English, baby! , which is visited by a million users a month worldwide, posts a two to three-minute lesson each day on authentic American terminology, frequently given by a celebrity. Examples include NBA basketball star Dwight Howard explaining the phrase “beat it up” (slang for a blocking an opponent’s shot); rock star Sheryl Crow explaining the phrase “eye to eye”; and cult comedian Weird Al Yankovic explaining the phrase “grow up” (as in stop being childlike).
The company is now after more big-name celebrities, having just bagged NBA hero Steve Nash. “We hope to connect with more globally famous actors and rock stars,” said Jason Simms, content director at English, baby!, adding that a turn by ELT’s hottest heroine, Megan Fox, would be not be sniffed at.
While some stars are clearly more famous than others, all command followings in foreign markets such as China, where there are thought to be as many as 300 million English learners. Simms said: “We work with celebrities who are interested in promoting themselves or their work to fans overseas, while helping those fans in their learning process.”
Simms said the lessons, which started in 2009, were intended to be as “fun as watching MTV or reading your favourite sports or music blog” while complementing more traditional aspects of language learning. While free, they also incentivise users to join the site.
“We hope to connect with more globally famous actors and rock stars”
For US$5 a month members (who number 1.6 million) can access extra resources and talk live to English teachers. The site also serves as a social network for English learners (and has even led to a marriage in Turkey). “All of our content is designed to encourage conversation, and our social features are there to take a topic much further than we could on our own,” said Simms.
Simms said the company would try to increase its audience in 2012, along with its international media partnerships, which include Nokia China and HOOP magazine in Japan (the official NBA magazine) among others.