. At the end of the day, we are all there to help students succeed.

If you are a language teacher, see how OpenLanguage can support your work here. And contact us at for a free teacher’s account.

This Year Mobile Devices will Outnumber Humans

Cisco recently shared some pretty interesting numbers about the growth of mobile devices around the world, how people use them and what this means to the existing infrastructure of the world wide web.

The Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2012–2017 predicts that Internet enabled devices like smartphones and tablets will surpass 7 billion devices by the end of this year. The growth is especially strong in Asia, Africa and the Pacific region.

In terms of how people use their devices Cisco shares some pretty astonishing numbers. Over 50% off the worldwide mobile traffic comes from streaming videos and Cisco estimates that this number will go up to about 60% by 2017.

Also, mobile data consumption saw a huge jump in 2012. It rose by 81%, from monthly 189MB in 2011 to 342MB per month in 2012. For 2017 Cisco predicts that every smartphone user is going to consume 2.7GB per month.

The driving factor behind those numbers are smartphones and though they only count for 18% of the Internet enabled devices they make up 92% of the global mobile traffic. In comparison so called “featurephone” owners only make up 2% of the data smartphone owners use per month, about 6.8MB compared to 342MB.

Faster mobile networks like 4G also add to the consumption of larger amounts of mobile data. Although 4G networks only make up 0.9% of all mobile connections they already drive 19% of the total data traffic.

These numbers clearly show that people who have the possibility to own a smartphone and are connected to fast mobile networks make use of the features and benefits that come along with those devices extensively. They are increasingly using their those smart devices for more than making calls, checking email or the weather forecast. They get used to seeing their devices as pocket computers, capable of delivering information, entertainment and (language) learning on the go.

Spanish is on the Rise – High Demand Comes From Asia

Every January the Instituto Cervantes comes out with its Yearbook, an analysis of the state of Spanish in the world. The Cervantes Institute is a language school and cultural center endorsed by the Spanish government. Many countries have such or very similar institutions to promote their languages, e.g. Alliance Française for French, the Goethe Institut for the German language, the British Council for British English or the Confucius Institute for Mandarin Chinese to name just a few.

The Instituto Cervantes Yearbook 2012 contains some highly interesting information on the growing importance of Spanish in the real world and on the Internet. It is estimated that Spanish will be one of the top 5 global languages spoken in 2050. Spanish is currently spoken by 500 million people worldwide. According to the yearbook it is the second most spoken language worldwide (after English) and the second most popular language on Twitter as well as the third most used language on the Internet in general.

Online Spanish has grown by some staggering 800% over the past few years. And there is still room for growth as 60% of the population in South America have not even joined the Internet! Learning Spanish as a second language has been a trend for some years now, and Spanish saw a plus of 8% in 2012 alone with a total of 18 million students.

It is estimated that in a few generations the U.S. will be the country with the biggest Spanish-speaking population worldwide. Besides the U.S. the Cervantes Institute will continue to promote Spanish in the Asia-Pacific region where the demand is especially high. In China, for instance, the current demand for Spanish teachers is higher than the access to qualified personnel which leads to the rejection of 70% of people interested in learning it. In terms of Chinese university students some 25,000 are currently studying Spanish compared with a mere 1,500 in the year 2000. Also in Hong Kong the Spanish culture is trending and almost every university offers Spanish-language courses there. Lastly, Japan will require all high schools to offer Spanish as a foreign language.

At OpenLanguage, our mission is to help busy adults learn a new language and make the process more convenient, accessible and fun. We are proud to have SpanishPod, one of the most popular online Spanish learning resources on our platform. With fast growing global demand for Spanish, we hope our partnership will bring Spanish into the lives of learners worldwide. Whether you want to brush up on your high school Spanish or want to start learning this beautiful language anew, feel free to try out SpanishPod on OpenLanguage! You will receive a complimentary course after signing up and be able to enjoy the free weekly question and culture show. Better yet, you will be able to learn the most practical and engaging SpanishPod lessons on your iOS or Android devices using the OpenLanguage app. Start today and keep us posted on your progress!

Original story via Language Magazine