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Interview with Robert Phipps

Introduction
Today we are talking to Robert R. Phipps, an English language trainer and entrepreneur from Great Britain. Robert has been living and working in Hamburg, Germany for several months. He owns a successful language school called Hamburg English and runs several Internet-based English language training systems that help you improve your English and prepare for the TOEIC exam. One of those websites is WorldTOEIC.com and you will learn more about it in the following interview.

Torsten:
Robert, I read in your CV that you have experience in dealing with radio frequency reception/amplification. Have these skills helped in you creating your TOEIC preparation portal?

Robert Phipps:
This is certainly true Torsten. The combination of engineering ability and English language training gave me the tools to impress in-class ideas and concepts onto the internet. Our TOEIC Preparation and business English portal at OnlineEnglish.eu, additionally our Instant English proficiency testing system based upon the Common European Framework at TheEnglishLink.de are just two examples of this work.

The basis and strength behind Hamburg-English is that business and engineering experience are combined with English language teaching. This approach allows us to work directly with businessmen and engineers with the vocabulary and understanding needed to properly integrate training into the student's workplace.

With these in-house skills, we have also been able to satisfy our own internal development needs such as our internet based class administration system we call 'At the Touch of a Button', which greatly reduces administration and improves communication in cases where English language classes are completed at remote customer premises. There are many other online systems we have created for the benefit of our customers including centralized SMS for class cancellation, student class placement testing, job applicant testing and our customer services area.

Our business and engineering skills have also lead to further training opportunities for competent ESL speakers in project management, presentation and negotiation to name just a few.

The concept behind combining English language training, business and engineering has been quite interesting and sometimes comical. One of my very first lessons was with a class of electronic design engineers, who had participated in several classes with other English language teachers. They sat there with those 'Oh-not-another-English-Teacher-eyes', but were totally surprised and nearly fell of their chairs when their English teacher went to the flip-chart and instead of English grammar, started to draw the electronic circuit diagram of a power supply, naturally with an English description of operation. The students had never seen such an English teacher before. The class was so successful, interesting and fun for all.

My most recently completed development, about to be integrated into OnlineEnglish.eu, is an exercise generator. A student will be able to copy and paste any text they like from newspapers or articles into a box and a lesson will be created automatically for them. This will be a great resource to allow the improvement of grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure. Also, they can use texts that are of personal interest to them improving motivation and concentration.

Torsten:
All this sounds very intriguing and I'd like to learn more about your Exercise Generator. I suppose it allows any user to create interactive multiple-choice questions?

Robert Phipps:
The exercise generator creates missing word exercises by randomly taking words out of the text a student enters, then offering those words back to them in a mixed format creating at the same time, a text exercise in “sentence format” with input boxes where the words have been removed. Each time they enter the text, it will create a different exercise in respect to the number of, and which words are taken. Once the student has entered the words, the exercise will check and show them the number of words they had incorrect, as well as the position of the words in the sentence and what the correct words should be.

Students need to read, learn and understand the text they enter to be able to put the words back in their correct place. This means that students get intensive training not only on grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure, but also have the opportunity to get accustomed to Standard English phrases and idioms. All these are very important points in the TOEIC test.

If at any time a student does not understand something or cannot find a suitable answer on the website, they always have their own personal trainer to help them quickly by email. Our email support of students has been very successful. All participants enjoy the fast response given and even our trainers involved with student support, who by the way are authorized TOEIC administrators, enjoy contact with students from all over the world, learning about their interesting culture and life.

We actually have one development that can create multiple choice exercises from pasted text, but we only use it to create our own exercises. Maybe we will include this in OnlineEnglish at a later date.

Torsten:
Robert, it seems that you concentrate your efforts on providing tools and materials for professional people who want to take the TOEIC test. How important do you think is a good TOEIC score in the business world today and how does the TOEIC compare to other international English language certificates such as The Cambridge Exams?

Robert Phipps:
HamburgEnglish was established to offer business people and companies a unique opportunity for learning English. Our main concentration is in the Hamburg area offering many companies and international organizations English language and professional training onsite. My first contact with ETS was as one of the largest TOEFL Test centres in North Germany. After the TOEFL went Internet based we dropped our official TOEFL Test centre status. I then looked for something better and more suitable for the measurement of English proficiency which additionally, better met our own objectives.

I looked at the Cambridge test, but its lack of testing availability was for me a negative factor. It was then that I looked at the TOEIC Test and thought this is exactly what companies need and what we need. We integrated the methods and practices of the TOEIC Test into HamburgEnglish and it became apparent that unlike the Cambridge test, TOEIC Test training and preparation really needed to advance. This was taken into our own development activities in support of business English training resulting in OnlineEnglish. It is prudent to know that we have not neglected the Cambridge Test. We also actively prepare and train students for this test and support this activity with our Common European Framework online test system.

