ESL Industry Interview: Javier Figarola, CEO of ABA English

In this "interview with the experts", Kaplan speaks to Javier Figarola, the CEO of ABA English. belongs to American & British Academy, an institution established in 1970 with over 30 years experience in distance-education of English.

What made you enter the English education industry?

My passion for English distance learning comes from my dad who started his first distance learning company in 1964. It was called “Norte Idiomas”.  Later he created “Home English” which became Spain’s main English learning company in the eighties and an example of commercial distribution with over 50 offices throughout Spain.

Its learning methodology was based at the beginning on books and recordable cassettes so that the students could contact their teachers. It evolved with the video recorder and later on, with the introduction of PCs, it changed to CD-ROMs.

In 2007 with the internet boom my dad had his first dream:  to teach English worldwide with no limits. To do so, he founded ABA English, so that he could make English accessible to everyone.

Having seen someone’s whole life devoted to distance learning, in 2010 I decided to take over, taking advantage of my passion for English teaching which I inherited from my dad and my passion for new technology and the Internet.

My dad reached many people, but I want to reach everyone! I love the idea of using technology as an educational tool for people who did not previously have this opportunity and to improve learning methods in this field.

What are you main duties at ABA English?

I currently manage ABA English, which is a multidisciplinary team of experts who allow thousands of people worldwide to learn English each day.

One of the most important milestones that I have achieved here at ABA was the completion of the ABA English 4.0 course, which allows us to teach English in the simplest and cheapest way possible, always aiming to reach the greatest number of students.

In 2012 we taught English to 50,000 students and we hope to exceed this figure in 2013. Here at ABA, we believe that learning English is something which everyone is entitled to.

How would you describe the teaching on offer at ABA English?

One of the best methods for learning English is watching films. ABA English bases English language learning on short films about real life in Europe and the United States produced exclusively for the American and British Academy.

The methodological stance of our online course is the natural method. ABA English’s learning system stimulates the speaker’s natural predisposition in a real environment, where language is used in a social context and understood when referring to the context. Children learn their first language intuitively via the continuous discovery of the world around them.

Our method simulates this approach via a complete immersion in the new language:  learners immediately begin to think in English. It is a process which occurs naturally, without even realizing it and without making an effort. Each unit starts with an ABA Film that introduces the situation, followed by speaking practice, and later writing.

The ABA Film is the starting point for the unit and contains the communicative functions and grammatical structures which students learn in the other sections, where they study the dialogue between the characters in the short film in detail, are capable of using all the expressions and including them in their spoken and written English.

How has the industry changed since you first joined?

The e-learning sector is constantly changing in accordance with the latest technological advances. Until a few years ago, it was only possible to study with books and videos. Later, thanks to the Internet, it was possible to study from anywhere in the world with a computer, but even this is becoming outdated!

Nowadays, it is more common to study with an app on your mobile or tablet, or even directly on your Smart TV. In the future, education will continue to adapt to whatever new means appear, for example, it will soon be completely normal to see people studying with their Google smart glasses while they take the underground to the office.

What are the most challenging aspects of working in the English education industry?

We sell exclusively online but the Internet is unfortunately an over-saturated market. Every day it costs more to reach people looking for a way to learn English online  (cost per user).

For this reason, when someone gets to know us, we must be able to get across our learning method as quickly as possible and convince him or her that with our method he or she will learn English and at a very low cost. Every day we work on improving the usability of our course to maximize our number of hits.

How do you think technology will impact on the future of ESL teaching?

Although our teaching method in the medium term is not going to change dramatically, as I have already said, is key being able to adapt to new technology so that we can reach the greatest number of students.

For this reason, educational companies have to adapt to new technology, and whoever does not do so will be unable to compete with the same chances of success and will have a considerably reduced share in the market.

In 2007 we were one of the world’s main companies with an exclusively online teaching method and we hope to always be able to adapt to future technology.

Which ESL teachers and thought leaders do you admire in the industry and why?

I admire my dad for devoting his whole life to English learning using whatever method was necessary.

What would you say to someone who was considering becoming an ESL teacher?

In the world of online teaching there is a lot of competition. In my opinion, great teachers are those who still show emotional commitment to their students through new technology and try to reach each student by personalizing their studies.

Many thanks to Javier for taking the time to participate in this interview. Do you work in the ESL industry? If so, what do you think to ABA English's approach to teaching? Please leave a comment below!

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