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Interview: August Flanagan of Lenguajero

January 3, 2010

Lenguajero is a great website for learners of Spanish or English looking to connect with language exchange partners through audio or video chats, by practicing their writing which will be corrected by native speakers of their target language or by making and reviewing flash cards. I recently interviewed August Flanagan, one of the creators of the website.

Tell me a bit about Lenguajero, how does it work and who is it for?

Lenguajero is a website that connects Spanish and English speakers for online language and culture exchange. We provide our members with three effective learning tools: Online Conversation Exchanges using a voice, video and text chat app., a Writing Club to practice writing in the language they are learning (native speakers leave feedback on submissions), and a Smart Flashcard program to help them memorize and retain new vocabulary.

Where did you get the idea for Lenguajero?

We were living in Medellin, Colombia, and had been studying Spanish for a few months. We were getting to the stage where our Spanish was really starting to take off, that is, we were starting to feel comfortable speaking the language.

It was around this point in time that Natalie pointed out that, despite the thousands of language learning websites out there, none of them were focusing specifically on connecting Spanish and English learners with one another for conversation exchanges. Given how much spending time everyday speaking with native speakers had helped in our own learning process, we thought that there was real potential for this type of site. Since we had our laptops with us we thought, “What the hell, let’s give it a try and see if we can build something useful.”

How did you build the site?

In the age of the all encompassing “Cloud” you no longer need things like your own servers, or an office full of people to get stuff done. Instead we looked to the web for solutions to all of the challenges we faced.

Websites like eLance and 99designs connected us with designers and programmers from around the world, and allowed us to outsource the work that we couldn’t do ourselves. At one point in time I was coordinating profile page design with a guy in Taiwan while Natalie was messaging with a team in Romania that was doing the HTML & CSS for our homepage. All this was done while working from our apartment in Colombia.

For the geeks out there, there is a four part series on how we did all this located on the Lenguajero blog. Read the first part here.

Does it cost anything to become a member?

Nope. Lenguajero is completely free!

What are your plans for Lenguajero in the future?

Currently we are working on developing a Classroom Edition of Lenguajero. This will give teachers the ability to sign up their classes, and monitor what their students are doing on the site. That is, who they are talking to, what they are writing, whether or not they are studying flashcards, etc. We have just launched this tool, and are offering it for free to colleges and universities for the next six months. Depending on its success we may choose charge schools a small fee per student to continue using the tool.

As our beta testing for the Classroom tool continues over the next six months we will be listening in on teacher feedback, and improving the tool based on what we hear from teachers. We are also working on a couple of other features to offer to Lenguajero members (text chat, and member blogs).

In addition to Lenguajero we are currently working on a couple of other sites. Voxily – a site that allows teachers and language bloggers to record short audio files and embed them in their blog/website without hosting any files or downloading any recording software. Spanish Movies Online – a resource for Spanish learners who are interested in finding good Spanish language movies to watch.

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