The TOEIC Test is a practical measurement tool that offers companies the chance to standardize the measurement of English proficiency in the workplace using a system that has been proven over many years. A person cannot pass or fail the TOEIC Test and it is not a training course. In comparison, the Cambridge test is an academic measurement tool concentrating mainly on British English. It is a training course with different tests at each stage of the course where a person can pass or fail.

Nowadays many companies and universities worldwide accept both the TOEIC and Cambridge test certificates and use the scales of each system to set a requirement for employment and enrollment respectively. Having a valid TOEIC or Cambridge Test certificate could be a person’s key to career success and will definitely open up a much wider horizon of employment opportunity to them. Currently the TOEIC Test is the most widely spread English language proficiency certificate in the world and this, together with better availability, might in one’s eyes give the TOEIC Test the advantage.

Torsten:
I read all the positive customer comments and testimonials on your site it's obvious that WorldTOEIC.com provides an excellent online training facility that simulates the a real TOEIC test session. Can you please tell me more on how you created those tests. I mean, who wrote the materials and what kind of speakers did you employ?

Robert Phipps:
I personally wrote all the material and exercises on OnlineEnglish and the speakers are our own trainers and teachers, naturally also including myself. To allow me to write so many exercises, I first created tools and these wrote the questions for me. I only had to give the tools the correct information and then check each question for suitability.

The exercises at OnlineEnglish (worldTOEIC) were created from our own experience during 2 years as an Official TOEFL Test centre and then later, Official TOEIC Test centre. We have been an Official TOEIC Test centre now for some 4 years, regularly administering test sessions and preparing people to take the test. My contact with the test goes further than just being a test centre, I believe in the TOEIC Test and regularly become involved with many like-minded people on an international basis.

OnlineEnglish was originally an English learning website, which we offered to our business customers to allow them to continue their English training outside the classroom. Given free of charge, it offered us a unique advantage over our competitors. The exercises were set in courses from beginner to advanced with certification between courses. Additionally the website had a business English area, which included exercises from my own ideas and also exercises requested by our customers. Quickly the website grew and specific English lessons for different customer products and business fields were added. Many other schools asked to use the website and contributed to its success. This website was later removed to make place for what is today OnlineEnglish TOEIC Preparation online.

My knowledge and experience over and above teaching the English language, has come from analyzing thousands of TOEIC Test questions and speaking to countless students both before and after sitting the test. In this time I learnt not only the background and theory of the TOEIC Test system and its methods, but also a very large amount from student feedback in respect to the problems they had preparing for the test. I watched students during test sittings, noting down where they seemed to loose time and how they approached the questions. I also looked very carefully and critically at the materials available for TOEIC Test preparation.

All this information was collected and to it I added my strong beliefs in the advantages of focused training. I saw a need to create a TOEIC preparation resource that did not forget the importance of learning the English language, something that seemed to be lacking in a majority of the preparation material then available. I wanted to make sure that this tool included all the tricks, tips and advice I was allowed to give out, which in turn, allowed a student to remove the disadvantage of not knowing the test. Finally I wanted to include everything I had learnt from past test takers such as solutions for not knowing how to approach questions, or being disadvantaged by not being accustomed to the test.

Writing all the questions, doing all the audio recordings, creating the website and putting everything together into what exists today has taken me over 4 years and countless hours in front of a computer, but I have enjoyed every minute of it and the responses we now receive from students mean so much to me.

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The techniques of focused training are added to OnlineEnglish with the performance monitor and a 45 minute TOEIC Estimate test. The estimate test is very complex and it took many years to actually create the algorithm it uses. On the performance monitor a student can see their estimated TOEIC level and a breakdown of their level into question categories. This allows the student to see where they need to learn, so they have the chance to speed up the learning process.

TOEIC Test preparation is catered for by specific exercises that I wrote based upon real TOEIC Test questions from countless test sittings. As a student completes the exercises, they can see their progress and their improvement and this leads to motivation. English vocabulary and grammar training is forgotten and is enhanced with the "Lets Learn English" area, which includes exercises for the main points of learning English. The Video library helps students further improve their listening comprehension and their ability to recognize questions in spoken English, a very important ability in the TOEIC Test. Our TOEIC tips and advice area includes our experience as a test centre and feedback from students. It includes advice from getting ready for a test, test procedures to how best to approach the different question types. Our trainers and TOEIC administrators offer email support to each and every student which then compliments the whole training experience and brings life and interaction to the website.

Then one day a member wrote to me telling me how thankful they were and how great the OnlineEnglish was, but also, that the website did not contain a full TOEIC test and to get that experience they had to use a book! I was shocked that I had forgotten to include this most fundamental point in the training; getting accustomed to the timings and pressures of the test. A BOOK! I shivered and naturally I immediately set about creating and adding to the website, the first and I believe the only full online TOEIC test available.
Author: Robert Phipps