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EnglishCentral Improves Test Scores at Japanese University

EnglishCentral is used by many students seeking to improve their scores on standardized English language tests such as the TOEIC, TOEFL, OPIc, IELTS and many more.

Recently EnglishCentral undertook a study with university age students in Japan to determine just how effective EnglishCentral is in improving test scores using EnglishCentral over a 10 week period.

The results below demonstrate that if students follow the recommenced plan each week, they can improve their overall TOEFL scores 50 points in just 10 weeks.

Research Design & Methodology

  1. Students were given a TOEFL pretest to determine their TOEFL score.
  1.  Students were ask to complete 20 video lessons a week and use EnglishCentral GoLive! (1:1 live tutoring) 2 times per week (“EnglishCentral’s Premium Plan“)
  1. Students who completed the program were given a TOEFL post test to determine their TOEFL score.  This was compared with their pretest and the amount of improvement determined.


In the first semester, 26 students followed the Premium Plan over a 10 week period.  The results were as follows:

  • 11 students achieved gains of 50 points or greater, the highest being 80 points.
  • The average gain for all 26 students was 36.4 points.


The results from the 1st September  compared very favorably with the gain for last year’s 1st year University students, which was 48 points for the entire year.

Stay tuned for an update to this blog at the end of the year to compare full year results.

EnglishCentral thanks Dr. Tom Robb, fellow teachers, staff and the students of Kyoto Sangyo University for their help and participation in this study.


Thomas Robb, Ph.D. , U. of Hawaii (Linguistics), teaches at Kyoto Sangyo University where he is member of the Faculty of Foreign Languages and chair of their English Department. He is a long-time user of computer technologies and the Internet, and has created a number of websites for various student projects, interactive learning and professional exchange. He is currently chief developer of MReader module which administers quizzes on Graded Readers to students under controlled conditions. The site now has some 60,000 students in over 25 countries. He is Chair of the Extensive Reading Foundation and is a past president of both JALT and the PacCALL.

Kyoto Sangyo University is a medium-sized university in Kyoto, Japan with nine faculties with a heavy emphasis on science and technology. The Faculty of Foreign Studies offers majors in 10 foreign languages, the most of any private university in Japan.

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Listen In Feature. Major Improvements

We are happy to announce that our “Listen In” feature in the teacher LMS has a new user experience.  Now you can listen in to all student recordings, whether done in the mobile app or on the web.

You can easily play students’ recordings from the Teacher Tools or download them as mp3 files.   It’s a great way to verify that the student who was assigned the work, did the work.  Also, a perfect way to assess student reading skills. Assign the same video for all students.  “Listen in” and using a reading skills rubric, assess students on their level of surface reading skills – pronunciation, rhythm, phonemic awareness, voice.

listen in 2

Here are the steps for you to try the new “Listen In” feature:

  • Log in to your teacher account and select a classstudent recordings
  • Select “Reports” and then the “Spoken Videos” report
  • Click the “Listen In” icon beside a student’s name
  • Select a video that the student has spoken and “Listen In”!

View a full video demo of the feature in action here >>> or visit your class page and try it out!

We hope you enjoy this improved feature.

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Easy Listening

Did you know that you can learn English with songs on EnglishCentral?

Music is something everyone enjoys and it’s a powerful way to learn or teach English.  The music video lessons produced on EnglishCentral are specially chosen so they are slow, repetitive and meaningful for English language learning. Also, just plain great songs!

Here’s our  list of reasons why music really helps a student learn English or a teacher teach English.  But first try one of the music video lessons yourself – we bet you’ll enjoy it and learn a lot of English!


Here are a few other music video lessons we highly recommend studying or teachers assigning students to complete:

Acapella Blank Space   |    Ukulele Hey Jude   |    Wonderful World  |   Sweet Acoustic Cover

10 Reasons Why Music Is A Great Way To Learn A Language


Music is a proven teaching tool which fosters language retention and production in young learners (Medina, 1993, Jalongo and Bromley, 1984, Borchgrevink, 1982,   Martin, 1983, Mitchell, 1983, Jolly, 1975). Teachers need to read many of the comprehensive studies that show undoubtably that students of all ages learn more and learn better with music

Using music in your classroom will help your students succeed as English language students.  Language itself is musical, speech has flow and form and songs strongly link and teach the underlying patterns of the language itself.  If you aren’t using music in your ELT classroom, you aren’t following strong research driven instructional practices.



