EF Education First collaboration with Harvard Grad School of Ed team looks to unlock mysteries of language learning

EF Education First, a company with offices in Sweden and Switzerland and its North American headquarters in Cambridge, said is now collaborating with a team from the Harvard Graduate School of Education that seeks to unlock some of the mysteries of how Chinese and Russian speakers learn to write in English.

Teaching English as a second language has turned EF into a global company with 35,000 employees, including 900 in Cambridge. To accommodate its growth, it has a $125 million building under construction next to its existing Cambridge facility. The second building is expected to open in the spring of 2014, and the company is looking to add 300 more employees in Cambridge.

Meanwhile, the collaboration with the Harvard team from the Graduate School of Education (HGSE) is set to explore why students from certain countries learn English more easily than students from other places.


“The collaboration will begin by focusing on how students acquire written English proficiency,” EF said in a press release. “Associate Professor Paola Uccelli and her PhD students from HGSE’s Language & Literacy Program will access written works submitted by Russian, Chinese, and Native English speakers who have studied with EF. The team will contrast the essays, chronicle recurring differences in the prose, and attempt to understand which academic approaches worked best in developing written English language proficiency.”

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At some point, so-called Big Data analytics could be incorporated into this project.

“We are proud to continue pushing the boundaries of innovation in language education,” EF co-chairman Philip Hult said in a statement. “Our research project with the HGSE team is exciting and may reveal how a data-driven assessment of language learning can help students learn English more effectively in the future.”

Chris Reidy can be reached at