Reinventing the English teaching model(转)

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From Global Times By Michele Scrimenti and Cong Mu

Zhang Ying had studied English for years and even lived abroad, but she just couldn't get a seven on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) used by universities and companies around the world to measure English proficiency. Zhang had managed to score 6.5 twice, which meant her English was pretty good, but not good enough to nail down a job as a nurse overseas. A salary increase and a new life in another country were just half a point away.

Millions of Chinese around the country cram into large classrooms and pay high fees for one-on-one lessons at major well-known schools like New Oriental and English First, but Zhang opted for EQEnglish.com, a Beijing-based IT start-up that plans to revolutionize language-learning through the Internet the way Amazon overturned the book industry.

Supply and demand

EQEnglish, founded in Zhongguancun, China's Silicon Valley, in 2005 by Jonathan Palley and Adrian Li, solves a basic supply and demand problem.

According to Reuters, the number of Chinese students enrolled at English teaching industry-leader New Oriental exceeded 1.5 million as of May 31. And that's just one company. The People's Daily reported in 2006 that as many 300 million Chinese people are learning English. While that might be an inflated figure that included cab drivers and street vendors who were learning basic phrases in the build-up to the Olympics, the number of people taking the IELTS, which EQEnglish is currently focused on, is expected to exceed 300,000 in 2009, up 15 percent from 260,000 in 2008.

But the number of native English speakers teaching in China cannot begin to sate this demand, leading to exorbitant tuition fees, with a one hour one-on-one session ranging from 150 ($22) to 600 yuan ($88).

While companies like English First and New Oriental pay foreign teachers' plane fares to meet demand, EQEnglish gets around this problem by hooking up Chinese students with teachers in America over their own Skype-like interface designed specifically for teaching English. Students can connect with teachers anywhere they can get an Internet or phone signal.

The lack of overhead costs for classroom space and the cheaper costs of American labor (part-time teachers in the US get paid one-fourth of their counterparts in China), EQEnglish is able to cut fees down to about 60 yuan ($8.80) per lesson, giving the company a major competitive edge over traditional brick-and-mortar schools.

Unlike most firms, EQEnglish has actually benefited from the financial crisis. With massive layoffs plaguing the US, more people are trying to find part-time jobs from home. According to Palley, EQEnglish's co-founder, they are tapping into a growing pool of over 40 million Americans looking to work from home.

And they seem to be having no problem getting enough teachers. Of the thousands of people who fill out their 40-minute online application, EQEnglish only accepts 1.7 percent. But instead of having human resources staff pour over thousands of applications, the firm can pick out the best of the bunch with its custom-designed technology that vets the applications automatically.

"And we can do this at scale," Palley said. "That's why we can do it at low cost."

Technology is power

Using technology is not constrained simply to the hiring process. It runs through the entire company.

EQEnglish employs only around 30 people in Beijing and yet is able to coordinate hundreds of teachers in the US and give thousands of lessons across China. How?

"That's where technology comes in," Palley said. "It's all custom-built."

EQEnglish has developed its own advanced technology to take care of almost everything the company does, including monitoring thousands of lessons to maintain quality control.

Palley says the start-up is part of an emerging industry, "technology-powered services," which is part of the idea of Web 2.0: using data to make the service better. Google tracks every search and uses the data gathered to improve the quality of its search engine, and EQEnglish records every lesson and follows variables like the amount of material covered to evaluate teachers and lesson plans.

While online competitors have sprung up across the globe, including Wall Street English and New Oriental in China, EQEnglish is the only one that extensively develops its own technology.

"Everyone else just puts what they have in real life online," Palley said. "We are the only one that took a step back and said, ‘Let's completely rethink the language-learning experience for the online medium.'"

Currently, the company focuses exclusively on the IELTS exam so that they would have a way to measure how effective their classes are. The company partnered up with the British Council, the maker of the test, to help students improve their scores.

So far results have been promising. In January the company will launch a money-back guarantee of a 0.5-point increase, a significant jump, after just 30 lessons.

On the wings of angels

A problem for any budding IT company is funding, but EQEnglish has been able to get enough money to keep developing, sometimes from surprising sources.

In 2006, Palley was discussing his business model with Bill Trenchard, CEO of LiveOps, a telemarketing giant that also utilizes the same workforce of part-time American workers that EQEnglish now relies on. Trenchard was so sold on the idea that he became an angel investor in the company.

