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Five Barriers to Break Through Online Lessons

online-lessons

Welcome to our guest article for TeachingEnglishOnline where we discuss the benefits of online lessons.

We (TurksLearnEnglish.com) launched a site dedicated to conversation classes for Turkish speakers in May 2013. So far, we’ve found that the online experience can actually be more powerful than the in-person traditional English lesson. For any students considering whether to try online English lessons, we present to you five barriers that are removed when learning online:

1:              Kill the commute: As urbanization grows across the world, the commutes in many of the world’s largest cities can be hellish. Many students learning English as a second language are also young professionals working long hours. If a young professional leaves work at 6:00 pm they may not arrive to a centrally located language school until 7:30pm. Three hours of class later and they are lucky to arrive home by midnight. This cycle is not sustainable. Taking online lessons in large cities removes hours of unnecessary travel time. In rural or remote areas, this may be your best chance to access professional, well run classes.

2:              Focus on conversation: Most adult students do not need another grammar lesson; they need communication confidence. As any online teacher knows, the virtual world is a great platform for developing language communication ability.  When a student pops on their headphones, they are able to focus with concentration that is rarely seen in a physical classroom. Better yet, the online classroom does not inhibit students in the way that a traditional classroom does. Fewer students and the webcam somehow boost a student’s willingness to take risks and make the mistakes every learner needs to advance in a language.

3:              Between classes: Video self-study lessons for outside of classroom reading and listening are extremely powerful. These video lessons can enrich your students’ experience and provide them with an additional way of connecting with you as a teacher. At TurksLearnEnglish.com we’ve created a series of videos called İngilizce Dersleri where we read current event articles related to Turkey and introduce new vocabulary. So far they are a big hit with our students.

4:              Location flexibility: Students likely travel. If they are working in a competitive field, sometimes they’ll have to travel without much notice. Even if they don’t travel, they often have to stay late at work and do not have time to get away to an 8pm class. Online lessons give students the ability to stay up to speed with their lessons even if they need to skip town for a week or work late.

5:              Additional tools: There are many things that can be done online that cannot be replicated in the real classroom. Running games and quizzes using pre-developed lesson plans and screen sharing is more natural online and can be great for motivation. Using the chat function to help students while conversing is also a great tool. Recording lessons can also be powerful. We’ve found that many of our students like to go back to lessons they found challenging and review them.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our story on online lessons. We would love to hear your thoughts!

James and Kris are co-founders of TurksLearnEnglish, a site dedicated to getting Turkish speakers to build communication confidence. For any online educators out there, feel free to take a look at and use our online-self study videos in our İngilizce Dersleri library. You can get in touch with them through the contact form on our site or email info@turkslearnenglish.com.

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Adventures in Online ELT for Turks (part 2)

online-ELT-for-Turks

Merhaba, and welcome to the second part of our two-part guest article for ELT Jam. Here we give our readers, students and prospective students some insight into why we started TurksLearnEnglish to address online ELT for Turks.

Brief introduction to the Turkish online market

Before we describe our product (which is focused on online ELT for Turks), we should probably mention a couple points about the booming online market in Turkey. I will borrow some phenomenally interesting statistics from the co-founder of Markafoni, Sina Afra, which he wrote in his well-crafted article that you can find here:

  • Turkey has a large and young population of 80M people, with 36M Internet users (fifth biggest internet population in Europe)
  • Turkish Internet users have the third highest engagement in Europe (measured by average time spent online)
  • Turkey is country No.5 for Facebook and No. 8 for Twitter
  • Credit card penetration is approximately 60% (compared to a European average of 50%)
  • It is estimated that 6M to 9M o the 36M Internet users in Turkey have spent money online (an e-commerce penetration rate of between 17% and 25%) – in Germany and the UK the rate is closer to 60% meaning there is still huge potential for growth

Why focus solely on online ELT for Turks?

