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Interview with UsingEnglish.com

Introduction:
UsingEnglish.com is one of most popular ESL places on the Internet providing you with free language learning resources and materials. Today we are talking Richard Flynn, one of the co-founders of this interesting project. For information on our partners, please click here.

Torsten:
Richard, UsingEnglish.com was started by you and Adam King. As far as I know you are two ESL professionals from London. How did you meet and when did you decide to create your own website?

Richard:
I met Adam through a mutual friend when I came back to the UK after some years teaching in Portugal. His background is in computing and we started writing an ESL program together, then decided to start the website in 2002. At first, he handled the computing and I handled the ESL, but over time the separation has become slightly blurred, but he basically is responsible for designing and running the site, while I deal with the content.

Torsten:
What motivated you to create and maintain UsingEnglish.com?

Richard:
Before we set the site up, we had a forum in Delphiforums and wanted to move on from there. The internet offers so many exciting possibilities and tools for ESL sites that we wanted to start using them and building up a site. I enjoy watching things grow as we keep adding to them, making things better and offering more. Over time, the site has grown considerably and I find this rewarding. It is very time consuming and much of our free time is spent dealing with the site, but I find it very rewarding. You also see through the increase in traffic that people are finding it worth visiting and using, so there is a direct result.

Torsten:
As far as I understand you are currently working in Asia while Adam is back home in London. How does the distance affect the way you are working on UsingEnglish.com?

Richard:
Distance doesn't really affect anything; we had plenty of time to get ready for this and the site can be udpated from anywhere in the world. The time difference, seven hours, means that we have to arrange times when we can have a Messenger real time chat, and it can be difficult to find a time convenient for both. Most of our communication, however, is through email, so it has been smooth so far. When I was in London, we were able to meet regularly, which I miss, but we'll catch up when I'm back in the UK.

Torsten:
Working as an ESL trainer in various countries around the world gives you the opportunity to experience cultural differences and try new teaching methods. How much of the knowldege you gain in the classroomis reflected in the contents and materials on your website?

Richard:
Our site forum gets students and teachers from all over the world, so we have a rich cultural input there. Having experience of living and working in other countries, as well as the cultural diversity in the UK, both in classes and in London itself, helps us understand something of the difficulties students from different cultures face. At the moment I am learning Khmer, a language different from English in almost every way and the first non-European langauge I have studied, which is helping me see the struggle that people from diiferent language families have. In this part of the site, we can deal directly with questions from learners every day, and you start to see the patterns from different regions and learn how to answer questions the best way. We get thousands of posts a month, so you get used to answering questions from all over the world on a daily basis. I never know what questions will be asked when I boot up.

We try to create materials that will help people handle these problems. I often write a quiz, say, following a question that has come from the forum, or come up in class, so we can create things that target needs as they become clear. One of the joys of the internet is the ability to expand, unlike books, so if we see something useful, we can make it quickly. I still get a thrill from the way the internet removes distance and makes such communication possible.

Torsten:
You are right, the Internet allows us to communicate and collaborate with people who are halfway around the globe like you. Why did you choose Cambodia as your place of work and how long are planning to stay there?

Richard:
I'm only going to be for a couple of months and then I'm moving on to Japan. I had been living in the UK for several years and fancied living abroad again, though I will be returning to London in the summer.

Torsten:
How would you describe the ESL market in Asia at the moment? What role does the English language play in Cambodia for example?

Richard:
In Cambodia, as in much of Asia, the ESL market is booming. The tourist industry is expanding rapidly, new universities are opening and there is a huge demand for education. NGOs and organisations like the UN still play a big role in Cambodia, so English is important for many jobs and people want to learn it. The downside, however, is that it is expensive to study in language schools, and the prices are outside the range of many people. Outside the capital and larger towns, there is less access, so inequalities are being created.
Because of the speed of the expansion, the ESL market has many of the features to be expected of a boom; there are very fine institutes with highly qualified professional teachers and places where untrained native speakers are working. Some of the schools here in Phnom Penh have thousands of students, so the demand is great and certain to stay that way.

Torsten:
How important is the Internet in Cambodia and other Asian countries? Are online English classes and free ESL web resources an alternative to conventional language schools?

Richard:
From my experience with UsingEnglish.com, the Internet is very important for ESL learners in Asia; a lot of our traffic comes from Asia and the demand for ESL reources online seems insatiable.

In Cambodia, Internet cafes are opening everywhere, so the market is growing. It is still relatively new and for many access is expensive and I don't think that it's an alternative to conventional language schools yet, though as prices come down and broadband spreads, it probably will emerge as an alternative in the urban areas.
Author: Torsten Daerr