Songs, when used correctly, are very motivating for students. Students learn language in a fun way and gain confidence through repetition and voicing. Further, music appeals to the affective needs of students, their inner world and feelings. Music is an input (like stories and pictures) which makes its way through the student’s inner filter (see Krashen’s “affective filter hypothesis”) and helps them learn by appealing to their emotive and social experiences. What pleasures us, teaches us!



The value of authentic language input can’t be undervalued, especially in an EFL environment. Songs are “real” English and provide students with input that is not educational or scripted.  Songs also promote highly valued “ambiguity tolerance”, allowing them to not get too upset when they don’t understand every word.  An important quality we should help our students develop.



Songs are seen by students as “cool” and “high tech”. With the popularity of programs like “American Idol”, singing is mainstream, especially singing with a microphone. Everyone can be a star!  Teens especially learn through music and “pop” culture, teachers shouldn’t ignore this and especially since English language songs are so international and widely popular, the world over.

Further, students like that their favorite songs can be used to help them learn English. Get your students to bring in their own songs to listen to and share in the classroom.  This kind of informal needs analysis really works and is as simple as setting up a “request box” where students can anonymously recommend their favorite English songs.

Songs help create a student centered classroom and gives students a feeling of empowerment and control in the classroom.



Songs and music are such a versatile material.  They can be used for so many purposes and in so many ways other than just as the usual “listening cloze”.  Here are just a few of the main ways music and song can be used as a learning material.

1.  As a listening cloze

2.  As a vocabulary focus

3.  As a game and play

4.  As background music for self study/reading

5.  As an activity (dance and total physical response)

6.  As a social and historical document

7.  As introduction, engagement

8.  As a writing activity (lyric rewrite)

9.  As pronunciation practice / focus (especially intonation & stress)

Songs also have several features beyond just the text/words and sound themselves that make them so pedagogically strong.  Songs are usually very repetitive and they recycle vocabular and language structures.  Songs are short and condensed – they usually don’t take up so much time in class.  Songs are thematic.  You can find a song for almost any topic or grammar point.  All in all, songs offer us teachers pure gold when it comes to choosing a language learning material.



Songs are  the perfect tool to help students begin to see and learn the associations between sound and script – it helps foster phonemic awareness. It is a phonics powerhouse and by using songs with lyrics, teachers are helping young learners to read and recognize the connections of sound, rhythm to text.

Karaoke in particular, has been used in classrooms to help struggling readers and is a mainstay tool of special educators to use with students who have a hard time learning to read. ELT teachers can also use karaoke to do the same and help students to become strong second language readers.  Visual lyric videos and kinetic typography have become very widely available and are now at any teacher’s fingertips.



Students will listen to and learn the songs outside the classroom. It helps students  become “self – learners”.  Further, your own song lessons and files can be made available to students to play at home, on their computers. It extends your classroom into the world and makes it relevant to the larger learning world.

Further, songs are a way to bring students together and create a strong classroom learning community.  Songs are very social.  I remember once teaching a very difficult Grade 4 ESL class. I was their homeroom teacher and students were from every continent of the world. I started us just singing songs every day to start the morning and afternoon classes. What a difference this small change made.  We held hands, we clapped together, we started looking into each others eyes and relating to each other.  Students started helping each other more in class and learning more.  And just plain feeling happier (and don’t think this isn’t an important objective!). All through the power of music and song

When a teacher uses up to date songs in the classroom, students feel like the classroom does not consist of 4 walls but is a part of the wider world. Using music and songs can be a way to bring a lot of fresh air into your classroom, your learning community.



Music is one of numerous forms of “intelligences” (Gardner, 1993). It is important for educators to foster the development of all these intelligences and address the needs of the whole child. Even or especially so with  EFL / ESL  students.  We don’t just teach a subject (English), we teach a student.

Music helps nurture musical intelligence and helps create a fully developed, balanced person. It is especially successful in educating those children with emotional difficulties. Further, it isn’t just something for young learners. At any stage of life, people need to  be intouch with their musical nature. It uplifts, it fosters intelligence, it helps make a person whole.

Too often msuic and the arts are given short attention by educators and we are realizing how wrong this approach has been.  As Ken Robinson has described in his well known TED Talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”,  we have been wrong in considering education as something that happens only from “the neck up”. The whole body should be taught and learn.



Without traveling and directly visiting a country, it is terribly hard to learn the cultural aspects to language and the culture of the wider English language community. Culture is something transmitted and not directly taught.  All English language teachers need to teach culture, it is a cornerstone of what language is.