Several people have asked me this exact question to date. If you believe in your product, why limit it to Turkey? As we’ve already pointed out, the English language presents particular challenges to a native Turkish speaker. It makes sense for Turks to learn English online in a classroom with multiple Turkish students, rather than in a cross-cultural setting that you may find in a global online ELT service such as Live Mocha. Turks have a very strong sense of identity. Since motivation is a deciding factor in every education undertaking, a knowledge and appreciation of Turkish culture, and understanding what Turks find interesting, is all-important. We understood that our role was to provide good teaching and uplift motivation, within the bounds of a Turk’s experience, understanding and expectation.

With this in mind, we decided to launch TurksLearnEnglish.com, a site dedicated to providing communication confidence to unlock the dormant language resource that many Turks possess. We offer conversation classes for up to 6 adults at a time and staff our classes exclusively with native English speakers who have experience teaching in Turkey. We launched in May 2013 and have been learning ever since. As a supplement we have launched our İngilizce Dersleri series (video self study exercises) and our Türklere İngilizce series (language lessons that target areas of English that many of our Turkish students have problems with) for free.

Our concept: tap a dormant resource

Most of James’ adult Turkish students possessed something we defined as a “dormant resource”. Years of English classes at various points in their life meant that a strong knowledge base existed; yet, they still did not have the confidence to speak.  Our aim was to tap this dormant resource and address four main barriers to Turks not learning to speak effectively through the status quo private language institute experience:

1:              Kill the commute: The commutes in Turkey’s largest cities (Istanbul, Ankara) can be hellish and working hours are relatively long. If a young professional leaves work at 6:00 pm they may not arrive to a centrally located language school until 7:30pm. Three hours of class later and they are lucky to arrive home by midnight. This cycle is not sustainable. Offering online classes in a city like Istanbul, removes hours of unnecessary travel time.

2:              Focus on conversation: Most adult students in Turkey do not need another grammar lesson. They need to speak. As any online teacher knows, the virtual world is a great platform for developing language communication ability.  When a student pops on their headphones, they are able to focus with concentration that is rarely seen in a physical classroom. Better yet, the online classroom does not inhibit students in the way that a traditional classroom does. Fewer students and the webcam somehow boost a student’s willingness to take risks and make the mistakes every learner needs to advance in a language.

3:              Leverage Turkish themes: Turkish culture is strong. It’s very difficult for a Turkish student to relate to a grammar curriculum with subject matter based on Western themes. We’ve developed a curriculum (for both our conversation classes and our İngilizce Dersleri series) that is almost entirely based around Turkish themes. We try to use current events, history, culture, food, movies and other popular entertainment as much as possible.

4:              Keep it Turkish: Although we agree that complete immersion is best practice for developing language ability, we find there are benefits of having students from a common linguistic background. When we started researching our competition (global online ELT start-ups), we were very much impressed. But we did notice that having students in one classroom connected online from all over the world seemed bit disorganized and inefficient. So far we’ve seen our students correcting each other and learning from their mistakes. This happens a bit less in a multi-linguistic setting.

So there you have our manifesto. Despite the numerous challenges, successes, re-designs, re-re-designs and countless late nights since our launch, we believe we are on to something. It’s too early for a “lessons learned” story but we will be sure to update you once we celebrate our first anniversary!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our story. We would love to hear your thoughts!

James and Kris are co-founders of TurksLearnEnglish, a site dedicated to getting Turkish speakers to build communication confidence. For any online educators out there, feel free to take a look at and use our online-self study videos in our İngilizce Dersleri library. You can get in touch with them through the contact form on our site or email info@turkslearnenglish.com.

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Adventure in online ELT for Turks (part 1)

Mosque, istanbul, sketch

Merhaba, and welcome to the first of our two-part guest article for ELT Jam. Here we give our readers, students and prospective students some insight into why we started TurksLearnEnglish.

