The Web 2.0 Expo has dominated much of the news lately, and a lot of my time. So it was a nice change to recently meet with a company called Global English.
It teaches English to the employees of top multinational corporations such as IBM, Deloitte, Hewlett-Packard, using unique online techniques.
It is sold as an online service using the enterprise software model, and costs $400 per seat per year. Multinational corporations are using the service to improve the English language skills of their professional staff in places such as China and India, and 98 other countries.
The company is 8 years old, private, profitable, with revenues between $20m and $30m, and about 100 staff.
But isn't English already a common skill among people in tech and business sectors? Deepak Desai, CEO of Global English says that this is not always true.
"The competition for staff means that global corporations are having to look further afield. Outside of the major cities, fewer people speak English as a second language, or speak it well."
This is true even in India, where English is widely spoken. "I was surprised at how large our business in India has become," says Mr Desai, who grew up in Mumbai, India.
Global English uses a variety of learning techniques and technologies, some involve voice recognition to check on pronunciation. And it has a broad range of metrics to measure and check on progress. If you lag, you'll get nagging emails to do better, and your boss will see your report card.
But it's not just English that is taught. It also teaches the cultural context of the language.
"People need to know how to converse in different situations," says Mr Desai.
Lingua Franca 2.0
English is certainly the lingua franca of business and technology. And combined with the Internet--the other lingua franca of our times--it makes for a killer communications application.
I consider the English language, plus the Internet, as the key technology accelerating the globalization of our economies. But will English continue to dominate?
Mandarin is the language that many business professionals are learning. As China's economy grows ever larger, Mandarin is certain to challenge the dominance of the English language in global business transactions.
Mr Desai nods, and says that his children are learning Mandarin. But Global English won't be changing its name anytime soon. "It is important to focus," he says. Which is very true.