Songs have been described colloquially as a “repository of culture”, the place where the spirit of a people are described, preserved and shared.  Think of our national anthems, our folksongs, our nursery rhymes. They all contain the core of what we were, are and believe..  Songs are a way to enter into the culture of a community and they transmit the values, ideals, history and nature of the culture. Students benefit and understand the target culture through the deductive, implicit learning that occurs through song.



Who doesn’t like a bargain? Songs are widely available free online and can be found on many video sharing sites and resource sharing communities. Most countries have some level of “fair use” for education when it comes to using songs in our classrooms.  Songs are also low tech – all you really need is a device to play them.  Could be a CD player, a cell phone or your own voice, yes, this too is a “device”!

If songs are anything, they are freedom.  They can be sung and enjoyed for the most part, freely.  It shouldn’t cost you or your school a penny!

If you aren’t using music or song as a study or teaching tool – YOU SHOULD BE!



50 Ways To Use Music And Song In The Classroom.  EFL Classroom 2.0



Borchgrevink, H. (1982).  Prosody and musical rhythm are controlled by the speech hemisphere.  In M. Clynes (Ed.), Music, Mind,and Brain.  New York: Plenum Press, pp. 151-157.

Gardner, H. (1993).  Multiple intelligences: The theory in practice. New York: Basic Books.

Jalongo, M. & Bromley, K. (1984).  Developing linguistic competence  through song. Reading Teacher, 37(9), 840-845.

Jolly, Y. (1975).  The use of songs in teaching foreign languages. Modern Language Journal, 59(1), 11-14.

Krashen, S. (1982).  Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Martin, M. (1983).  Success! Teaching spelling with music.  Academic Therapy, 18(4), 505-506.

Medina, S. (1993). The effect of music on second language vocabulary acquisition. FEES News (National Network for Early Language Learning, 6 (3), 1-8.

Milman, C. (1979).  The metronome and rote learning.  Academic Therapy, 14 (3), 321-325.

Mitchell, M. (1983).  Aerobic ESL: Variations on a total physical response theme.  TESL Reporter, 16, 23-27.

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Ted Talks

tedMany advanced students benefit from watching and studying the best TED Talks on EnglishCentral.

We now have a course of all our best TED videos so students can study them in one handy place.  View the course >>>>

You can find all our hundreds of TED Talks video lessons through our video search feature.


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The Top 5 Strategies To Increase Student Engagement Online

This article by our CEO and Founder,  Alan Schwartz originally appeared on Xconomy. Read the original here.

aschwartz-1283Good teachers often say that “95 percent of good teaching is just getting students motivated.” Online learning presents a new opportunity to both measure engagement and create learning methods that increase it. Facebook sets the high bar for online engagement—65 percent of its billion-plus users are on the platform for an average of 40 minutes per day.

For online learning, the current stats are much less impressive. For example, the initial enthusiasm for massive open online courses (MOOCs) dampened when data showed that on average, completion rates were below 10 percent.

Here are 5 strategies that showcase what best-in-class online learning platforms are using to do just that.

1. Let the students drive. Giving students the choice of a content path is key to increasing engagement. It’s the YouTube effect: let learners discover one video that piques their curiosity and then present them with a learning path going forward from there. Khan Academy has done a fantastic job of this with their learning map.

2. Adapt to the students’ level. Learners need to feel challenged, but not frustrated, and the key to this is real-time adaptive learning. Getting learners content at the right level at the right time, and adapting levels over time is key for keeping up motivation levels.

3. Use game dynamics. Online learners, like online gamers, react to incentives. Brain training is a great example of giving students “bite size” nuggets of learning that they feel compelled to consume every day. These incentives can be modeled more towards the experience points of online gaming platforms like the Xbox, or towards badges or certifications like those offered by Duolingo. The best game dynamics also involve collaboration and/or competition among learners. Knowing where you stand among your age group or even better among your friends can be a huge source of motivation to impress and therefore improve.

4. Go mobile. A slick mobile app is a sine qua non to boost engagement. It’s a simple fact that learners spend more time with their mobile devices than with their computers, and mobile access allows them to make progress and engage anywhere and anytime during their day. Duolingo has achieved over 100 million downloads of its language-learning app and claims great user engagement by making a mobile-focused product that allows for snacking on language learning in 10-minute chunks.