Like most new ventures we began with lengthy and impassioned exchanges about inefficient user experiences, how technology could break down barriers, our general appetite for disruption, naive optimism and enthusiasm for bringing change. Conversations over beers produced A3 sheets covered in a multitude of diagrams, and eventually something that looked like our first product mock-ups. James (co-founder) had spent years teaching English as a second language in Turkey in a variety of settings; high-end private schools, everyday language institutes and private lessons. James was often struck with what he thought was an inefficient system. I was a recovering finance professional who may have read one too many Paul Graham articles and was looking for an entrepreneurial challenge.  Both located in Istanbul, we came together and built a product for the Turkish market.

Online ELT for Turks: background on the Turkish ELT arena

English proficiency in Turkey is low but improving drastically. In 2007 Education First ran its inaugural English Proficiency Index, at which time Turkey ranked 43rd out of 55 countries (behind Syria, Saudi Arabia and Russia). In 2012, Turkey ranked 32nd. This jump illustrates the push for English fluency in Turkey both at a policy level and within households and companies. With Turkey’s continued emergence as a regional business, tourism and cultural hub – and the very real chance that Istanbul may be awarded the 2020 Olympics this September – the push continues to gain impetus.

From a general linguistic perspective, Turkish is a wildly different language to English. Turkish is agglutinative. For example, suffices are added to a word stem to add person, tense, negation, etc. The English phrase He will not have to eat can be expressed in Turkish as a single word, with eat as the root. The order of words in a phrase is generally very different in Turkish and English. As such, Turkish native speakers are starting at a linguistically challenging position when learning English, compared to students whose mother tongue is a Romance language.

The quality of public English language schooling in Turkey varies significantly. All students take a minimum four years of English language classes beginning in the fourth grade. Yet, depending on the quality of the school being attended, the results are extremely divergent. Most Turks have taken English classes and possess grammar knowledge of English, yet spoken English remains a challenge.

Finally, the Turkish education system is test based. There are qualification tests for just about everything in Turkey. Many universities and Human Resource departments require a grade threshold on an internationally recognized exam such as IELTS or TOEFL. A good score on any recognized exam will always be positive on a candidate’s resume at almost any level, from entry-level positions to the executive leadership.

Turkey’s favourite pastime: learning English!

With these market dynamics (push towards English proficiency, significant linguistic challenges, inconsistent quality of public education, test based education / employment system) it’s no surprise that the private language institute industry in Turkey is extremely robust. There are literally hundreds of companies with multiple locations across the country offering everything from IELTS preparation to Business English and interview skill preparation.

The quality of language institutes in Turkey varies greatly. It’s a rather disorganized market. If you walk down Istiklal Caddesi (one of the main pedestrian drags in central Istanbul) on any day you may receive flyers for five or six different institutes. Almost every institute offers, well, everything. Teachers range from quality lifelong teaching professionals to very inexperienced ESL teachers on a GAP year, and everything between. Some are native speakers, some aren’t. Some teach full time, some don’t.

The outcomes for students attending private language institutes are naturally diverse. Classes are focused on grammar and may contain up to 20 pupils; there is little opportunity to speak. Most adults attend classes after work and in the larger cities of Turkey traffic is a nightmare. By the time students commute from work to the classroom to attend a three-hour grammar class, both motivation and energy can be shot. It’s unsurprising that many Turks drop out before completing their 6 to 12 week course.

If a student fails to complete the course, there is naturally a sense of embarrassment. Similar to many Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, Turks have a strong sense of “face”. After experiencing embarrassment (losing face) they may tend to avoid the situation rather than confront it. The loss of face that can happen when a student drops out of a course can be disastrous. The student is often too embarrassed to even discuss the situation with parents, spouse, co-workers and friends. Success in English might feel out of reach and the idea of attending another English course becomes unlikely.

Inefficient market? Is this really an opportunity?

You can now picture our nightly drawn-out conversations focused on improving a weak student / user experience. From my perspective I saw a large, growing, unconsolidated market with lots of undifferentiated competitors. James was an eyewitness to a student experience that wasn’t producing encouraging results. Our idea was simple: the goal of almost any adult student over the age of 25 was to be able to speak English effectively. We decided to build a product to address that need and that need alone. We like to think of it as online ELT for Turks. Simple, yet effective.

