On the theory that the best way to learn “business” English is by reading the Wall Street Journal and other publications of Dow Jones & Co., the WSJ has launched an online video-driven educational program called Newsmart. A subscription based service, Newsmart proposes to use game based learning to teach business English to non-English speakers by exposing them to actual WSJ articles and videos drawn from the general areas of business, finance and technology news. Once the learner has read or viewed the media, she is guided through an array of exercises intended to test comprehension and to both teach and improve vocabulary and grammar. A beginning user is also offered the opportunity to self-test on a TOEFL interface presumably to assist the student in determining the proper entrance level.
A recent test-drive of the interface reveals a clean, engaging, slick presentation. In fact, Newsmart’s description of its programming is presented as if it was an actual lesson in the series, with multiple choice questions, highlighted concepts, pop-ups and other embedded media. Though the introductory materials do not detail the reward system that is in play for subscribers, WSJ does say that it includes badges, points and a leaderboard, and a message board is already operating on the Newsmart site.
What is intriguing about the Newsmart application is the videos, which apparently reflect English as it is spoken in its “natural habitat,” at normal speeds and using real native speakers. Or, as the WSJ says, “The videos can be difficult to understand. The people often speak quickly. They use words and phrases that you don’t know. They use cultural references and technical language. The speakers also use many different grammar structures. They sometimes stop in the middle of a sentence, or forget what they wanted to say.“
New individual subscribers are offered a 30 day free trial, and can buy access to the programming for $7.50 USD/monthly or $75 USD per year. An enterprise version of the application, known as “Newsmart Pro,” provides what WSJ describes as “enhanced data analytics” allowing performance to be assessed over a range of standards including TOEFL. While the program is also available as an Android or IOS app under the name “Newsmart!” (which includes an exclamation point for no apparent reason), the enterprise version, Newsmart Pro, apparently is available only in IOS. And while available languages are not easily discerned from the full site, the iTunes description identifies that it is available in English, Arabic, Bokmal, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Swedish, traditional Chinese, and Turkish.
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