5. Amplify the teacher’s voice. The best online platforms don’t eliminate the teacher’s presence in the learning formula, they amplify it. The best platforms maintain a strong instructor presence through frequent teacher messaging (which can be automated) such as “I noticed you didn’t practice in the last 3 days,” or through tools that allow teachers to listen in on student progress and provide asynchronous and personalized feedback. Hybrid platforms go one step further and enhance the self-study learning path by, for instance, providing a “Talk to a Teacher” button along the way to enable access to live tutoring in real time


Alan Schwartz is CEO & Founder of EnglishCentral. He started his career in edtech as an English teacher in China over 25 years ago. After that he spent over a decade in the speech recognition industry, including as head of Nuance’s Mobile & Consumer division. Follow @EnglishCentral1

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Why our classrooms are failing language students


Is this an effective use of class time? 

Let’s be honest.

Language classrooms don’t have a stellar track record when it comes to students achieving proficiency in the target/taught language.  This despite, hard working, well trained and dedicated staff and teachers.

Why is this?

In my over 25 years as an educator and working in and with schools teaching languages – 3 very strong reasons spring to mind.

1The classroom experience does not contain “agency” or purpose.

The classroom remains an isolated practice area with little relevance to students.  Students become de-motivated when language isn’t the real thing, when it isn’t used for a purpose and is just words in a list or  a mental exercise of memory.

This recent post by a teacher trainer, nicely illustrates the point.  The teacher despite designing a stellar lesson is confronted by student apathy. The teacher planned a very creative lesson about eating food and ordering food in a restaurant in Mexico.  When she asks why one student isn’t into the lessson, the student replies, ““Why the hell would someone like me be traveling in Mexico?”

The point is, students get frustrated when they don’t see the relevancy of the classroom materials and activities. “The future” is a long way away and provides little practical motivation to a student.  Students need to interact with examples of real language, participate and communicate with real target language speakers.  We need to make our classrooms NOT have 4 walls.

2The classroom does not offer students enough time on task with the target language.

All teachers know about this pink elephant in the room – time.  There just aren’t enough hours committed to language instruction for students to make adequate progress. Language learning is time intensive.

Students need more time interacting and experiencing the target language, more time the school schedule doesn’t offer.  Further, the classroom is for the most part a very ineffective use of the time given. So much time gets eaten up with non-subject related “stuff”. Announcements, classroom management, entry/exit etc ….  We need to design a better classroom experience for students and use this precious time better.

I began helping build EnglishCentral because I wanted a solution to these two fundamental problems plaguing language education in this day and age. I wanted EnglishCentral (and ed. tech in general) not to replace the classroom teacher but to support them and at the same time mitigate these 2 fundamental problems.

How does EnglishCentral do that? 

Essentially, EnglishCentral allows schools and teachers to “flip” their classroom.  Students get additional practice with real life language.

EnglishCentral provides authentic input amd takes a natural language approach. Either through the best videos on the web or through our 1-1 tutor GoLive! lessons about the video lessons.  Students interact with real world language that is relevant to their interests and curiosity.  We make language learning relevant and about “out there”.

EnglishCentral also provides a study platform where through mobile learning, students can more efficiently use their non-class time to get much more engagement with the English language.  Students using their smartphones, dramatically increase their time interacting with the English language.  EnglishCentral allows them to use our apps when waiting for a bus, when waiting on a friend, in the city, on the street, in the park.   We compliment the in-class learning by providing meaningful, “comprehensible” input for the student. More time on task = more gains in student oral proficiency.

Find out more about the blended learning approach using EnglishCentral.  Also how you can flip your language classroom using EnglishCentral.




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Evaluating The Impact Of EnglishCentral: New Research


EnglishCentral is constantly being evaluated by professionals in the field.  One recent study is by Shane Dixon of Arizona State University titled:”Evaluating the Impact of an Online English Language Tool’s Ability to Improve Users’ Speaking Proficiency under Learner- and Shared-control Conditions

Here is a brief summary of the research and findings.  

Download the full report

The study looked at EnglishCentral as used by 83 advanced level students in ASU’s AECP (American English and Culture Program) listening and speaking course.  All learners were given a pre and post test to measure their English language fluency using the Pearson Versant Test

There were 3 groups examined. 

1. Learner control.  EnglishCentral “free” study. Students chose the videos lessons or courses they would study on EnglishCentral

2. Shared control.   EnglishCentral controlled study. Experienced teachers selected video lessons and assigned them as a custom course for student study. Additionally, students could also select their own video lessons.

3. No treatment.  No EnglishCentral study but were given an equivalent amount of traditional homework as the 2 other control groups

Research Questions.

1.  In addition to the 168 hours of classroom instruction does the use of EnglishCentral (learner or shared) lead to gains in fluency vs the no treatment group?

