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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Interview with Christopher Cummings,, Innovators in E-Learning Series

Learning Spanish online, in virtual worlds or via distributed instruction (virtual tutors, etc.), continues to expand as people find interacting in real time via avatar or chat to be stimulating, engaging, and effective. Have the reference materials kept up? Have virtual dictionaries expanded their instructional strategies? It is a tough question and one we pose to Christopher Cummings, CEO of Curiosity Media, which operates

What is your name and your connection with e-learning?
My name is Christopher Cummings and I am the CEO of Curiosity Media. Curiosity Media operates the world's largest Spanish learning website, SpanishDict. The site reaches over 3,000,000 people each month and provides free, high quality Spanish reference and learning material.

What is your philosophy of e-learning in relationship to language acquisition?
The number one most important challenge to overcome when learning a new language is persistence. Language learning requires practice and a sustained commitment. Our philosophy is to develop tools make it easy for people to stay committed by keeping them engaged. features interactive videos taught by a real Spanish teacher. We supplement each video with multimedia flashcards, games, and writing and speaking activities. These videos and features are then packaged into courses that guide people step-by-step--from beginner to advanced levels--to learning Spanish. All of this is made available for free on our website.

Please describe your new product and how it works. What makes it different or special?
The new version of the website makes it even easier to learn Spanish. We now offer 90 profressional video lessons, hundreds multimedia flashcard sets, and two commercial dictionaries. We also offer an exciting new "Answers" section where people can ask and answer questions. The best answers are voted to the top, creating an extensive database of common and not so common questions and answers.

Here's a tough question: Does the world need another dictionary? How does yours encourage collaboration, interaction, and social networking / learning community development?
We started in the site in 1999, back when the world really did need another dictionary--one that was online, easily searchable, and had audio pronunciations of the words. That formula is what launched the site on its pathway to popularity. Since then we have led a number of innovations on the world of online dictionaries: we use one simple search box for both English and Spanish words, recognize what language you've entered, and bring you to the right translation immediately. We auto suggest words in English and Spanish as you type. We have audio prononuciations for every word. And perhaps most importantly, we licensed some of the best dictionaries available, so that our search results give not only the translations, but example sentences, regional variations, and the information you need to actually be able to use the word with confidence.

We have an incredibly active community. In the question and answers section, people are constantly helping one another. The answers section enhances the results from our dictionary: each time you look up a word we also search for relative posts from the answers section for that word. This can often provide help with hard to find translations and tricky usage scenarios. If we don't already have an answer to your question, we make it dead simple to ask a new question. It's really amazing to see that virtually all questions that are asked get good, solid answers from members of the community.

How do you keep Flashcards from being passive?
We try to make the flashcards interactive with the games that we have linked to each flashcard set. People learn words with the flashcards, and they practice what they have learned with the automatically created multiple choice quizzes, listening games, and a memory recall section that is associate with each word list. Users earn points on these games for each correct answers, and they are able to challenge their friends and other members of the site to see who can earn the most points on any given flashcard set. Finally, we also users to create their own flashcards sets and games. We link this to the dictionary so that is really easy to look up a word you don't know and then add it to a flashcard set of words you are learning.

What is Curiosity Media? Do you have plans for future projects?

Curiosity Media is the company behind SpanishDict. Looking ahead, we are constantly adding new features to SpanishDict and trying to reach more people with the resources we have on the site. We will soon be launching a full-featured iPhone app. This will make it even easier for people to lookup words on the go or brush up on their Spanish with our word game and talking phrase book. Stay tuned for the that. We are also going to be reaching out to more Spanish speakers looking to learn English. Our whole site has been translated into Spanish, and we now have video lessons that teach English to Spanish speakers. I think these will be a couple of the future projects to watch out for on SpanishDict.

What is your core learning philosophy?

Approach the world with a curious and open mind and you will be amazed at what you learn.

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