An angel investor gives capital to a start-up normally in return for debt or partial ownership.

Another angel came from New Oriental, one of its competitors. Xu Xiaoping, cofounder of the English teaching giant, has invested in the firm and is convinced that this "innovative and revolutionary" model will work, according to the foreword of an IELTS test prep book EQEnglish is releasing next month. Xu is also planning on going around the country to promote the company at universities, according to Palley.

More recently, venture capital firms have invested in the firm. Gobi Partners, a Chinese VC firm, and Ambient Sound Investment, founded by one of the four lead engineers at Skype, have put an undisclosed amount of money into the firm over the last three years.

Marketing problems

One major challenge still remains for the company: marketing. EQEnglish has yet to fully throw itself into the market, where they will have to face experienced and well-recognized foreign and domestic competitors.

"You've got New Oriental on one hand, and English First and Wall Street on the other," John Holsapple, founder of an English-teaching company in Beijing, "New Oriental's got the money and connections, while EF and Wall Street have the great branding because they're foreign companies, which is obviously a plus for English teaching. It's a very hard market to break into."

Despite the clear difficulties ahead, Palley is confident EQEnglish will succeed.

"We have a product that can teach you faster and more effectively than anything else in the world," Palley said. "Once people realize that, they'll use our service."

As EQEnglish begins its first major marketing push next month, perhaps the most effective means of passing along the message are satisfied students like Zhang, the nurse.

Zhang, who is planning to work in America, said, "After a lot of hard work, I got the seven I needed to go abroad. I don't think that would have been possible so fast without EQEnglish."

Photo: CFP

中文:英语教学模式的再次创新

注:原文链接失效,新的在人民网

张莹学习了多年的英语,甚至还曾在国外居住,但是她的雅思成绩仍然达不到7分。雅思成绩已被全球的大学及企业视为考核英语能力的标准。张两次雅思考试都得了6.5分,说明她的英语能力已经很强,但这仍然不能满足她出国做护士的需要。高薪以及美好的异地生活将会因为这半分而化为泡影。

数百万的中国学子或者选择拥挤的教室进行大班学习,或是在新东方、英孚英语等有名的培训机构支付高额费用进行一对一的学习。但是张却选择了成立于北京的一家互联网英语教学培训机构——EQ英语。EQ英语旨在通过互联网教学,推翻传统的课本教学模式,为英语学习者带来一次全新的语言学习风暴。

英语教学市场的供与求

2005年,Jonathan Palley 和Adrian Li在有着“中国硅谷”之称的中关村创办了EQ英语,来解决英语教学市场的供求问题。

根据英国路透社的报道,截止到5月31日,作为英语教学“领头人”的新东方,其报名学生已经扩展到150,000人次,而这仅仅是新东方一家公司的报名人数。据2006年人民日报的报道,有3亿中国人正在学习英语。当然这也包括为迎接奥运会而带来的出租车司机和个体经营者等群体学习一些最基本的英语短语的人数统计所带来的数据的激增。EQ英语目前所针对的雅思考试的学习人数,已经由2008年的260,000增长了15%,并在2009达到了300,000人。

然而在中国,具备英语母语背景的英语教师的数量还不能够满足英语学习的市场需求,因此培训费就变得非常的昂贵,一对一的教学从每小时150元($22)增长到每小时600元($88)。

与英孚英语、新东方等公司通过为外教们支付飞机票来满足他们的跨国教学需求不同,EQ英语则是通过自己研发的类似Skype的通话系统来实现中国学生与美国外教的交流需求。因此,只要能够上网或者有电话信号,学生就能随时随地的与外教练习口语。

没有教室租用等营业间接成本费用的支出以及利用美国廉价的劳动力花费(相同条件的外教,在美国做兼职的费用是在中国做外教费用的四分之一),EQ英语将外教的费用削减到每节课60元($8.80),相对于传统的实体学校,这将是一个很大的竞争优势。

EQ英语是少数从金融危机中获益的公司之一。由于美国面临的高失业率,很多美国人开始在家中寻找做兼职的机会。根据EQ英语共同创始人Palley的介绍,他们正是利用了超过4,000,000美国公民的在家工作的这种需求而节省了成本投入。

