Henry Tolley talks about the LanguageCert exams

Henry Tolley is Global Sales Director at LanguageCert. With over three decades of experience in the ELT sector, he has worked for Pearson, Cambridge, Trinity College London, PSI and LanguageCert.

He has both international as well as regional expertise, having worked in Hungary, Spain and Italy for over 15-years. Beyond his professional pursuits, Henry is known for his passion for Greek cuisine!

  • Can you share insights into the evolving landscape of English Language Teaching (ELT) and how LanguageCert is adapting its marketing strategies to meet the changing needs of the industry?

In our experience, ELT and English language testing can and should evolve together, as one invariably leads to the other. The third component to add is what the markets for English language speakers require. For instance, employers, educational institutions, and government policy makers (when it comes to visitors and migrants). At LanguageCert we look at all three in an integrated way, and this process drives our marketing. And I mean marketing in its totality; not just how we promote our portfolio but how we design our test products, and how we deliver them. Our stakeholders are in the core of everything we do and our marketing strategy caters and adapts to their needs.

If I look back at the past few years, there are clear instances of how we have responded to evolving market needs and expectations. The COVID epidemic with its social lockdowns shifted attitudes to online learning and testing. We’ve been delivering online proctored tests since 2012, but since 2020 this has really taken off. If people can learn remotely or in a hybrid manner, there is now an expectation they can be tested that way too. Our investment in online testing is really paying off, as it offers levels of choice (24/7/365) and accessibility.

Another example is the content of our English tests. We invest a lot of effort into ensuring our tests accommodate a diverse range of English for a wide range of practical scenarios. This mirrors how English teaching has been evolving, with a shift away from traditional measures of grammar and diction. For instance, we use a range of English accents in our tests, reflecting regions and nations within the UK (Scottish, Welsh, as well as different English regions) and internationally (American, Australian, and South African). These are not there to trip-up test takers. Rather, to exemplify the growing universality and dynamism of the English language.

At the end of 2023 we also launched two new certificates which tailor their focus on the context of language use; again, mirroring how English is being taught. Our LanguageCert Academic certificate assesses up to C2 level, and specifically tests a candidate’s English language proficiency in the academic and educational context. Whereas our LanguageCert General certificate is tailored for work and travel contexts, with its tasks deliberately designed to test those areas. This is a shift away from a one-size-fits-all approach, and gives our stakeholders greater assurance that certificate holders have the right capabilities for specific language environments.

  • How do you approach developing and implementing campaigns to promote ELT exams? Are there specific challenges or unique aspects in marketing language proficiency assessments compared to other products or services?

ELT exams are rarely an end in themselves. People take our exams because they help on their journey to what they really want. That can be studies at a foreign university, a career with an international employer, professional certification, and/or a visit or new life overseas.

From a marketing perspective that means we’re not really selling test certificates. Instead, we’re selling a path to each customer’s personal dreams and ambitions. It’s this wider perspective that shapes our marketing campaigns. A successful campaign requires us to know our markets and customers. And with test delivery in over 200 countries, that means balancing global marketing campaigns with enough regional and national tailoring to ensure our message resonates with each local market.

Getting that right is an ongoing challenge, not least as market tastes and preferences are continuously evolving. A clear example from recent years is the growing demand for online English language testing. People want the choice, access and flexibility this type of testing offers. But at the same time, some client institutions and governments still have reservations about how secure online testing really is.

Consequently, our marketing campaigns are two-fold. We seek to offer what the consumer market wants. But at the same time, we are campaigning to corporate, education, and government clients to demonstrate that by offering a simpler path to customers’ aspirations, we are still ensuring our qualifications are robust and secure.

  • LanguageCert has recently achieved worldwide recognition. Its online exams provide successful foreign nationals with the opportunity to obtain a visa for studies in the UK. How did you address the security challenges associated with online exams?

Customers use our exams to gain entry to overseas universities and employment as well as create new lives for themselves and their families. The rewards gained from English certification can be huge; so large some will risk cheating to get certified.

Currently, our secure English language tests (SELTS) are computer-based and available only in authorised test centres. So, we don’t yet offer fully online SELTs, which customers could take in their homes, for instance. However, we have been piloting online SELT testing with clients, and the results have been positive.

