A couple days ago I read on TechCrunch that the Japanese NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation) invested $1 million in the ESL startup EnglishCentral.
Back in February Nokia (not really a TelCo, I know) and Pearson signed a partnership that would preload ESL learning content from Mobiledu on all new Nokia mobile phones on the Chinese market turning each phone into a mobile learning device.
And last but not least NTT also acquired a 29.7% stake in goFluent back in January. I will interview Christophe Ferrandou, Founder and CEO of goFluent, on EDUKWEST tomorrow. The company offers business English courses via telephone and internet to customers worldwide and is the European leader in this sector.
NTT is already offering a learning portal for its clients in Japan called Virtual Learning English School (at least that’s what Google Translate tells me). EnglishCentral offers ESL learning based on videos from news and entertainment, an approach we know from other startups in ESL like English Attack! or Voxy.
EnglishCentral offers its users an interactive player with a variety of learning tools like word description, slowing the video down and recording your own voice with voice recognition and rating. You can try a demo on their website linked below this post.
But coming back to the headline. I think it is a pretty interesting model to see TelCos and mobile device manufacturers teaming up with educational companies and I wonder if this model also worked in Europe, the US and other countries outside Asia. I am pretty sure something similar exists in India, already.
I think NTT is planning to use EnglishCentral as their entry product. If Google Translate is correct, one of the key features of EnglishCentral for the Japanese market is to cut the “embarrassment” factor in language learning away. This is of course done through the voice recognition feature that gives the student an instant rating and feedback. As soon as the student feels ready to speak to a “real” teacher they will switch to the Virtual Learning English School.
I am asking myself, if a partnership like this was be possible in Europe or the US. It seems to be quite obvious that the relevance of learning a language, English to be more specific, is far higher in Asia than in Europe. Our school systems, as bad as they are, still do a decent job in teaching English up to a level where most people will be able to have simple conversations at least. Therefore there is not a direct need until we have to use English for special purposes like business or academia.
Will be interesting to hear Christophe’s take on this tomorrow. In the meanwhile, what do you think of models like this? Could they work in India, South America or Africa for example?