Peter Carabi: English Language Learning with Fast ForWord

Picture of Peter Barnes
Peter Barnes
English Language Learners, Brain Science, Fast ForWord, Podcasts, Educational Neuroscience

Peter_Carabi_BW.jpgLanguage and reading are universal skills required by everyone across the world. And with English being such a dominant language, there are an increasing number of people looking for ways to improve their English literacy.

Peter Carabi, vice president of Global Business Development for Carnegie Learning is in the privileged position of witnessing the effects of the Fast ForWord programs as they help people around the world with their language skills. He sees how this opens new opportunities for them and often completely changes the trajectory of young peoples’ lives.

The programs are based on neuroscience, and the concept that the brain is not fixed, but plastic, and has the capability to change itself. Peter describes it as one of the things that can give us all hope.

Colin Klupiec caught up with Peter at the biannual LearnFast summit in January 2016, on a sunny day in Manly on Sydney Harbour and recorded an interview for the Learning Capacity Podcast. Peter discussed English language learning and educational neuroscience.

Listen to the podcast.

Topics covered

  1. Language
  2. Reading
  3. English language learning
  4. Special (learning) needs
  5. Neuroscience
  6. Educational neuroscience
  7. Brain plasticity
  8. Learning capacity
  9. Auditory processing disorder
  10. Dyslexia
  11. Autism
  12. Cognitive skills
  13. Memory
  14. Attention Processing speed
  15. The ability to sequence

 People & organisations mentioned

  1. Dr Mike Merzenich
  2. Dr Bill Jenkins
  3. Dr Paula Tallal
  4. Dr Steve Miller
  5. Dr. Martha Burns
  6. Scientific Learning Corporation
  7. Brain Fit Studios

Resources/books/articles mentioned

  1. Fast ForWord
  2. Clear Fluency

Previous podcast episodes on Whooshkaa

If you want the transcript about English language learning, here it is:

 Episode 37 of The Learning Capacity Podcast

 Peter Carabi presents global English language learning with Fast ForWord

Colin Klupiec: I am Colin Klupeic and you're listening to the Learning Capacity Podcast.

Language and reading, they're universal skills required by everyone across the world. And with English being such a dominant language, there are an increasing number of people looking for ways to improve their English literacy.

This is especially so for children, either because they have specific special needs or because they need to improve their English for business reasons or because for whatever reason, there's an imperative to learn English.

Peter Carabi, Vice President of Global Business Development for Scientific Learning, is in the privileged position of being able to witness the effects of the Fast ForWord products as they help people with their language skills and provide them with new opportunities, often completely changing the trajectory of young people's lives.

The products are based on neuroscience and the concept that the brain is not fixed but is plastic and has the capability to change itself. Peter describes it as one of the things that can give us all hope.

I caught up Peter at the biannual LearnFast Summit in January, 2016 on a sunny day in Manly, on Sydney Harbour. Peter Carabi, thanks for joining us.

Peter Carabi: Thanks for having me.

Colin: Well it's great to have you here in Manly doing this interview in person.

Peter: Life could be worse. To be invited to Manly, outside of Sydney in the middle of your summer, that's a good deal.

Colin: Actually, that's a good segue because you have quite an international life and I'm kind of struck by your position because you're in a privileged position. You get to travel the world to see how Fast ForWord gets implemented all across the world.

When you see success on such a wide scale, what kind of personal reactions does that generate for you?

Peter: Well, the opportunity to go to the different places in the world that are implementing our programs is a privilege for sure. It's a constant source of inspiration because no matter where you go, no matter what the culture is, no matter what the language is, we seem to have success.

We'd like the success to be on a wider scale and we want to reach more learners. But whether the emphasis is on English language learning or special needs, or children just having general difficulty reading, what we find is if properly implemented, the programs work. 

And what comes out of that is a tremendous number of personal stories. So the number of kids that I've seen whose lives have been changed, being able to talk with parents who literally say that their kids' lives have been changed, that's remarkable and that's what keeps me coming back all the time.

Colin: Now we can talk about the science and the data, we can talk about charts and things, but that doesn't go so well for our listeners in the podcast. The thing that you said earlier today, in the conference today, you said that you often come across people in your travels where people are in tears telling you how good it's been.

So that's one way to gauge success. Tell me, really, does that actually happen?

