LINK UP, LEARN MORE: David Akast, E. China Director of reallyenglish.com
I was very excited to link up with David Akast, East China Director at reallyenglish.com and a long-time friend, to discuss the changing climate of ESL in China and one e-learning company that’s going to make a BIG impact. For a free lesson, read on:
reallyenglish.com has been supporting English education in Asia since 2002. When did reallyenglish.com first launch in China?
reallyenglish.com launched in China in 2005. Our HQ is in London and we are also very well-established in Tokyo.
Tell me a little bit about your core demographic in China. Have you seen any shift over the past two years?
Since launching in China we have been focusing on the corporate market. As we have developed our business, we have moved to build partnerships with universities to work in the academic sector as well.
reallyenglish.com has a lot of fans who attribute their fluency in English to this program. How is reallyenglish.com different from a traditional ESL school?
The key difference is the fact that we are an e-learning company, which means that our programs allow learners to study at their own pace, at a time and place that is convenient for them. We differentiate ourselves by providing world-class courseware tailored to local needs. This means cutting-edge instructional design and topnotch editors, a network of ELT professionals with decades of experience teaching and working with publishers, and a commitment to continual improvement. Tailoring to local needs means focus on one market, gathering extensive feedback from user groups with similar background and needs, and implementing system solutions that integrate seamlessly into our clients’ training, administrative, or business processes. We are in control of every aspect of the service, including hosting, support, mentoring and reporting. The service objective is simple – get learners to complete their courses and show managers and educators the results. All our energy is focused on these two objectives.
How has reallyenglish.com made use of new technologies?
Our online learning solutions are supported by cutting-edge delivery systems that run off our own servers. This makes them straightforward, fast to implement and inexpensive to deliver. By doing our own hosting, we can respond flexibly to the needs of our clients. We record and store all study data and this can be retrieved at anytime, from anywhere. Our regular user-tracking reports keep students (and their HR Managers) up-to-date with how they are progressing towards the course objectives. Technology allows us to offer course personalization, tutor correction, online mentoring, student performance tracking, reporting, and social networking services.
reallyenglish.com offers some pretty interesting courses in speed reading, business writing and even IT Engineer English. Have you seen an increased demand toward more specialized classes?
Yes, absolutely. More and more companies in 1st tier Chinese cities are using English as the means of communication at work and ever-increasing numbers of staff recognize that to get ahead they need more than just a good grounding in the basics of English.
What brought you to China and subsequently, reallyenglish.com?
I came to China after completing a Masters degree at [London School of Economics]. I initially came for 6 months to learn some of the language and to try and get a feel for a country that I really knew very little about.
You have a strong academic background in Political Economy. How has this helped you in your current position, as East China Director of reallyenglish.com?
I think it has given me the ability to analyze market trends and to keep abreast of political and economic developments in China – these are things you really need to be aware of if you are going to be successful here.
Any plans to return to England or is Shanghai the place you call home now?
That first few months here was an incredible time in my life – I became fascinated with Chinese history, language and, particularly, people. The hospitality and generosity that I have encountered in my time here never fails to amaze me, even after seven years. So, at the moment I do consider Shanghai home. However, there are many things that I miss enormously about the UK, so ideally I see myself working between the two countries in the future.
ESL schools have been spreading like wildfire through China for nearly a decade. How does reallyenglish.com stay ahead of the competition?
By embracing advances in technology and providing flexible and cost-effective training solutions.
reallyenglish.com currently has offices in Beijing and Shanghai. Any plans for expansion in China?
Yes, we hope to have a south China regional office open in 2010.
Has the recession negatively affected enrollment or are people clamoring to learn English more than ever these days?
We are finding that many companies that have relied on face-to-face training are now dealing with a downward pressure on budgets and are giving e-learning technologies a second look. The scale of staff turnover has been a real problem in China, so companies have learned to use training as a retention tool. The tables are turning somewhat in 2009, so now staffs are keener than ever to develop their skills.
Recently, reallyenglish.com gave away thirty 6-month Practical English licenses to help funding for The Library Project, which donates books to under-financed schools and orphanages in developing countries. Tell me a little more about this.
The Library Project donates books to remote schools in China. It is the kind of small-scale, direct-action charity that I think does an incalculable amount of good. Their overheads are incredibly low and money donated goes directly on books that are sourced in China. More information can be found at: http://www.library-project.org/
How do you recruit professional talent? Is your staff largely expatriate, local or both?
We advertise on the main recruiting websites in China, Japan and the UK and here in Shanghai. We have a nearly even split between expatriate and local staff.