As Part Of: Digital Education Awards 2020 Winners Interview Series
Written by Louise Gookey | Published: 8th April 2021
Perfectly Spoken provides online English courses with the best teachers from around the globe. It blends traditional teaching with the latest technology and, in 2020, it won Best Digital Language Learning Product of the Year at the inaugural Digital Education Awards.
David De Jager is an experienced CEO with over thirty years of experience in English Language Teaching. He has both Cambridge CELTA and DELTA, along with many years of classroom experience. His passion for teaching has moved online, and he loves the opportunities it provides for both teachers and students. Our journalist Louise Gookey sat down with David on Zoom to talk all about Perfectly Spoken, purpose, and how lockdown has changed education.
Could you tell us a little bit about Perfectly Spoken?
Perfectly Spoken is a custom-built web application that was launched in 2019 to provide an opportunity for students anywhere in the world to study English online.
All our video lessons are conceived, created and delivered by highly experienced and qualified English language teachers. The teachers are the absolute heart of what we do.
This learning is then supported with a massive library of additional learning practise activities, which are delivered synchronously and asynchronously, to help consolidate the learning.
We don't pay for advertising, we believe that the best way to drive interest is to create engaging content for students, so they then come, sign up and spread the word.
To date, we have managed to build a student base of nearly 600,000 students across 200 countries.
You also use tools such as Instagram, Facebook Live and podcasts to engage and educate. Why did you choose to expand beyond traditional learning platforms?
We want to reach individuals who perhaps we would not reach organically, and we also wanted to make sure students are not restricted to a website alone.
We are always looking at innovative ways that we can engage with our students, we are now opening our own forum, we call it a ‘club’, to give students the opportunity to submit writing tasks which will be corrected by real teachers as opposed to a machine.
“The teachers are the absolute heart of what we do.”
So are you looking at blending the two things, the digital world with human contact?
Precisely that - traditional teaching with the latest technology.
You get the experience of being in a classroom, but we use technology, so you can do it anywhere. There is interaction between students from across the world, and it's all directed and managed by one of our teachers.
The teachers love it as an experience, and it is very rewarding for the students as well, there is a genuine connection between them.
Are your courses accessible for people of all abilities?
Yes, we start from elementary and progress to very advanced levels.
The courses are structured within what’s called the CERF framework. This is a European education framework and students get a short 15 minutes entry test which gives them a guide as to where they should start. But ultimately it is up to them, they can choose where to start and if they want to swap courses, it is designed to be very flexible.
It must be such relief to get this advice as knowing where to start can be quite daunting.
Yes, it is really, really important that we give guidance and support students. We are planning to develop personalised learning plans, and we want to individualise the learning experience as much as possible.
“We want to individualise the learning experience as much as possible.”
What are your growth plans for 2021 and beyond?
In terms of 2021, the biggest development for us has been to complete our ‘teams offer’ and that means we can now work with companies of any size and higher education institutions.
They can then build their own teams, they can administer, monitor and report on each individual member within that team, and it's again, it's a very flexible system that is very easy to manage.
We’ve already started trialling with a number of companies and institutions across the globe. At the moment it is quite random because these are people who have approached us.
We are always, always looking to expand our learning content, improve the user experience and how we engage with them. Then it's just about market penetration and taking advantage of any opportunities that arise.
Is it hard knowing where you want to be in the future when so many opportunities are coming your way?
We have always tried to do the two things in parallel - to have certain goals and plans, but not be so rigid that if other opportunities arise we haven't got the flexibility to adapt, to change and to embrace those.
One example that I wasn't expecting at this stage is that we are hopefully going to be moving into the teacher training arena, in conjunction with one of the leading teacher training providers in the UK.
What we have found is that many countries want to focus on English language learning, but their focus is on getting teachers trained first and then cascading down.
We've already done a couple of joint presentations with our partners to improve the English language skills of teachers which have been really well-received.
“Localisation is not going to be the barrier that it used to be.”
How do you think lockdown has impacted education?
There has been, of course, a massive shift to online digital education and I think there will be a realignment and rebalancing once ‘normality’ is restored. While it won't be what it was, it certainly won't be how it has been, so I think it will be a blend of the two. I think that education institutions, in particular, will take advantage and provide a blended learning experience.
I believe it will be far more affordable, and it will democratise education even further because it will make it more accessible. Also, localisation is not going to be the barrier that it used to be.
Students used to follow a strict timetable, in the future it won’t happen like that, it will be far more fluid and flexible. Part of what they do will be done from the comfort of their homes and I think that model will effectively be global.
I am very keen to point out that I don't think we can ever replace the importance of having face-to-face tuition and the importance of the social environment.
What technology trends are having the greatest impact on digital education at the moment?
There’s an increasing movement and awareness of the importance of individualised learning as opposed to a homogenous group. As well as how we capture students and how we keep them involved and engaged.
Also, trust. It is our obligation to ensure that we provide a safe and true environment, meaning we are totally open and honest about what we do. We are here to educate, we are not in the business of collecting or selling your data. I think this will become increasingly important as it has been doing in other environments.
Where are you in your Global Businesses Development Plan?
We are on track in terms of our growth. We like to do primarily organic growth, and we want to make sure we are delivering a good service to any student who comes and joins us.
We are also expanding into key markets that we identified a couple of years ago, they are principally the Middle East, Far East and Latin America. But one of our largest markets are English-speaking countries. There is a need for people who have migrated there to improve their English for working opportunities.
Have you got any purpose projects to help disadvantaged people access education?
This goes to our very core. When we first created our premium model, we were told that we were possibly giving away too much for free. But we were quite adamant that we felt our model was right because we are aware that for many people paying any subscription fee at all is just not feasible.
What any learner can get is access to 300 lessons delivered by expert teachers for free.
We also work with quite a number of NGOs, both in the UK and overseas. We work with a large refugee charity in the UK, and they get access to all our content, and it does help. It gives some empowerment because if you don't have a good command of English it really does put you at a disadvantage in the labour market.
We are then working with a number of other NGOs in other parts of the world where we will give them access either for free or very low cost.
You have over 30 years of experience in Education - what makes Perfectly Spoken stand out from the other education platforms?
Access to lessons delivered by highly experienced, professional English language teachers on your mobile anywhere in the world. That’s what makes us different.