由此一来,招聘到足够的教师对于EQ英语便不成问题了。1000名应聘者经过40分钟的在线申请,只有1.7%的人员能通过应聘。但是,与人事部门从成百上千的申请中挑选员工不同,EQ公司能够通过他们专门的用户制定设计技术,自动的审查所有申请者的资格,从中选出符合条件的精英。

Palley说:“我们现在就能实现这个技术,这就是我们为什么能够低成本的完成这些。”

技术即是力量

在整个工作的过程中,技术的使用不会受到任何的限制。而这个思想也同样贯穿于整个EQ公司。

EQ英语在北京仅有30多名员工,但是它却能够和美国上百的外教通力合作,为中国学生教授上千次的课程。这是如何实现的呢?

“这就是技术力量的所在,”Palley说,“所有的技术都是专门开发的。”

EQ英语不断发展它们的高新技术来满足公司和客户的任何需求,包括监控上千的课程教学来保证教学质量。

Palley认为,EQ公司的建立融入了Web2. 0的一部分理念,即技术力量下的服务:利用数据来使服务更加优质。EQ英语使用Google跟踪软件并综合各种数据来进行搜索引擎优化,并且它还能够记录下每一节的上课录音,以及通过查看各种资料来评估外教以及课程计划的实施。

当在线服务竞争在全球突然崛起的时候,只有EQ英语在不断地发展着自己的技术,这一点,即使是华尔街和新东方公司也都无法比拟。

Palley认为: “每一个人都仅仅是把他们在现实生活中所拥有的搬到了网上,EQ英语也只是退回原点,重新思考如何利用在线媒介来进行语言的学习。”

目前EQ英语的所有线上课程都专注在雅思口语方面,为的是更容易更好的检测课程效果。EQ英语还与英国大使馆教育处合作,帮助学生提高雅思口语分数。

迄今为止,EQ英语和所有雅思考生的前途是一片光明的。1月份,EQ英语将会推出全额退款的30节提高保分课程。

有天使的呵护,我们一直前行

任何一个成长中的IT公司都要面临资金问题,然而EQ英语却能够获得足够的资金来保持发展,有时甚至还有很意外的收获。

2006年,Palley与LiveOps的CEO Bill Trenchard讨论了他的商业模式,Trenchard立刻被Palley的模式所说服,成为天使投资之一。Bill Trenchard是利用美国大量的兼职劳动力进行电话销售的巨头。

天使投资通常是指为创办的企业投入资金,从而从中获得债务或部分所有权。

另一个天使投资来自新东方,EQ英语的竞争对手之一。有“英语教学巨人”之称的徐小平也投资了EQ英语,根据EQ英语即将在明年一月出版的雅思辅导图书的前言部分,可以看出,他坚信这种创新的革命性的教学模式将大大提高学生的雅思成绩。据Palley所介绍,徐也计划将在全市的大学内推广EQ英语。

最近,风险投资公司又对EQ英语进行了投资。中国的风险投资公司Gobi Partners和由四大领先工程之一的Skype创建的Ambient Sound Investment,对EQ英语进行了为时三年的投资,投资金额保密。

面临的市场问题

EQ英语仍然面临着一个很大的挑战:市场问题。EQ英语已经全身心投入到目前的市场中,与此同时,他们也必须面对各个经验丰富、知名的国外及国内的培训机构。

北京英语教学公司的创建者John Holsapple说:“你们一边面对的是新东方,一边是英孚和华尔街。新东方拥有雄厚的资金和关系链,而英孚和华尔街由于是外企,对英语教学有利,因而拥有强大的品牌效应。想要打入这个市场是非常困难的。”

即使重重困难摆在面前,Palley仍坚信EQ英语一定能够获得成功。

Palley认为:“一旦大家认识到,我们的产品能够帮助学生快速提高成绩,比世界上的其他教学模式都有效时,学生们就会选择我们的服务。”

下个月,EQ英语将要开始进首次大范围的市场推广。也许,成功推广最好的方法就是像EQ英语对张护士的帮助那样,让其他学生们都取得雅思高分。

打算去美国工作的张莹说:“经过了大量的努力,我终于获得了出国需要的7分。我觉得,如果没有EQ英语的帮助,我不可能这么快地取得我想要的雅思成绩。”

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