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Project to Research How English is Learned

Why do students from certain countries learn English more easily than students in other places? Why do the most effective strategies for teaching English to Russian and Chinese students differ greatly from those used to teach native speakers? Could a better understanding of what influences the mastery of core English skills help educators design more effective ways to teach? EF Education First (EF) and faculty from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) will attempt to answer questions central to English language acquisition through an examination of language learning methodologies.

The collaboration will begin by focusing on how students acquire written English proficiency. Associate Professor Paola Uccelli and her PhD students from HGSE’s Language & Literacy Program will access written works submitted by Russian, Chinese, and Native English speakers who have studied with EF. The team will contrast the essays, chronicle recurring differences in the prose, and attempt to understand which academic approaches worked best in developing written English language proficiency.

This collaboration is an opportunity for a private international education organization to offer HGSE researchers potential access to unprecedented amounts of data which could reveal new approaches for making English language learning easier for people in every corner of the world.

“We are proud to continue pushing the boundaries of innovation in language education,” said EF co-chairman Philip Hult. “Our research project with the HGSE team is exciting and may reveal how a data-driven assessment of language learning can help students learn English more effectively in the future.”

EF and HGSE researchers are considering additional topics for future study, including the effectiveness of regional pedagogy on spoken English language proficiency, the impact of experiential learning over traditional textbook approaches, and the potential to utilize “Big Data” from millions of EF students to identify new approaches to teaching English.

“This collaboration has the potential to offer important findings to inform research-based assessments and pedagogical approaches to support adolescents as they learn to become skilled writers of academic English in different countries,” said Dr. Uccelli.


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