The PIE: Can you tell us more about the nature of your work at Education First? How did you end up there?
Giorgio Iemmolo: I take care of the academic operations and development for Europe, South Africa and Costa Rica. So I cover two English schools and then all the other non-English schools we have in Europe and Costa Rica – the languages involved are Spanish, French, Italian and German. Before the onset of Covid we had opened Portuguese and Russian schools, but due to the pandemic, we had to close them. Essentially, I work a lot with development, teacher recruitment, quality control and accreditations.
My path is, let’s say, not the most typical one, in the sense that I joined a while after finishing my Ph.D. I was working as a researcher at the University of Zurich, and I’m a linguist originally, so that is what I studied, taught and did research on. When there was this position open, I applied mostly because of my love for languages and for language learning and also for international education in general.
It fits with my background because I had been in so many different places and spoke different languages. I found it interesting because I speak a good amount of these languages – Italian and Sicilian, my mother tongue, then English, French, German, Spanish and Swiss German – and with EF you usually start either in sales or in operations. You can also start as a teacher and then progress through the career ladder or in other departments like our homestay accommodation departments or activities, because the EF offers this full immersive cultural experience. It’s not just about our division, which is international language campuses – EF offers a full package, which is not just language learning.
The PIE: Was there anything in particular, other than your language proficiency, that compelled you to go into the language teaching sector as a whole, after coming straight from research?
GI: It was kind of a gamble in a way because, of course, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do (I knew I wanted to do something that would excite me) because I didn’t really know how things worked in the industry, per-se. I had a lot of knowledge, but it was mostly that you can teach foreign languages at universities, but it can be very different. So it was a gamble.
What I would say is that EF can bring together different strengths of, not just in language teaching, but also in operational development and a lot of sales knowledge and marketing. It was amazing because I had the opportunity to refine a lot of skills that you also find in general education nowadays. So making sure that students are happy and really learn, making sure that programmes work, and making sure you follow everything from A to Z.
“EF offers this full immersive cultural experience”
The PIE: What’s the most interesting opportunity EF has given you?
GI: Opening from scratch two language schools, especially for languages which were not available anywhere else or in general – so Portuguese and Russian, which unfortunately, due to the COVID pandemic, we had to close. Also, the ability to travel around the world and represent EF as a spokesperson at international events is great -like when I present the English Proficiency Index. It is a good study that can give an impulse to foster further language education around the world.
The PIE: Can you elaborate on the English Proficiency Index?
GI: It’s a ranking of countries based on their English proficiency – based on our own test, which is called the EF Set, an adaptive test that tests receptive skills. It’s totally free, and correlates pretty well with standard exams. It’s based on the CFR, and it’s quite a lot of work because naturally there is a lot of statistical analysis and reports and then you adapt or try to find out why certain countries are doing better than others or vice versa, and out of that comes recommendations. It’s something that excites me because it also gives me the opportunity to use my original knowledge and skills, which is linguistics.
The PIE: How come you chose Costa Rica as the location for a new school?
GI: We also have schools in Spain, so when it comes to operations, and academic operations and development, it’s good to join forces and make sure that students are exposed, for instance, to different varieties of Spanish. In our schools, for instance, in Spain, we also make sure that students know that there are other varieties of Spanish. While they’re varieties of the same language, naturally, there can be differences, in dialect of course, and also in cultural importance. It’s really important to diversify, and have teaching and schools in different places.
It’s a competitive advantage to be able to offer to our students this learning experience – so you might be in Spain and you get totally thrown into the Andalusian way of living, but then, if you reach a certain level for example, and go to South America, you’ll never really use vosotros. We take culture into account quite a lot because this is the best way of learning the language and this is what makes immersion so powerful. In terms of Costa Rica as a pick, it’s a beautiful place. It’s very safe. You can combine a lot of a lot of things like you can combine language learning with nature and discover, and that is something that we also do. We link those two things a lot in our programmes. The current local experience is really important, and of course, Costa Rica is going to be very different from Barcelona and Malaga, for example.
“These past two years have shown us that technology is there to help and is here to stay”
The PIE: Are there any other new schools or any new projects in the pipeline for 2022?
GI: We’re not planning on opening other schools right now – we’re concentrating on what we have. Yeah, but of course, we have all sorts of exciting projects in. For instance, in academics, we’re focusing a lot on how to improve students’ experience with technology. These past two years have shown us that technology is there to help and is here to stay, so we’re working a lot on making sure that we have top notch technology, that our teachers are fully trained and that we offer amazing products for our students – it’s a big thing.
We’re also launching and maintaining various apps for students who travel with us exclusively. It’s an amazing top-notch learning management system. We also want to make sure that, restrictions permitting, students get to experience and get immersed in the language quite a lot. We’re always organising new partnerships and internships whenever possible in different schools. So we’re picking up.