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Language-teaching firms: Linguists online

January 3, 2013

THE teacher who corrects your correspondent?s awful Mandarin is soft-spoken, authoritative and far away. Thanks to Skype, you can have face-to-face lessons with native speakers of more or less any language without stirring from your chair. Technology may one day make language-learning redundant (see article); meanwhile, it makes it easier.Language-teaching companies are slowly embracing technology. Berlitz is the biggest. Founded in 1878, its method is simple: seat no more than four or five students with a teacher who will utter not a word of their native tongue. Berlitz can also group learners with a specific need: tourists, say, or energy executives.The company is a bit of a digital dawdler. Most of its smartphone apps are repurposed versions of its old books. (Berlitz has sold its publishing business.) Its web lessons are a useful supplement to the classroom, but somewhat clunky. The company is focused on what has always been its strength: personal teaching. Berlitz does not say how much profit it makes; a decade ago it was swallowed by Benesse, a Japanese education company, and its results are no longer published separately. In any case, it is hungry: Berlitz hopes to triple in size by 2018, says...

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