Jason West, who ran an English school in central London for eight years, got tired of students arriving and telling him that they’d used the coursebook the school had provided to them to learn English. “Actually, I was embarrassed,” he admits. “I thought there had to be a better way to study English in London.” He was looking for a way that was much more interactive, realistic and challenging. He wanted to take students out into the real world and to make everything they did with language much more real. Jason also thought that students needed a better deal if they wanted a short course of one to four weeks, wanted to improve quickly, see London, meet locals and have an amazing linguistic experience. He created English Out There to accomplish just that—the idea was to make learning English very real and contextually relevant, to get students out of the classroom and rubbing elbows with the real English-speaking, everyday world. He hoped it would prove interesting and to help students improve much more quickly. It worked.
Victor: Why did you create Languages Out There?
Jason: I created English Out There (EOT) in 2001 because I wanted to start a new English school in London—I sold my half of my first school which was, and still is, an accredited English school that teaches conventionally. With my experience and contacts from nine years of owning a successful school, I could have started one like all the others but I decided to try, in the first instance, to improve on the whole London study-English-abroad experience.
Students that came to my previous school would do a written test and have an interview to place them in the right level class. Then, like at most of the other schools, they would be given a course book for that level. Often they would look at it and say, ‘I’ve used this at home’.
The homogenization of English language teaching, the course books that through accreditation we were expected to use were the ones that publishers sold all over the world. I didn’t think it was a great product—it still isn’t. I also wanted to connect the location and the local people with the students more during the lessons—to use London as the classroom and make every lesson much more of an individually memorable experience for each student.
Victor: What does the name mean?
Jason: The name describes what we do, we teach you some language and then you go out there to use it with fluent and native speakers—in the real world—or online.
Victor: What is it?
Jason: It is a process of learning or acquiring language that’s more brain-friendly than other courses. It can be challenging at the start, but it works in a way that can accelerate learning and improve communicative ability incredibly quickly.
Victor: Who created it?
Jason: It was my idea. Although, the idea at the start was purely to make English lessons more relevant to the local environment and to get students using language in as close to real situations as possible just after they had studied it.
I recruited some experienced English teaching friends to help me and it took us a while, a few months of working with groups of students and having some serious internal debates, before we hit on the best format for each and every lesson.
Once we got that right, we stuck to it and worked on the materials. The materials developed very organically. They were taught to paying students by numerous teachers, tweaked and adjusted over a long period of time. I have conservatively estimated that our core lesson plans were taught for about 250,000 hours before we published them.
When we decided to publish our materials we employed some experienced TEFL (Teaching English as Foreign Language) writers and a very respected and pragmatic writer/editor, Tim Bowen, to oversee re-writes, any new lesson plan development from the core materials and the final edit.
Myself and a colleague also edited the materials, but less from an ELT (English Language Teaching) perspective and more from an EOT one, i.e.: “Is this still an EOT lesson?!” and “Is it true to how EOT works?”
The production of the materials—typesetting and graphics—was done by Guardian News and Media and we use some of their content inside the materials. That was done as part of a joint venture that went off the rails for various reasons that I probably shouldn’t go into too much except to say that in 2007 we were very much ahead of our time and people really didn’t understand how important VoIP, social media and social learning were going to become in language teaching and learning. It was a minor miracle that we actually got as far as we did in 2007.
Victor: What does it do—and what are the benefits?
Jason: English Out There helps people to speak English more comfortably by supporting them in a process that helps them to grow in confidence and start using language they don’t normally use when they speak.
Most English learners have studied English formally for some time—school, uni, evening classes etc..
Everyone who starts an English course goes into it with the aim of being able to speak English at the end of it, don’t they?
But that very rarely happens.
Now, for less than a dollar a day, anyone can follow a process that is proven to work extremely quickly and is very natural and easy to use once you have got the hang of it—which is why we offer a free 30-minute session with me or another EOT teacher on Skype once someone, teacher or student, has bought an ebook course.
EOT is simply a system that works the way your brain works, the way it worked when you were a child and learnt your first language. You just need to learn how to do it again and then have some materials that fit the process and guide you through the language you want to practice and learn to speak.
Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?
Jason: It might be useful to provide a list of what makes English out there unique, do bear with me:
It actually helps students to improve very quickly—we are the only English course provider in the world that publishes before and after audio and video evidence of the effectiveness of our courses.
It costs less than a dollar a day—and that figure includes enough time in a web café in, say India or Vietnam, for online speaking practice.
It was specifically designed to be used with social media and free web telephony, such as Facebook and Skype.
It can be taught anywhere, in all virtual classrooms, in an internet cafe, in a museum or park and even in a conventional classroom!
It is an online course that you can study offline, e.g. print off and use the worksheets on the beach or in the park, and then call your English speaking friends on Skype using your mobile phone to get your focused speaking practice.
Teachers can print, copy and teach EOT from worksheets and earn money on and offline, i.e. they can start an EOT business of their own with all the materials and levels for under $200 at the moment. Just teaching a few classes will repay that investment
It requires virtually no lesson planning by teachers but it lets them teach freely and be themselves. The structure allows for great flexibility and the insertion of other materials
Users can introduce EOT to others and earn money. If someone buys an EOT ebook, then four of their friends buy an ebook from them the first person’s course is effectively free. If they sell more they are earning money.
It is backed up by the most recent research using neuro-imaging technology.
It was created from over 250,000 hours of development by a lot of people, teachers and students.
It can be used in conjunction with other courses to focus on specific language to study and practice or it can used as a stand alone course
The list goes on… just think: flexible, brain-friendly, easy to follow and above all—effective!
This is a new market. No one I have found has created anything as flexible or in tune with technology and social media. Pearson created a product for Livemocha.com but it doesn’t integrate with their user base. The key is immediate focused practice of target language, the crucial social practice element needs to be supported by the materials and no one except us has done this.
Virtually all other courses focus on the language from an academic linguistic perspective. With EOT the actual process is as important as the language in the lesson. EOT is a psycho-linguistic English course and most probably the first commercial one ever created.
I sometimes get the feeling the ELT industry doesn’t actually want people to improve too quickly or too easily. That would make sense as it needs to keep selling them paper to survive. A bit like the music business was a few years ago with CDs.
Things won’t change as fast as they did with music because educational publishing is more robust. It is more robust because its DNA runs through every educational system in the world. Chinese English teachers in China still teach in classrooms using generic coursebooks and don’t speak English in class. Educational cultures change slowly and unlike being a product you simply listen to, course materials require human interaction, and changing human behavior patterns is very tricky indeed.
Victor: What about American English?
I’ve always considered English to be English, pretty much. I know there are differences, but I grew up near Liverpool and when I still had a Scouse accent people in South Wales where I went to university could still understand me. Dialects are cool in my opinion.
Understanding is the key, and the difference between US and UK English doesn’t impede that until you get into nuance and a bit of vocab. The old ‘I could murder a fag’, ‘my fanny is aching’ routine. We all learn language the same way.
So the dialect used in EOT materials is unimportant to the process. In fact, if a Korean wanted to learn American English using EOT materials I would recommend they used the current EOT materials that utilize UK English and then practice with American English speaking partners. The reason being that the small misunderstandings that would naturally occur during the practice conversations, and the subsequent explanations by the American English speaker, would be much more amusing, personalized and ultimately, memorable. Which is what we aim for.
So you see, it’s the process again.
Because of this EOT is a truly global English course. It doesn’t matter what flavor the English in the materials is. A learner with 20 practice partners in their Personal Learning Network could have UK, US, Australian, New Zealand, Yorkshire, Jamaican, Indian, even Danish, first language speakers to practice with whenever they are online.
Victor: When was it developed?
Jason: From 2001 to the present day. It keeps evolving.
Victor: What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?
Jason: I estimate we taught 85,000 lessons using the materials we now have published. The most remarkable thing about its development history is that it is not the result of a couple of academic authors and a few weeks of testing in classrooms with students getting free lessons, i.e., the way most course books are created.
With EOT more than 60 teachers, thousands of students, a host of professional writers and nine years of amazing learning experiences in the classroom and in the real world—i.e., on the streets of London talking to real people—contributed to the creation of these courses.
