Author: Argee Abadines (page 1 of 39)

Interview with Learntalk CEO

I’m excited to share below my interview with Niccolo Luccini, CEO of Learntalk which is an up and rising edtech company in the Philippines. Our previous post on the company was a recent training Learntalk provided to the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines Foundation.

Niccolo Lucini Learntalk

Have you considered becoming a teacher before?

Yes, I, in fact, was an English teacher in China between 2009-2010. I taught English to help pay for my Master’s degree at Cambridge University and my study abroad period at Peking University. I love teaching as no two students are the same. When we started Learntalk, I was one of the teachers, and I still teach on the Learntalk platform from time to time.

What were the useful things that you learned in corporate finance that you are applying in running Learntalk?

While at Citigroup and working in Private Equity in London, I studied thousands of businesses, their finances, business models and met dozens of CEOs and founders. I think this training was key in helping me conceptualize Learntalk.

Why did you choose the Philippines to launch given the poor internet connectivity and service?

The Philippines is home for me. My family is here. Any business I am  going to start is  always going to be here.

Internet connectivity is poor, but it is not that bad. I lived in Central London, and it took me two months to have my internet installed. Things move a lot faster here. I think we have to stop  criticizing  and start thinking of solutions.

The Philippines is an amazing place to set up a business. We have talented, motivated people with a global perspective. Costs are relatively low. Regulations are beneficial for startups. I do not think it is a coincidence that a lot of regional and global startups have chosen the Philippines as their base, such as Lifetrack, Coins.Ph, Payroll Hero, etc.

How do you envision Learntalk in 7 to 10 years time?

A lot can change in 7-10 years. However, there are two premises that underpin Learntalk’s vision of the future:

  1. Live instruction is here to stay. Computers and videos are effective at knowledge transfer. In the language learning space, there are many amazing automated apps using games and videos such as Babbel, or Duolingo or ABA English. However, language learning is more than knowledge transfer; fluency in a language requires a level of ‘muscle memory’ which requires true human interaction be indispensable.
  2. Education is moving online. The internet and smartphones have provided a way to connect students to experts in any field in education instantly, obviating the need for expensive investment in physical infrastructure. This in turn is reducing the marginal cost of education, making it accessible to a much larger audience.

On the B2C (Business to Consumer) side, we are currently developing our app which will make our English teachers accessible, anywhere in the globe, at the click of a button. One click. Within the next couple of years, we would like Learntalk to be present in many more markets, beyond our home market of Spain and South America. Also, I envisage us providing live instruction in multiple languages. Our aim is to make Learntalk indispensable for anyone planning to travel or learn a language.

On the B2E (Business to Education) side , where Learntalk currently provides outsourced language teachers to some language schools and governments in Spain and South America, we are working on deeper backend integration with our clients. Our goal is to link our platform via API with any number of online language schools, universities, and schools so that our pool of expert and trained teachers can be accessible across multiple platforms as a white label solution.

What is the extent of the company’s partnership with the British Council?

We signed a training agreement with the British Council near the end of 2016. They provided teacher training for a handful of senior teachers for a five-month period, culminating in our teachers taking the TKT exam, which is a standardized test for professional ESL teachers jointly administered by the British Council and Cambridge University.

Are there other Edtech companies like Learntalk in the country at the moment?

There are some foreign online language platforms with a large portion of their operations in the Philippines. There are also some ESL call centers which facilitate the outsourcing of language instruction for language schools abroad.

To my knowledge, there are no Filipino-owned live language tuition software platforms that has integrated booking and video conferencing tools like Learntalk, operating in the B2C and B2E spaces. Our current pricing plans, which include Pay As You Go and Total Unlimited features, are equally unrivaled globally as we have adopted principles and business models from the insurance industry. As we release our app and add multiple languages while integrating with our B2E clients via API, our business model will become globally unparalleled.

What innovations are in the pipeline for Learntalk?

We will release our mobile app in Q3 which will make it possible for our students to immediately access a video call, at the click of a button, with one of our professional English teachers.

We have over 200 lesson plans that we have developed in-house and are currently developing an adaptive learning function into our platform. By detecting our student’s interests and level, we can customize an individualized learning path for each student.

