Anmber Siddiqui describes how the British Council is using the social networking site to boost effectiveness of the region’s language learning
The British Council’s Learn English Mena Facebook page is revolutionising English language learning across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region and attracting more than 10,000 new fans every week. The Facebook page, specifically tailored to learners aged 18–35, is exceeding all expectations. It now has more than one million fans, an increase of over 200 per cent in less than eighteen months, and ranks 33rd in Social Watch List’s top Mena Facebook pages.
The page takes learning out of the classroom and into the social media world, and is part of a wider plan to engage learners and start to change attitudes and empower individuals to learn independently. It aims to draw learners into the wealth of interactive self-study materials the British Council has to offer and demonstrate how learning alone – or with virtual friends – can be fun and effective.
The page offers a range of dynamic interactive activities including daily updated content from the British Council Learn English websites, diverse discussions, quizzes and competitions. The most popular feature, receiving more than 200 likes per session, is the English Doctor service where a highly experienced British Council teacher is available online to answer questions, offer advice and tips, and to direct fans to relevant resources.
In addition to social media, the British Council has developed a suite of other digital products such as content- and resource-rich websites targeting kids, teens, teachers and parents, and mobile apps for English and Ielts as well as reasonably priced online courses for learners and teachers. The British Council’s focus on an on-demand approach to independent learning is one of the most effective ways to reach its goal of engaging with twenty million English language learners by 2015 across the region.
‘We use surveys and analytics to ascertain what the fans want on the page, and then provide appropriate and engaging new content every day in order to help boost confidence and improve vocabulary, grammar, conversation skills, fluency and pronunciation,’ explained Dalia Adel, regional digital English project manager for British Council Mena.
Learning English is rapidly growing in popularity in the Mena region, as it increases its interaction with the international business community following the Arab Spring.
According to Nic Humphries, director of English for the British Council Mena, ‘English is an essential life skill, and research we have carried out shows that strong English skills not only provide better access to employment but also impact on salary levels. We know that many learners of English in the region face huge challenges in accessing good-quality language training, and so learning independently is the only option for some people. The British Council’s efforts in developing its social media and online resources are focused on helping people develop the skills they need to be successful autonomous learners. The Learn English Mena Facebook page is a key part of that.’
A growing number of fans are teachers who can use the page as a platform to interact with their students or to access other resources such as the dedicated Teach English Better website, which has hundreds of British Council English language lesson plans and provides online professional development courses.
‘Social media, mobile apps and podcasts offer the ideal solution to the challenges faced by learners and English language teachers,’ explained Nic. ‘Students and teachers are looking to connect with the British Council and each other to seek advice, discuss issues or simply share experiences. Social media offers an unprecedented opportunity to bring English to tens of millions of students and teachers who consider English an essential skill to secure better educational or professional opportunities.’
Anmber Siddiqui is director of marketing and communications – English at British Council Mena