Online methods to improve English communication skills of international teams and crews

Innovative methods EnglishCentral help improve spoken English and expand vocabulary
EnglishCentral offers the largest online video library designed for English language learning, including videos for specific industries like Spot On Learnings maritime courses. The online learning platform’s methodology is based on what experts call ‘content-based, personalized language immersion’. Data-based feedback and personalised tools help engage and motivate the student and work towards individual learning goals. Students expand their vocabulary in a sustainable way thanks to the built-in spaced-repetition methodology. A unique feature of EnglishCentral is how it helps students improve their spoken English, including pronunciation. EnglishCentral uses advanced speech technology to make this possible. Please allow us to explain what all this means.

Immersion

When using EnglishCentral students focus not only on learning English as a language, but they primarily dive into particular subjects -- called  ‘topics’ by EnglishCentral -- and learn English while immersed in those topics. While being confronted with (video) content about certain subjects the learning starts. The subjects or topics become the vehicle for acquiring important English language skills.

This method is like being in an environment where you learn English by being in the company of native English speakers and receiving help to understand them in the target language (English), instead of your own first language. As we will discuss later on in this article, students will also start speaking immediately, by listening and repeating what they hear from native English speakers, imitating how they sound.

Vocabulary acquisition

Progress on EnglishCentral is - among other things - measured by vocabulary acquisition. The students are exposed to words while watching and listening to videos. The system helps them learn the meaning of the words by a built-in interval-based learning system. In the ‘learn’ mode of the video based system students are asked to listen carefully and to type in certain ‘missing’ words.

More than only the meaning of words

In order to be able to remember and type the missing words they have to develop an understanding of the meaning of the word, how it is used in a specific context and while learning they learn it’s spelling in relation to how it is pronounced. Quiz functionality helps learners to develop not only definitional knowledge (what words mean) but also collocational knowledge (how words are used in phrases and expressions) of the words they are studying in a wide range of contexts.

The contexts can also be very specific, like the English which it is needed to work safely on board of a seagoing vessel.

Pronunciation

A unique feature of EnglishCentral is how it helps students improve their spoken English, including their pronunciation. EnglishCentral has developed a proprietary pronunciation assessment model using advanced speech technology. The student first listens to a sentence in a video fragment and then repeats the sentence. The student should try to imitate the pronunciation of the (native) speaker in the video.

Students are graded by how similar they sound to native speech and receive immediate, personal feedback. When the student's speech differed significantly from that of a native speaker, the grade will be lower than the maximum score. This provides learners the opportunity to “notice the gap” between their own speaking and in-context native speech.

A grade for pronunciation is displayed after every line. After the final line, the student is given a grade, and earned points for the dialog. This direct feedback has proven to be a great way to engage and motivate the student.

Personalisation (part 1): pronunciation dashboard

When the student has spoken enough lines, the system has collected enough information to generate a personal pronunciation dashboard. That dashboard shows most of the 44 so called phonemes (sound units) of the English language. The color of a tile with the phoneme symbol on it tells the student if his (or her)  pronunciation of that specific phoneme is  weak (red), average (orange) or strong (green). By clicking on sounds that can be improved the student can learn more about the use of that sound in English and can start practicing on words that contain the sounds that need improvement. After some exercises the system gives direct feedback on progress made.

Personalisation (part 2): study list

Another personalised feature of EnglishCentral is the personal word list. The system tracks every word the learner sees, speaks, and studies and adds all words to a personalised study list. The EnglishCentral vocabulary learning system is based on an analysis of  over 400 million words.This analysis is used to identify and rank the most important vocabulary words by difficulty level.

The student can sort the list in several ways and trigger a quiz function, which acts as a so-called ‘spaced-repetition’ vocabulary learning system. This is a learning technique which is prominently used in flashcard based systems and has proven to be very effective. EnglishCentral goes even farther than flashcard based systems by providing spaced-repetition learning in the context of authentic videos.  Providing authentic context increases retention and improves the experience.

Motivation and relevance

EnglishCentral offers the largest online video library designed for English language learning. Spot On Learning uses this massive library to provide students with material that they often find interesting and diverse. This has proven to motivate students. Also Spot On Learning has developed a collection of videos for the maritime world. This makes it possible to build a specific maritime vocabulary, which is necessary for maritime professionals to be able to work in demanding environments, comply with relevant rules and regulations and above all, work safely.

Start at the right level and work towards clear goals

Both EnglishCentral and Spot On Learning believe in giving students control of their own learning by defining clear goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them. We do this by always starting a program with one or more tests to determine the entry level of the student. Also, the tests helps determine which skills need most urgent improvement. An EnglishCentral level test (a conversation with a teacher over Skype of 20 minutes) serves to determine the CEFR level of a student, but also grades:

  • Grammar & vocabulary

  • Pronunciation

  • Speaking

  • Fluency

The results of the initial level test help choose courses that match the entry level and work upwards, towards the required (or aspired) level. EnglishCentral has a huge library of graded material. Specific learning interventions can be chosen to address certain (sub)skill gaps of a student.

Continuous feedback, personalised and data-based

EnglishCentral uses speech, clicks and other actions by students as input and continuously provides feedback to the user. The student recieves immediate feedback and the system encourages the student to try again, look into incorrect answers and in that way improve. The spaced-repetition method of EnglishCentral helps the student grow their vocabulary sustainably.

Besides feedback to the student EnglishCentral provides analysis and progress information to teachers and others involved. A wealth of information is collected, which can - among other things - be used to continuously measure effectiveness of the platform, content and methods themselves.

Research into effectiveness of the program in specific contexts

Spot On Learning has been using EnglishCentral as a tool in the maritime industry for several years. Around 1,000 seafarers and other maritime professionals have been tested and have participated in the Maritime English Program designed by Spot On Learning.

The program starts with a general English program if an entry test shows that the English proficiency level of a maritime professional is below the level required. When the required level is reached the student can proceed to specific maritime video courses, to expand his maritime English vocabulary.

Research shows that participants show measurable progress if they exercise regularly, using the platform provided by Spot On Learning and EnglishCentral, to go through the maritime program. The program is designed in a way that exercise can be done in blocks of about 8 weeks. More about research into the effectiveness of EnglishCentral and Spot On Learning’s Maritime English Education Program is available elsewhere on this website.

If you have questions about how EnglishCentral is used by Spot On Learning, in the maritime industry or in other industries or if you would like to hear more about the methodology behind Spot On Learning’s (maritime) English programs, please contact Spot On Learning and ask for Eelco Kraefft.

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