Stay tuned for part 2 …

James and Kris are co-founders of TurksLearnEnglish, a site dedicated to getting Turkish speakers to build communication confidence. For any online educators out there, feel free to take a look at and use our online-self study videos in our İngilizce Dersleri library. You can get in touch with the founders through the contact form on our site or email info@turkslearnenglish.com.

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İngilizce Dersleri: Turkish Soap Operas

İngilizce öğrenmek! Türklere online dersler

In our İngilizce Dersleri series we provide online video learning lessons. These video learning lessons are designed to compliment our online conversation classes. We encourage our Turkish students learning English to use these videos between conversation classes. They are designed to develop a student’s reading and listening skills.

In the İngilizce Dersleri series we use real news articles that are of relevance to our Turkish students as a basis for lessons. This video is based on an article from the BBC published on June 27th 2013. You can find a link to the original article here.

We recommend this article for our intermediate students of English. This is also a great video lesson for anyone taking the IELTS program. The article uses vocabulary from the arts and entertainment fields. The article also uses vocabulary that is common in everyday English.

İngilizce Dersleri: konu ve sözlük

Konu: Dizi, Muhteşem Yüzyıl, Gümüş, Arap ülkeler

Sözlük: soap opera, viewers, heartthrob, forbidden, appropriate, to earn, Arab Region, commonplace, obsessed, audience

İngilizce Dersleri: article synopsis

turkish-soap-opera-İngilizce-Dersleri

In this İngilizce Dersleri we focus on a very recent Turkish phenomenon, the export of Turkish television to the Arab world. Over the last five years, there has been a significant increase in foreign sales of Turkish drama television. In 2007, a mere $1m was made from export of Turkish television. In 2012, the same figure was $130m. One of the interesting consequences of this export is that Muslim viewers from more conservative societies than Turkey, are seeing images of alcohol and pre-marital relationships.

One example of such shows is Magnificent Century (Muhtesem Yuzyil). Set in the Ottoman world, it tells the story of Suleiman the Magnificent, the longest reigning Sultan, and his love for a Western woman in his harem. It looks back at 500 years to the era when Turkish Sultans ruled much of the Balkans and the Middle East. It has been exported to 47 countries mostly from these former Ottoman regions.

The rise of Turkey’s entertainment export market is sure to increase Turkey’s regional cultural status.

As always, let us know your thoughts on this version of the İngilizce Dersleri episode!

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İngilizce Dersleri: How to return a fossil

İngilizce öğrenmek! Türklere online dersler

In our İngilizce Dersleri series we use current news articles that we think our Turkish students will find interesting. These video articles are a reading and listening supplement to our conversation classes. You can find the complete library in our Ingilizce Dersleri section!

This İngilizce Dersleri video is recommended for Intermediate students. The language in the article is focused on an international political incident. The article includes vocabulary based on legal, historic and archeological subject matters. The article provides interesting vocabulary for IELTS students as well as those working in a professional field.

This article was first posted on the Reuters news service on May 6th 2013. You can find a copy of the original article here.

İngilizce Dersleri: konu ve sözlük

Konu: dinazor, hırsızlık, Moğolistan

Sözlük:

Legal vocabulary – prosecutor, judge, court, federal, claimed, to smuggle, repatriation, official, to seize

Historical / archeological vocabulary – expedition, looters

İngilizce Dersleri: article synopsis

dinnosaur-skeleton-İngilizce-Dersleri

We usually like to cover topics that are of particular interest to our Turkish students learning English. For this article we chose to take a break from Turkish subject matter. This article focuses on an international incident between the government of the United States and Mongolia. The two nations co-operated by returning a stolen artifact from the US back to Mongolia, its original home.

The 70-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton found in the Gobi Desert on a joint Russion-Mongolian mission was smuggled to the United States in pieces. The skeleton was then auctioned for more than $1 million, and was returned on Monday by the U.S. government to Mongolia.