They are both real world crowd-sourced and professionally polished learning tools that work anywhere. They work anywhere because they had to work in the real world and to maintain the quality of the learning experience in every single lesson we needed to find a new way to control the user’s journey when they were seemingly out of our control.
We really did have to think differently because we were determined to take the learning process out of its normal safe but uninspiring environment, the classroom.
Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?
Jason: EOT originated from my desire to improve English courses for students coming to London. It started as a taught short course in central London. It is now taught in China, India, lots of places and it is also taught online. The only place you can buy it is on our website or, soon, from one of our partners.
We have some very large social learning platforms and online English teaching websites that wish to partner with us. They are starting to recognize that EOT is a bit different and can add value to their services in a way that conventional online English courses cannot.
I have explained EOT before by saying it turns ‘language exchange’ into ‘learning exchange’. Increasingly millions of people are using online language exchanges to improve their English speaking skills but they could dramatically improve the results if they followed a process using materials that give some structure to the process. For example, once you have met someone, made friends via chat, fixed a time to meet what do you actually talk about and how do you make it part of an effective and efficient long term learning experience i.e. a course? That’s where EOT comes in very handy.
Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?
Jason: You can get going with a 60 hour self-study ebook course, the social media tools—a process and words that help you introduce yourself and make English speaking friends online—and the listening MP3s for just $21. That’s just $0.35 per hour.
There are three styles of ebook course, with six levels, beginner to advanced. One for self-study by students (SS). The next called OO (One to One/Online) for teachers to teach with and the last and original materials, TD or Teacher Delivered for groups—which the SS and OO materials are based upon. Some come with MP3s.
There are full instructions for teachers that explain how to teach both on and offline and the social media tools are for use with Facebook, Skype etc. to help students build their own groups of English speaking friends online—their own Personal Learning Network, as some call it now.
We also have a free ebook that people can download called “For Want of a Better Word”. It is a great learning resource on its own and is very funny but it ends with a call to action to English speakers, encouraging them to make friends with and help English learners to practice.
The ebook was created for us for free by two fantastic advertising creatives because they loved the EOT ethos and concept and it was very kindly endorsed by multi-million selling author Steven Pinker who wrote The Language Instinct and Words and Rules and who is also a professor of psycho-linguistics at Harvard.
Victor: What are some examples of it in action?
Jason: As mentioned above we are the only English course provider to publish before and after audio and video clips on our websites, Facebook pages and Youtube channel. There are also explanations of how EOT works and video of EOT being taught in a virtual classroom.
Before and after audio – Chinese learner goes from beginner speaker to comfortable intermediate in 18 hours: http://www.englishoutthere.com/categories/audio-before-and-after-social-media-english-course
Before and after video – Students interviewed before and after their 30 hour courses in London in 2006: http://www.englishoutthere.com/categories/before-and-after-social-learning-english-course-videos
How to teach EOT online: http://www.englishoutthere.com/articles/teach-english-online
Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it NOT for?
Jason: EOT is for anyone who wants to speak English and any teachers who want their students to speak English. It is especially useful for people who have studied English for a few years and are still struggling to speak comfortably. It benefits all English learners and can be used as part of more traditional courses.
EOT is for everyone because all of our brains are genetically virtually identical. The only people who might be skeptical are the people who could most benefit from using it. Those who think language learning is all about grammatical bashing and learning lists of vocab by heart.
Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?
There’s a huge gap opening up between formal education and informal education.
Increasingly, slow moving formal educational systems are being superseded by the actions of individuals and small companies that are using technology in imaginative and highly productive ways.
In the last 20 years education got mugged by politicians who wanted to quote meaningless statistical data more than any persuasive research or policies. Hence the absurd testing culture we have these days in formal education. The purpose of education has been lost amidst the political point-scoring.
In English learning terms why are most English examinations still primarily based upon written tests? And some tests, in developing countries especially, even have no speaking component. It doesn’t really make sense, with a language, does it?
Of course, people need to be able to read and write English, and the majority of people who have learned English for any period of time are fairly adept at those skills, which really only get improved by reading.
