Language Learning Giant Busuu Signs Pearson Deal To Disrupt TEFL Market

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busuu — the world’s largest social network for language learning at 40 million users — has signed a distribution partnership with Pearson English, a newly formed business unit of the world’s largest education company, Pearson PLC. The deal will be exclusive for the next 4 months, after which Pearson will be free to sign similar deals with other partners, should it choose to do so. However, it gives Busuu and edge over its competitors, given that the bulk of foreign language learning is to learn English. The partnership is described as strategic and Pearson is not taking any equity in Busuu.

The test will launch this June will be free to busuu’s paying subscribers and at a nominal charge to its free members.

The deal gives busuu’s user base access to an affordable online test, gSET by Pearson English, which — in Plain English — is an assessment based on a globally recognised standard for learning English as a foreign language. In other words, if you are a TOEFL teacher right now, I’d consider looking into a new career, because this is a seriously disruptive move.

The market opportunity in digital language learning is huge and growing at a clip. Some estimates put the total market value at $60 billion — but $50 billion of that is in English. And only 5-10% of that market is taking place online. So you can see why Pearson – traditionally associated with textbooks and mostly offline learning – is so keen to strike online deals. Furthermore, much of bussu’s user-base is in emerging markets – and they all want to learn English, for the most part.

Pearson English’s Global Scale of English test lets language learners measure their current level of English on an on-going basis using a globally consistent numeric scale. Obviously busuu will also be able to see that data and apply it to its own operations.

The gSET by Pearson English is measured on Pearson English’s Global Scale of English, designed to be a global numeric standard for the measurement of English language proficiency. Pearson English is right now consolidating its existing businesses, including Wall Street English, GlobalEnglish and ELT, under one umbrella. It also has existing deals with New York-based Voxy, which has raised $14.8 million to date, and Grupo Multi, in Brazil.

In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, president of Pearson English, Bhav Singh, told us that the shortage of native English language teachers in the world means there is a lot of opportunity online.

“I think the present, not the future of education is digital. Eventually we hope to hope to look at cross-selling Pearson products. But the feedback loop right now is most important. The world is moving to the personalisation of an audience of one,” he said.

CEO and Co-founder of busuu, Bernhard Niesner told us that with this Pearson test, for the first time, Busuu will be able to “measure and work out how to improve the test. We are working on adaptive learning, based on customisation. The vision is to cut down on the acquisition time to learn a language.”

Plus, of course, people in emerging markets don’t have to travel to go to a TOEFL test centre, when they could do the test on busuu.