Eric Prokopi sold the skeleton at a Manhattan auction last spring for $1.05 million. Mongolia demanded the return of the 8-foot-tall (2.4 meter), 24-foot-long (7.3 meter) skeleton. Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj thanked U.S. prosecutors, judges, investigators and paleontologists in a statement: “Our two countries are separated by many miles, but share a passion for justice and a commitment to putting an end to illegal smuggling.”

We hope that you enjoyed a departure from our typical İngilizce Dersleri subject matter. If there are any vocabulary topics that you would like us to cover in our İngilizce Dersleri series, let us know!

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Harbor at Bozcaad

“Why can’t Turks speak English yet?” They can…

Turks are learning English, but are they speaking it?

The whole world is trying to learn English, and Turks are no exception. As a teacher in Istanbul on and off for the last seven years, I have heard this question often from both foreigners and Turks: “Why can’t Turks speak English yet?”

Last year Güven Sak answered this in a short informative article in the Hürriyet Daily News. After several observations regarding the state of English in Turkey today, he bemoaned the lack of skilled English teachers and relevant education to train educators. It got me thinking.

Despite the obvious ongoing need for more well-trained teachers fluent in English, there is something else worth noting about Turks and their collective knowledge of English. For many, after years and years of English lessons at both school and University, the learning curve plateaus, then stagnates. Turks learning English put down their grammar books, complete their last gap-fill activity, and start life in a professional career. English simply sits unloved and abandoned in the attic.

Turks speak English: a dormant resource

To me, this is an enormous waste of a great resource. Among my adult students, almost all of them had watched their English stagnate and decline, never put into use during their professional career. For some there has been the odd holiday abroad when they could sputter a few questions to ask directions in Rome or Miami, though in general spoken English was a downhill slide once working life commenced.

The majority of my Turkish students, and especially those who had pursued careers requiring professional qualifications, continued to be more and more exposed to authentic English. My students who worked as doctors would attend seminars conducted solely in English, while those in engineering kept up with the latest developments through academic journals. Listening and reading, the passive skills of language, overtook the active. Turks could read and listen to English: they just couldn’t speak it. English conversation was frustrating and often an embarrassing situation for them, and their self-confidence plummeted when they spoke English to a native-speaker.

It’s a widespread issue. Turkey now has a huge number of citizens who in fact possess ‘dormant English’, a good understanding of the language that is, simply, asleep, unused and atrophying. It didn’t take much for me to realize what could help awaken it, and fast.

How to kick-start this dormant English in Turkey?

Internet use in Turkey is on the way up. Household broadband penetration is at 40% and rising. Turks are  becoming more confident about purchasing online. Turkey’s economy continues to perform well and thus economic opportunities are increasing for many citizens.

So why not seize this opportunity? Reawaken the English within Turks without waiting a generation for new teachers to be trained? With the Internet, why not give Turks access to English conversation classes with native speakers? There are a number of providers of online English lessons, offering easy access to native English speakers. For any Turk with a broadband connection, an exhausting evening or weekend commute to a physical classroom is no longer required. Let’s reactivate this passive knowledge and make English an active skill for the growing number of Turkish professionals who need global language and communication.

The Internet can’t provide a solution to all the challenges facing English language education in Turkey today. However, by leveraging the technology and communications infrastructure already in place, we think there’s an immense opportunity to fast-track the English that currently sits as a unused resource within the Turkish population. We’re already seeing great results. Motivation, higher self-confidence, and improved spoken English!

Are you an EFL educator in Turkey or a Turk trying to kick start your dormant English? Let us know what you think?

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Time for culture-specific online language learning: English tailored for Turks.

TurksLearnEnglish.com is excited. We’ve now launched our online English language classes, designed specifically for Turks. For our first post, we’ll explain a little about who we are, what we’ve learned thus far and what we hope to achieve.

