English learners making headway with chat lines

Updated: 2012-02-29 08:02

By Li Wenfang (China Daily)

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GUANGZHOU - If you are a native English speaker and happy to talk on a wide range of subjects, you may land a job chatting on the phone with Chinese people eager to improve their skills in the language.

Calling for a brief and meaningful conversation is proving increasingly popular as demand for English language training continues to rise.

English learners making headway with chat lines

Xu Yong, a math teacher in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, registered his 16-year-old son a couple of years ago for the specialist chat-line service run by the E-Easy English company.

"He was not keen to talk in English, and it was hard to find any topic to talk about," said Xu. "I gave him some science books that he liked to help him."

The phone-chat program lasts 10 minutes a day, five days a week, with breaks during the vacations, and topics of conversation, not surprisingly, have included scientific ones such as earthquakes and tsunamis.

The trainers come from the United States, Canada and Australia, and all sessions are recorded for parents' reference.

"This kind of teaching is convenient and saves time," Xu said, adding that a three-month program costs 2,260 yuan ($360).

"My son showed marked progress a year after he took the program and speaks great English now. He is able to think in English and has become much more outgoing."

Another company that offers phone chats in English, Linewow Education Consultation, says its current monthly income is five times what it was in 2009.

Founded in Shanghai in 2006 and now based in Beijing, the company is training about 1,400 people, 30 percent of whom are in Guangdong province, said its general manager, Ji Ruiyou.

"Our students were mainly white-collar workers, business owners and middle-class people, but now they include civil servants, children, elderly people, students and parents of students studying abroad," Ji said, adding that some domestic and international companies also use the chat service for their employees.

"They want to improve their self-confidence, be enrolled in universities abroad, boost their performance at work, move forward in their career, improve their English academic performance or take greater interest in their children studying abroad."

In cooperation with foreign universities, Linewow employs about 130 foreigners full-time, who telephone from Canada and the Philippines to chat in English on set topics, in the afternoon or at night Beijing time.

Spiiker Education Group, which also offers English training by phone, has seen its business in the Chinese market doubling or quadrupling every year since it was founded in Guangzhou in 2009, said He Wenxuan, from its marketing department.

The company has more than 200 foreign trainers from Canada, Australia and the Philippines and more than 1,000 students, including corporate clients, he said.

Former president of Guangdong Teachers' College of Foreign Language and Arts, Tang Xiling, said learning English was not only about the language but also about cross-cultural exchange. Talking to a foreign teacher by phone helps expand the scope of knowledge and ways of thinking, Tang said.

This type of teaching is more flexible than traditional teaching in the classroom, she said, stressing the importance of parental supervision in achieving the desired result.

The phone program makes up only part of the expanding English language training market in China as the country becomes increasingly involved in the global arena.

Zhang Yiren contributed to this story.