Sramana: So, David essentially conceptualized LanguageLabs by interacting with a gamer who learned contextual English to enable online multiplayer gaming?
Shiv Rajendran: That was the eureka moment. His desire to play the game motivated him to learn the English necessary to allow him to play the game. His interaction with other gamers gave him the resources he needed to learn English.
At that time it was very expensive to start an experimental environment to see if we could teach language properly in a similar fashion. However, by 2005 Second Life had come about, which made it economic to prototype things to see if it was possible. I had come from a position owing to my experiences with dyslexia, that I felt computer aided gaming, visual aides, and different methods of learning could help a lot. We initially started it as an experiment to see if we could teach English in this environment.
Sramana: What specifically did you do in the experiment?
Shiv Rajendran: The first thing we had to do was some technical development. We were trying to decide if it was possible to teach a language using this technology. If it was possible, then we felt we could go ahead and try to start a business.
Our first step was to bring in some teachers. Initially they were Spanish teachers from the U.S. We got them to teach the same classes they would teach at their universities. We brought in our friends and families as test subjects. We discovered that we could deliver a class to the same standards that you get in a school using this platform. If the teacher was good and the technology worked, then the experience would be at least as good as a classroom. From that moment on, we decided to try and build it into a business.
Sramana: What was the platform? Did you build your own or build something in Second Life?
Shiv Rajendran: To prototype we started on Second Life.
Sramana: Did you set up a shop in Second Life and have language teachers conduct their courses out of those shops?
Shiv Rajendran: Kind of. Thinking back to the guy who wanted to kill dragons, he learned because he needed to know English as relevant context to his game. In Second Life we needed to replicate the need to learn relevant context, so we bought an island and built a city with shops, hotels, roads, and everything else you would find in a real city. That was our context for learning English.
There was no Voice over IP in Second Life in those days, so we found our own solution and brought that over. We had voice in Second Life. Teachers and students were able to talk to each other in real time. Instead of teaching a lesson in their classroom, teachers taught it in a contextual environment. If the lesson was about clothing, they would teach it in a clothing store instead of a classroom.