We are also in discussions with some online language schools to begin backend integration of our platform via API by year end.

How do you select your teachers for Learntalk?  

We have a rigorous 7-stage automated interview process on our platform whereby teacher applicants are filmed via webcam answering questions under timed conditions. This helps us hire quickly and ensure a high level of grammar proficiency of all our teachers.

We then have a 10-step video training program on our platform, culminating in a live group demo class with our training manager.

What is the current mix of local and international students you have?

90% of our students are international, predominantly from Spain, South America, and Indonesia. We aim to rapidly increase this diversity as we enter other markets early next year.

What are the key challenges the company is facing at the moment and how is the company addressing them?

We completed most of the hiring of our core team in Q1 2017. It was very tough until then, but now I think we are in a good place.

The development team is constantly updating and releasing new functionality to our site which is automating large swathes of our operations and improving the customer experience by leaps and bounds. Our growth team is beginning to understand how to effectively reach our target market, while our operations team now have processes in place.

We are all trying to learn as quickly as possible from all our stakeholders, whether they be teachers, students or potential outsourcing clients. This can be painful as it requires frequent reality checks and admission of failure where appropriate, however ultimately this is positive as we constantly endeavor to improve the experience for all concerned. When we do get occasional positive feedback from a teacher, student or client, it makes it all worth it.

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If you are looking to improve your English skills at the comforts of your home, visit Learntalk to learn more about their technology and offerings.

Teaching English in the Philippines

English Language in high demand

The Philippines, one of the most populated countries in Southeast Asia, is a tropical country with over 7,000 islands. The weather here is wonderful especially in the summer as you can visit world-class beaches in Boracay and Palawan.

Teaching English here is popular as there are plenty of English language skills in need of teachers. A growing trend here is online English schools catering to Korean and Chinese students.

There are also English language schools catering to adults looking to work in call centers and BPOs. These companies require high English proficiency.

So if you are looking to teach adults, you can apply to these English language schools that cater to these service industries.

The country is also brimming with tutorial centers that cater to after school enrichment services for students. These students are looking to boost their grades so that they can run for honors or improve their scores to pass.

The pay is not that high, but you can do longer hours to earn more. There are also opportunities to work on the weekends to enhance your income further. Online English language schools also offer the opportunity to work in the late night or early morning to international students if you are the night owl type.

Students

Based on my experience in teaching Filipino students, they are respectful, and they totally love to learn! They listen intently and will soak in everything the teacher teaches. It will be easy to warm up to them and establish a good learning environment. The class size will be manageable in most cases as sometimes the tutorial is one on one or in small group sessions like five to six students.

If you choose to supplement your income through online English teaching, you will be able to interact with Chinese, Korean or Japanese students looking to boost their language skills. Asians are serious in learning and learning a bit of their language will help build rapport with them. The preparation for these lessons will also be lesser as it is mostly conversational.

Teaching Strategies

If you are teaching kids in small groups or one-on-one, you should use tools like flashcards, charts and other visual devices that can make them active learners. Children love games so tap into that instinct and turn activities into games where they earn points and rewards. In small groups, you can divide the group into teams to make the lesson more interactive.

Online teaching is a bit more complicated so harnessing online tools and apps can make the learning session more fun and exciting. You can enhance writing activities with them using Google docs. You can also create online quizzes for them using tools like Kahoot and Nearpod. There are also apps where you can create flashcards for them to learn vocabulary words. Since most of the learning will be driven by conversations, you have to act animated and pronounce the words clearly so that they can boost their fluency in the language. You can also read aloud stories to them so that they can hear the words and expand their understanding.

Teaching adults will be more formal so you can practice scenario conversation, e.g. interview, or business meeting. You should also help polish their presentation skills so that they can perform well in front of an audience.

Final Thoughts

Being an English teacher is a wonderful profession. You open up a new world to your students as they are now able to navigate the internet and access the English resources as well as get to know more people since English is the standard medium of language for most countries.

Always seek to improve yourself and brush up always on grammar and spelling. Read plenty so that you get to develop your writing skills as well.

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