Shiv Rajendran is the co-founder and operations director of LanguageLab, a company founded in 2005 aiming to teach English by leveraging the capabilities of virtual worlds. He is a leading educational technologist frequently speaking at conferences on virtual world education. He is involved with the EU-funded projects and advises on virtual worlds in academic contexts. He has extensive experience building, testing and managing complex systems both in secure and public (online) environments. Shiv has a 1st class honors degree in computer science from Brunel University as well as a Master‘s degree with merit from Kings College, London.
Sramana: Shiv, let’s go back to the beginning of your personal journey. Where are you from, what is your backstory?
Shiv Rajendran: I was born in London in the early 1980s to a Sri Lankan parents who had migrated over the decade before. I grew up in London under the traditional British state education system. I was dyslexic and actually did quite poorly, and unfortunately I was not diagnosed with dyslexia until I was 18. I put out a lot of effort in school, I just never did very well. After making this discovery I started doing a lot of research about how to modify studying techniques in order to learn how to cope with dyslexia.
I then went on to do very well with my university studies. I got a first class degree and rarely had any other grade than an A. While I was a student in college I did a lot of work as an IT contractor. I did a lot of software testing and tech support for local government. These were three, six and year-long contracts. That gave me a great experience for working in IT in a wide range of fields. I worked the entire four years that I studied computer science as an undergraduate student. After I graduated I went on to King’s College in London to do a MA in digital culture and technology. That is where I started LanguageLab.
Sramana: What was the genesis behind LanguageLab?
Shiv Rajendran: It was actually the idea of my co-founder, David Kaskel. A few years before we met he was playing mass multi-player video games online. He had to collaborate with different people to complete tasks. This particular game was set in Camelot and people had to work together to solve tasks related to dragons. It required a lot of communication. He spent a lot of time playing with Americans’ and there were no issues with communication. One day a German player joined, and he had poor English. He could not communicate with anyone in English, so he really struggled. He died a lot, and everyone left him behind.
Two weeks later the same German player came back and his English was perfect. It was all typing, but his sentences were perfect and he could communicate in real time. When teams were in the middle of a quest, his instructions were clear and his team knew what he was talking about. This was amazing to David, so after the game was over he had a chat with this player. David’s first question was to ask if it was the same player, and indeed it was. He had no formal English language training, he learned it all while playing the game. He also had no reason to learn English other than to be able to play the game. In reality, he had not really learned English. He learned the English that was relevant to the game. He knew how to kill a dragon five different ways, but he could not tell you what he had for breakfast.