The study found significant gains in fluency through the use of EnglishCentral as a study tool vs the no treatment group when in the shared control condition.

2. Is the shared-control or learner-control system in the EnglishCentral environment better at achieving learner gains in speaking proficiency?

Surprisingly, the shared-control group (which controlled for language level/appropriateness) had the more significant gains in speaking proficiency.

3. Is student attitude, operationalized as the combination of motivation, ease of use, and feelings about technology, affected by the learner control and shared control models? Do other variables such as age, gender, first language, and teacher effect learning outcomes?

Student attitude and motivation was a factor. Students with higher comfort using technology generally had higher achievement scores. Teacher attitude towards technology and EnglishCentral use in general was not a contributing factor towards student success (as measured by an additional survey).

The research raises many interesting questions which are described in the full paper.  

Is EnglishCentral better used during class time (as opposed to homework done outside of class, in the study)?

Why is EnglishCentral not as effective when students are given full control of the learning environment?

Read and find more research regarding EnglishCentral here and here.


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Giving Students More Control: Learning 3.0

networkI call what Alan November advocates, “Learning 3.0”. (see the video below)

It is about giving students the space and tools to make their learning relevant to the world. REALLY relevant and actual. Make them active in the community, bring them alive to their potential.

THIS is schooling, learning, education and whatever sticker you want to place on it. Authentic material. Real problems = real learning. Purpose. Learning for the world, not for teachers or just the piece of paper or to get through the year. Knocking down the 4 walls of the classroom.

It is so important that we get off the assembly line and start really letting students venture/learn in and of their own motivation and volition.

This article – “How Teachers & Tech Can Let Students Take Control“, expounds more on the points Alan November makes in the video.  Technology is allowing schools and teachers to treat students less like children, to really make them into the self-correcting, autonomous, independent learners our society needs and our future demands.

We at EnglishCentral see what we’ve built as being central to this change in education. Making school less about babysitting students and more about giving them additional responsibility for their learning – letting them be the ones driving the “learning” bus.

Just an ordinary talk with an extraordinary meaning to those who really want to change things….  Students can add value to the world. It’s up to us teachers, administrators, publishers to let them have a go.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebJHzpEy4bE]

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How is your language awareness?

lookingfordecision2Jack Richards is a big name in the world of English language learning and teaching. In the video below from Cambridge University Press (an EnglishCentral partner), he discusses a number of things that learners need to be able to do well so they continue to develop.

He reviews the research of Richard Schmidt who developed theories related to attention and noticing that have had a large impact in English language teaching. He supports the need for students to become more “language aware” and notice the differences between their own language and that of a native model. The precise thing that EnglishCentral provides so effectively.

Richards states:

“Many people (language learners) develop fossilization, they have learned English, used it for years but contain many fossilized errors, errors that are stuck. They (the learners) don’t seem to have moved beyond a certain stage of proficiency despite repeated opportunities to use English. And I think they are not aware of it because …. they haven’t noticed the common mistakes they are making, no one has ever pointed it out to them.”

Are you someone who is a “dinosaur” and your English just isn’t improving?  Well, according to Richards and Schmidt, you’d benefit from more language awareness, more “noticing the gap” between yourself and native speakers. (read more about noticing the gap – here).You’ll improve faster if you become aware of your own errors and what you can do to improve.

Schmidt even goes further and says (and this recent paper of his is a nice outline of his research):

What happens then within attentional space largely determines the course of language development, including the growth of knowledge (establishment of new representations) and the development of fluency (access to those representations). Evidence continues to accumulate that noticing has a strong impact on second and foreign language learning.

So how do you become more language aware by using EnglishCentral?  Here are a few pointers.

1.  Pay attention to your own speech and the native model. Click on lines you’ve spoken and listen to your own speech and then the speaker of the video. What are the differences?

2.  Listen with intention. The cloze listening activity (LEARN) should be done and learners need to listen for key language when listening. Intention is key to improving fluency and read more in this article.

3.  Use your pronunciation profile.  After you speak 100 lines on EC, you’ll get this in the top right corner in the progress bar. Click it and view what sounds you don’t pronounce well (red).  Become aware of these and practice the courses there to improve (click each sound).

4.  Go Live!  Right now in Korea and Japan, learners can take a free level test and also get one-on-one tutoring. We will be launching this service in other markets soon.

Your tutor is your coach and will help you become more aware of what you are doing wrong and ways to improve. This direct, immediate feedback from a professional is something invaluable and a proven best way to become fluent and become a more “aware” language learner.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_qMGCk7EjI]