Background and Vision
All over the world, English represents freedom and opportunity. Take Naomi, a businesswoman in Japan who feels trapped in a male-dominated business culture, who has no other options because she does not speak English. Take Mei, a low-income high schooler in China who will never fulfill her dream to study physics at MIT because she cannot afford to learn English. Take Sasha, a young women in rural India who will never escape her village to get a higher paying job in the city because her school does not teach enough English.
What these 3 women share in common is a dream for a better future. The one thing standing in their way is the time and money to learn English.
Enter our company, Native Minds.
Native Minds will offer an English learning platform at a very low cost. Successfully tested in a classroom this summer, it uses highly engaging project-based learning designed around a selection of content from the public domain. With its unique and effective new methodology, Native Minds will empower and change the lives of millions of Naomis, Meis, and Sashas all over the world.
Our First Market—Japan
Let me present you with some data.
– Japanese English education business market size–$30 billion USD
– Years of mandatory English education in Japan until college—10 years
– Japanese TOEFL score ranking—140th out of 150 countries (worse than N.Korea)
The country’s education system has slowly started to realize something is wrong with their English education and have recently launched several small municipal and national endeavors, mainly focused on cultivating global talent (i.e., encouraging more students to become fluent in English and apply to U.S. academic institutions).
However, their English education, both in schools and professional services, is focused only on grammatical correctness, vocabulary, and test prep. In other words, they do not teach students how to think, understand, and express their own life, interests, and sense of humor in English or in context of English speaking culture, like my program Native Minds does. The superficial nature of Asian English education in general, has prevented many learners from truly mastering the language in the meaningful way (and they suck all the money out of poor learners).
Mastering English should not be difficult for smart, hard-working learners. Many Southeast Asians become fluent in Japanese just by reading manga and watching anime. Many people claim that dating a native speaker of a foreign language will make the person fluent in a short period time. English education in Japan, or in East Asia lack the following three qualities:
1) Affordability—so that you can start easily
2) Enjoyment—so that you will continue
3) Self-directed learning—so that you can learn what you WANT to learn, not what you are told to.
I, Nene Shirakawa, am a self-taught native speaker of the English language myself. I Graduated from Duke with double major in Economics and Psychology, and then worked as a consultant at KPMG in the US for 3 years before coming to the MIT Sloan School of Management. Before I was accepted to Duke University, I had never stepped a foot into any English speaking country. My high school English education was so poor that some of my smartest classmates still cannot carry a casual conversation with an English speaker to this day. I designed the curriculum by myself for myself to acquire a Native Mind.
In 2013, Native Minds started as a project-based, interactive English learning workshop under the support of Sloan Social Impact Fellowship, Rikejo by Kodansha (The largest publishers in Japan), and Habataku Inc., a visionary creative education company. In this workshop, I was able to help a large number of high school and college students interested in exploring further education abroad (in the US and UK) break through their language barrier at a very low cost. In a post-class survey, all of my students claimed that after the workshop, they were confident that they could make themselves native speakers of English using my project-based, self-directed learning method. A few of them have reported that they have already successfully improved their TOEFL scores above 100 (out of 120), which is generally thought of as the breakpoint to be considered as a candidate for respectable colleges in the United States.
Native Minds x Interactive Digital Platform
Although the initial test of Native Minds operated exclusively in the classroom in summer 2013, it is gradually moving onto a digital platform, as of winter 2014. As our target learners now range from middle school students to college graduates, all learners have at least 3 years of standard English education experience. To accommodate adult learners who have regular work schedules, we have created an online platform where the learners can watch our Native Minds Lectures, perform the required project based learning on their own, and post their work online for each other’s view.
The minimum viable product we have currently is 10 hours-worth of animated Prezi videos with my own narrations, sets of worksheet to go with each lecture, and a hidden blog that embeds all above where learners who subscribe to the Native Minds can use the resource freely, create their own projects, and receive feedback. All five steps of Native Minds’ method are designed to be more fun and productive if done interactively. For example, the card game
The Next Step- Native Minds x Existing Institutions
Currently, Native Minds is sponsored by Kodansha and Habataku.Co in Japan.
Following the success of the summer program, Native Minds is currently partnering with visionary public high schools, private schools, church youth programs, and universities in Japan to provide effective English learning methods to a larger pool of students who are aspiring to build their career abroad.
Five Steps to Your Own Native Mind
Each of the Five Step methods follows these three fundamental rules:
- We do not teach English. We teach you how to develop your Native Mind in English.
- We do not lecture. We let you express yourself through structured set of creative activities.
- We are low-cost. We only curate high quality, non-ESL intended (a.k.a. real), and freely available online resources to help you develop your native minds.
Five Steps Overview
– Step 1: Native Minds Basics 1.0
Build your Native Mind, which recognizes, thinks, understands, and expresses everything around you in English. We employ our original interactive and creativity provoking card game to help students learn and use natural English phrases based on what they want to say.
– Step 2: Native Minds Speak! 2.0~Make your entertainment count~
To learn how to speak like a native, the best way is to imitate their speech word for word. In this step, you will create your own voice over video in English, using TV-shows, cartoons, and TED talks.
– Step 3: Native Minds Debate! 3.0~Here is what I have to say~
One of the biggest challenges Asian students face when the first enter the American academia is their ability to form opinions, question, and disagree with ideas on their feet. In Step 3, we build them this reflex so that they can express themselves fully.
– Step 4: Native Minds Academic 4.0 ~ Here is how you roll in Academia
This step closely simulates an immersive English learning experience in an academic setting. In NM4.0, students go through the process of listening to an online lecture processing, questioning, and presenting a new set of academic principles all in English.
– Step 5: Native Minds Exams 5.0 ~Cracking Tests made Easy
Even though I am not a huge fan of language lessons solely focused on test preps like TOEFL, SAT, GRE…etc, I do recognize that high scores on those tests are absolutely necessary for many to explore opportunities in English speaking countries. Step 5 offers fun and intuitive method for students to prepare for standardized exams of their choice, to achieve that to which they aspire.
(There was a problem with the video and I am fixing it now…)