Our story is simple. After teaching English to Turks in the traditional bricks-and-mortar classroom, we, the founders of TurksLearnEnglish.com, realised there was opportunity to bring together our knowledge of teaching English to Turks with the benefits of an online setting. As you probably already know, English-language education in Turkey is a big business.  As you are probably also aware, online language education is a rapidly growing part of the wider ‘EduTech’ movement.

Our idea is simply to tailor online English lessons for Turkish native speakers, and we believe this ‘culture-specific’ approach to English language education has linguistic, cultural and motivational benefits. As founders, we have first-hand knowledge of teaching in Turkey, though we think a ‘culture-specific’ approach could work for any group of people sharing a strong common identity.

What do we mean by ‘culture-specific’ classes?

The Internet now provides access to English language lessons to anyone who has a decent Internet connection and a laptop. Livemocha is a successful example of an education start up offering language classes (and has recently been in the news for merging with Rosetta Stone). They offer everything from free ‘community’ exchanges between members to structured courses that can be purchased, and it’s not just for English – they teach a variety of languages.

For the most part, Livemocha is not culture-specific. Any given online class can contain students with vastly different languages and cultures.

Our approach for Turkey will be different. We are launching online English classes that contain only Turkish speakers, and teachers who have experience teaching to Turks.

Three primary advantages to culture specific online language lessons: Linguistic, Cultural and Motivational.

Linguistic advantages

It’s clear to anyone who has even the most basic understanding of Turkish, or to a teacher who has taught Turks, that Turkish exhibits some peculiar qualities.  When a classroom contains students with a common linguistic background, students’ needs are similar if not the same; the time saving is obvious. One student’s mistakes are relevant to all participants and this holds true for vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. Likewise, there are innumerable common mistakes to all Turkish speakers that make entire lessons on ‘Turklish’ an enjoyable and relevant learning experience.

Particularly beneficial is that students assist each other. A student with slightly higher verbal proficiency might assist with vocabulary, while another helps improve his classmates’ pronunciation. The classroom becomes a collaborative experience in which students become educators and where teacher-interference is reduced.

Cultural advantages

Turks, like many cultures, possess a strong identity. As a teacher of Turks for several years, I’m able to make some personal observations about the average Turk learning English.

First, Turks are not particularly confident students; however it’s very easy to motivate them. They are warm, friendly and love to tell an anecdote. Turks of all ages form an strong attachment to their teacher. Turks exhibit a wide range of (interesting) emotional responses in the classroom. The average educated Turk possesses a large body of received knowledge, which can sometimes inhibit the expression of an individual opinion…

Each culture can probably be described with a similar set of phrases. My point is that a collective set of values or behaviors work well if shared in the same learning environment. When a student group is homogenous a teacher can act more effectively. Cultural knowledge helps promote a comfortable class environment and to avoid discomfort and tension.

In Turkey, certain topics remain off-limits, from a cultural perspective. A teacher needs to encourage and motivate Turks, yet be careful not to belittle them in front of their peers, and to accept that self-discipline cannot always be expected. Turks may speak bluntly to another person but take offense when spoken to the same way. They love humor in lessons and Turks are a lot of fun to teach. As with linguistic issues, what is culturally relevant or irrelevant to one student is probably the same for all.

Motivational advantages

Most significant are the benefits of talking about issues of interest to Turks. Most Turks participate eagerly in discussions about the current flurry of Istanbul infrastructure works and the 2020 Olympic bid. Turks spend an inordinate amount of time with their families and they are happy to describe family events, which often make up part of each weekend.  It’s evident that a student needs to be interested in the topic at hand to maintain motivation, so TurksLearnEnglish.com also developed theme-based lessons rather than a curriculum, which allows flexibility during lessons to adapt instantly to student needs and desires.

So far, we’ve found that the culture-specific online classroom is a relaxed environment where students are ready to share. For a teacher with at least some knowledge of the students’ language and culture, it is also less time-consuming to make corrections that are often relevant to everyone present. Best of all, Turks seem as engaged in online lessons as in a physical classroom, and very much able and willing to build a positive learning relationship online.

We encourage discussion and look forward to hearing your ideas and comments!

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