The Forerunner of our LanguaTest
Our Chinese partners relayed that there is an opportunity in the English language assessment space, especially for university professors of English, throughout China. Through our partners’ relationships, they were able to tee up a meeting in which I would present our ability to assess spoken English. I headed back to China to meet with an executive from the university teachers of English organization. He explained that what he was looking for was a test “that not everybody would do well on”. After some discussion, I learned that they have been in the habit of buying marquis brand English tests from the top tier providers in the U.S and the U.K. Their pain point though, was that they feel there is a great deal of room for improvement for the average university of English teacher’s ability to communicate in English, yet the average score on these well-known tests is always quite high? “We know we must improve. We do not need high marks; we need a truly honest assessment and the diagnostic information so we can improve.”
In preparation for this meeting, we based our assessment technology on the concept of Language Power. Language Power measures how well you can use a language, as opposed to how much you know ‘about’ the language. In our work, this is a very important distinction. Language Power is the ability to speak and be understood, to listen and understand. We felt this was the essence of what our prospective partner in China was in search of.
My face-to-face meeting in Beijing with the executive from the university teachers of English organization was a fascinating encounter. After my initial PowerPoint presentation that outlined the Language Power concepts, the Executive said, “All sounds good. Now I want to try your test.” I thought, there’s no time like the present. We prepared his license, microphone, and headset and then he told us, “I know my spoken English is not good. I should do poorly. Then I want to watch you take the test. And if I do poorly and you do well, we will go forward together.” Again, I thought, this is the fastest way to know what our probability of closing this sale is, let’s do it.
We had a small room full of people in our audience, watching and listening closely as first the executive and then I worked our way through the prototype test we had crafted for this occasion. Our results were ready in fifteen minutes and as you can guess, because you are reading this article ten years later, everyone was satisfied. It was really something to see someone so happy about doing so poorly on a test. This was the real and honest assessment they were hoping for. The executive and his group invited us to lunch to celebrate our decision to move forward. They were excited to introduce us to this interesting-looking dish we had never experienced. The presentation resembled sort of a wagon wheel with a center hub of vegetables and spokes leading out to the rim. We assumed the spokes were a kind of meat. I noticed the meat for me was a bit chewy and innocently asked what kind of meat it was. I guess life really is sometimes like a box of chocolates… it was duck tongue ????.
Over the next two years, we refined and deployed the National Spoken English Test all across China, in partnership with the university teacher’s organization. At the time, for our small Tampa, Florida-based company powered by our tiger team of skilled scientists and engineers in Kyiv, Ukraine, this was quite a milestone. This was how we cut our teeth in the field of assessing Language Power and Understandability. To this day we continue to be a leader and pioneer in the field.
Next up, how the folks back home in the U.S. began to take notice of what we were doing overseas. You will learn how we entered the field of measuring the oral fluency of U.S. school children.