What the majority of English learners in the world have a problem with, and especially in the larger developing countries that value English speaking skills most highly, is being able to speak comfortably. So it seems to make sense to me to try and do something about that skills gap.
For example, in China there is a well-known phenomenon called ‘mute English’ and school and college students laugh and joke about it. It basically means there are millions of students who are taught English intensively for years but never get to practice speaking English. They therefore end up like Jane, the Chinese English learner who I helped to go from speaking like a beginner to a comfortable intermediate in just 18 hours. You can listen to the dramatic change in her speaking ability.
Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating Languages Out There?
Jason: I guess being taught French for a few years and then going to France and not understanding “Ca va?” when someone French unwittingly failed to follow our French coursebook by saying “Bonjour Monsieur” to greet me. Then studying psychology at university, specifically memory .
When we began to witness students make abnormally rapid improvements with their speaking, I tried to work it out and that took me back into the academic area of human memory. I am still searching for and reading research papers today, nine years later. The funny thing is, they are becoming increasingly supportive of EOT’s process, not less. Which is kind of reassuring and keeps me getting up in the morning.
Victor: How does Languages Out There address some of your concerns about education?
Jason: What we have created helps people to change their lives for the better—being able to speak English will get you a better job and improve your entire family’s life chances—and is accessible to and affordable for all but the very poorest people in the world.
EOT can also provide an income for people who have benefitted from it, know how it works and want to show others. So hopefully it will continue to spread organically, doing good along the way.
By its nature EOT also encourages people to educate themselves and proves that with the right guidance and tools amazing results and improvements are possible. EOT is about emancipation and empowerment for a lot less, in a much shorter period of time.
In an online presentation a year ago I used the term ‘Freed Content’. Freed being a combination or ‘free’ and ‘paid’. Something akin to the concept of online micro-payments. Making something of great value so cheap that it is almost free.
I think ‘free’ online has been a bit of a lottery and primarily about who can become the biggest quickest, who can write a business plan for potential investors and who can network with the suits more effectively. I’m sure many good products and services didn’t make it because of ‘free’ and I think it has played into the hands of more established companies who can afford to spread a little largesse and muddy the waters of the lower reaches of the market.
Freed is about sustainability from day one and also about generating revenues that can be shared with your supporters and users, in our case teachers, English speakers and English learners.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?
Jason: Education will change dramatically in the next few years. It already has to some extent. You can now go to university online for next to nothing. You can educate yourself in anything online for next to nothing.
However, what is yet to change much or have a real impact are improvements in the processes used to acquire new knowledge and skills. For example, every single human being intuitively knows that to learn they must do. If you don’t put what you have studied into practice or make it personally meaningful in some way you will struggle to recall or use it in the future. Technology is bridging the gap between theory and practice and theory and personalization.
If I ran a secondary school, I would spend a lot of time showing teachers and students tricks with existing and widely used technology. If I ran a big publishing company, I would start creating courses and materials that are platform neutral and can be used anywhere, not just on an iPad. In other words, I would focus on the process—not the platform or device.
In another presentation in 2008, at the British Council’s Dialogue 2 in Kolkata (‘The Future of English in India’ http://www.britishcouncil.org/india-secondpolicy-presentation-jasonwest.ppt) I explained my theory on finite and infinite educational spaces.
To me, finite educational spaces are classrooms, designed to contain people and control how they interact—like prison cells. Infinite educational space is online or outside of the classroom. We already have the tools for infinite educational experiences to flourish, we just don’t have the materials—apart from EOT, of course.
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Languages Out There?
Jason: Languages Out There, English Out There, the Out There process, is completely natural, intuitive and proven to be around 1,000 times more effective than its nearest competitor.
Victor: What makes you say that?
Jason: It takes 18 hours to go up three levels versus 12 weeks or 180 hours, that’s the shortest period of time any of our well-known competitors claim to be able to achieve a similar improvement in their publicity materials.
Out There can teach the world to speak English, or other languages, for next to nothing using technological tools that we already have in abundance. Out There can also help people to earn a living. It challenges the status quo by being better, cheaper and faster by a considerable distance. I can say that because I can prove it beyond any shadow of a doubt.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: [email protected]