Celebrating International Literacy Day with our own people

At Pearson English, rather a lot of our time is spent thinking about learners and teachers. Their needs, what engages them, what delights them, what will get results for them. Then, a couple of months ago, Pearson Brazil’s Social Impact Manager began a project in...

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At Pearson English, rather a lot of our time is spent thinking about learners and teachers. Their needs, what engages them, what delights them, what will get results for them.

Then, a couple of months ago, Pearson Brazil’s Social Impact Manager began a project in which Pearson people use their educational knowledge to work with local communities. And someone in the office asked: “what do we do to help Pearson employees learn English?” And everyone looked at the floor because we knew we should be doing more.

What about our own people? We’re an enormous global company with over 30,000 employees producing some of the best English Language Teaching resources in the world. Our mission is “Always Learning” and we must bring that vision to life by helping colleagues from around the world improve their English language skills. Many of our people don’t speak English as well as they might like to. So the next question was obvious: what could we do to improve that?

It’s not easy to fit study in around work, as most people reading this blog might already know. We needed something motivating, something that was also fun and easily accessible; a resource that showed clear English progression.

Enter…the Pearson English Readers! Of course.

Scales can be tricky. Misled interpretations of the CEFR levels can lead to false expectations. A2, B1 and B2 are all twice as wide as A1, which is why progress seems to slow when learners hit the “intermediate” plateau. The Global Scale of English (GSE) (Link to GSE pages) can help with this, with its granular reporting scale. Motivation is absolutely key as well.

I and others have blogged before about the extraordinary results extensive reading and extensive listening can produce. Pearson is pro-extensive reading, for the record. In the past, we’ve worked with Book Aid and Save the Children to bring the magic of reading for fun – while learning English – to child refugees and kids around the world who don’t get access to English tuition. Pearson as a company is a supporter of Project Literacy.

The power of extensive reading to improve English proficiency and exam results, and even prompt a reading habit in a student’s native language, is no longer up for debate. As well as Professor Paul Nation’s enormous body of work over five decades, there are hundreds of papers, case studies and testimonials on the many and varied ways extensive reading is amazing. Krashen, Hegelsen and Mason are good places to start. There are also extensive reading events and conferences happening each year, all over the world – visit the Extensive Reading Foundation to find one near you.

With the question of whether extensive reading and listening works having been answered long ago, we turned our attention to an unanswered question. Extensive reading requires frequency, variety of titles, student selection, quiet, personal time in which to read… Day and Bamford said it all in 1997. We could help improve our colleagues’ English using extensive reading, but how to provide a lot of readers per learner, available in all levels, so that they could pick something interesting each time they wanted to read a new book? There are so many of us at Pearson – even taking out the native English speakers (and they can read ELT readers too), printed books were not practical.

As many teachers, parents, Directors of Studies and Ministry of Education employees have done before us, we turned to digital in order to scale our product.

Today, on International Literacy Day, we are offering online access to 40 Pearson English Readers ebooks with audio embedded, free for one year to all Pearson employees on our new digital subscription platform, Reader+. We’re also throwing in access to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English online (link:http://global.longmandictionaries.com).

There are titles from Easystart to Level 6, from Robert Louis Stevenson and Nathaniel Hawthorne to Charles Dickens and biographies of Martin Luther King and Pele, so we hope the selection has something for everyone. The idea is to do something win/win – we will find out more about what needs improving in our subscription platform and our content, and Pearson people can use the Pearson English Readers to improve their own lives through learning.

So, no more looking at the floor, unless someone asks me why we didn’t do this sooner. In which case I’ll ask them how many visits to the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour they think is too many. They’ll either run away or I’ll make a new friend!

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