Peter: It really does when you think about what's at stake. So if you think about that child in China who....their parents know that having a good knowledge of English and going into the working world means that they're going to be able to earn 30 to 50% more on average than someone who doesn't have that proficiency.

In China, with the single child policy, of course that's changed now to two child policy, but if you're there with that single child, you want the best for them. You want them to have the opportunities to be upwardly mobile. And when they can see success that has meaning, that's quite profound.

I also remember a special needs child in India whose parents came up to me and said that this program changed their daughter's life. And for them, that's their daughter. These are kids and you're a parent, I'm a parent and what do we want for our kids but the best we can give them. 

Colin: Well the best opportunities, that's for sure. You've mentioned a couple of different cultures and I just wanted to ask, we talk about success generally, does it work truly cross-cultural or do some cultures respond better than others? Like the Hindi culture, does that work better for them than the Chinese culture for example? 

Countries where English is the first language

Peter: Well, I would break things down into three general buckets. So, number one would be...and I'm responsible by the way for things outside of North America. So everything but the U.S. and Canada. The first bucket would be those countries where the first language is English like Australia, Ireland, U.K.

And in those countries you have kind of a complete range of needs. So you'll have students who have a need...who have special needs that need attending to that Fast ForWord and Clear Fluency can address. There's also growing English language learning populations in those cultures. And then, just also generally students on the bubble, students who maybe don't have a diagnosed special need, but who clearly have reading problems that need help.

Countries where English is the business language, not the first language - like India

And then, you have a second bucket, which would be countries where the first language, the first business language is English, but where most kids speak a different language at home. And this would be places like Singapore, like India.

And that's a different dynamic because there you're not necessarily talking about English language learning, but you're talking about English language improvement, okay? Really improving accents, improving pronunciation, improving general fluency.

Countries like China & Korea

And then the third bucket would be the pure English language learning market like a China, like a Korea where there, there's less attention perhaps than there should be on special needs, but the first priority is for them to improve their English.

So there's really three different dynamics. I think if you start...I don't think we're expert enough in knowing the subtleties of cultures like various Indian cultures within the country. I think that would be for another day. I don't think I'd be the expert to comment on that.

Colin: Singapore though, you mentioned, I think would be a very interesting case because when you mentioned that thing about improving the English language particularly for business usage. I guess we in Australia here we know about Singapore is being an important commercial hub and it is across the world.

A lot of product goes in and out of Singapore on its way around the place. And I can imagine there that the imperative would be very high for younger people to have a very strong command of English and Fast ForWord is obviously making an impact there.

Peter: No, that's correct. The environment for us, we have a great partner in Singapore just like we do here, in Sydney with Learn Fast. Our partner in Singapore is called Brain Fit Studios.

The environment is extremely positive for us in a place like Singapore because you have a highly motivated populous that indeed, just like any parent as I said before, wants the best for their children, but where you have strong government policy that supports that as well.

So it's a tremendous environment for us there. So in Singapore we've penetrated into not only schools, but we also have three Brain Fit Studios learning centres where students can go in after school and get remediation on different learning challenges. 

And this does not just include Fast ForWord and Clear Fluency, but it includes some of their own proprietary solutions.

Colin: Sure. Well let me just...on that point, let me just try a slightly different angle here and just say, Fast ForWord is obviously a product that you can buy and skeptics might think, "Well, you know it's just one of those things that people try to add on or bring in to schools and it should never replace good teaching".

Now, you have experience as a classroom teacher. What do you say to the skeptics?

Preparing brains to be more ready to learn

Peter: Well I would say that experience as a classroom teacher was before I had any knowledge at all about neuroscience. My concept then was the brain...the children in my classroom, the brains that they had were the brains that they were stuck with and my job was to try to do the best I could with that.

And the way I was measured was to make sure I poured enough content into those brains as I could in the school year. Fast ForWord and Clear Fluency do not replace the teacher. That is not the intent of programs like these.

What we're trying to do, we're trying to prepare for the teacher a student brain that is more ready to learn. So if we can, especially with Fast ForWord, if we could build cognitive skills that are going to be important, skills like memory, attention, processing speed and the ability to sequence, if we can build those underlying cognitive skills, we're going to be giving the teacher the raw material that then a good teacher can take and really run with.

Then the teacher will be able to truly implant a lot of content in a way that'll be much more highly absorbed by a student who's ready to learn.