Our view is that online SELTs are secure. However, we cannot afford to be complacent. People are continually trying new ways of cheating, and we aim to stay one step ahead. For example, in 2023 we introduced online biometric testing which confirms each test taker’s identity using sophisticated AI, in addition to our comprehensive human checks completed by our proctors. This helps prevent and detect identity fraud and proxy test taking.

Our latest innovation is the use of a second camera using the test taker’s own smartphone. This increases the visual and audio coverage our proctors and detection systems have of the space customers use to take their test. It helps remove the blindspots which until now only a test centre proctor could see.

These innovations reflect just some of our security and product developments. Our efforts are continuous, just as are those of people who are determined to try and cheat.

  • The certificate you have constructed and administered testing candidates in two skills only has recently been removed from the ASEP list. Will you consider replacing it with another certificate that assesses all four skills?

In our extensive portfolio, we offer a range of qualifications tailored to meet diverse needs. Since 2017, ASEP accepts the LanguageCert International ESOL 4-skills qualifications spanning levels B1-C2. This recognition allows holders of LanguageCert International ESOL certificates to leverage them for employment or academic pursuits in Greece and internationally.

In addition to our existing credentials, we have developed targeted qualifications to address specific requirements. It is our paramount objective to secure recognition for these newly developed qualifications as well. Notably, our qualifications enjoy global acclaim, and obtaining ASEP recognition is a crucial step for us. Consequently, we are in the process of applying for recognition for LTE 4-skills (Listening & Reading, Writing, Speaking), LanguageCert Academic, and LanguageCert General.

This pursuit aligns with our commitment to providing globally recognised qualifications, ensuring our certificate holders can confidently pursue their aspirations, both locally and abroad.

  • In the rapidly advancing digital era, what role does technology play in your marketing initiatives for LanguageCert's ELT exams? How do you leverage digital tools and platforms to engage with your target audience and stay ahead in the competitive market?

As you say, the digital marketing landscape is evolving rapidly. We continue to learn how best to market ourselves in this changing environment. LanguageCert engages with its B2C and B2B markets through a range of digital channels, including social media. Our digital and social media teams continuously monitor our presence and performance, as well as scanning for emerging trends and technologies in these areas, and how best we can respond.

What we really benefit from is the access to data and insight which digital marketing enables. We can see levels of engagement with our marketing at all stages of the customer journey. And we’re now able to use that insight to inform iterative improvements to our online marketing tactics, as well as overall strategy.

At the same time, we don’t want to become preoccupied with digital marketing. Traditional marketing channels still operate and continue to prove of value. English language teaching and certification are primarily people pursuits, and so things like traditional media advertising, events and conferences, are still useful ways of engaging with people and potential customers. But again, we are finding ways of planning and delivering these more traditional marketing channels using digital technology – again giving useful data points and insight we’d not had access to before.

  • Collaboration with educational institutions and language schools is crucial in the ELT sector. Could you share some successful examples of partnership initiatives or marketing campaigns that have strengthened LanguageCert's position in the market and enhanced its relationships with key stakeholders?

In the dynamic landscape of English Language Teaching (ELT), collaboration with educational institutions and language schools is paramount. At LanguageCert, we have implemented various successful initiatives and marketing campaigns that have not only strengthened our market position but also fostered robust relationships with key stakeholders.

One notable strategy involves strategic collaborations with renowned educational institutions and associations. By integrating LanguageCert qualifications into their language programs, we've not only expanded the reach of our certifications but also enhanced their credibility within the academic community.

Joint marketing campaigns with language schools and institutions have been instrumental in showcasing the benefits of LanguageCert qualifications. By highlighting success stories of students achieving language proficiency milestones, we've created a positive brand image and attracted a broader audience.

Active participation in key ELT conferences and events, often in collaboration with educational institutions, has provided us with valuable platforms to showcase our expertise and foster networking opportunities with educators and industry influencers.

By collaborating with educational institutions to conduct webinars and workshops on language assessment trends and best practices, we've created engaging platforms for knowledge-sharing, fostering trust and engagement among language educators.

These examples of initiatives collectively contributed to LanguageCert's market position by not only expanding its presence but also deepening its relationships with key stakeholders in the ELT sector.


Anastasia Spyropoulou

Anastasia Spyropoulou

Editor in Chief at ELT NEWS