Professor looks to keep language program live

LinguaeLive aiming to raise $8,000 before April 15 in order to expand language learning platform

LinguaeLive isn’t only a platform that pairs students together to learn each other’s languages — it’s a way of evening the linguistic playing field, according to creator Jennifer Hosek.

Hosek, an associate professor in the department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures (LLCU), created LinguaeLive to help her German students learn more effectively.

LinguaeLive works by having students sign up and choose what method of communication — such as Skype or voice chat — they want to use, then inviting potential partners to “link”. Sessions consist of the two students taking turns with the languages they’re learning, and a timer tracks how long they speak for.

Hosek launched a fundraiser on Indiegogo earlier this month, seeking to raise $8,000 to launch an improved version of the website, pay for hosting, localize the site into four more languages, pay the web engineer and student workers and improve outreach to more students and teachers.

LinguaeLive is currently usable in English, German, French, Spanish and Chinese, but she’s looking to expand it into Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, Arabic and Hebrew.

“Does the site need to be localized?” Hosek asked. “On one hand it’s a tool that enriches the classroom, that makes language learning and culture learning more effective, and it’s also an attempt to connect people around the world in a level playing field, and in order to do that we want to meet people in their expert language so that we’re not the hegemon.

“And that’s why it’s important — it’s partly for usability but it’s partly for showing that we care about a form in which everybody’s equal, everybody’s equally important … their voices can be equally heard.”

LinguaeLive was initially funded with $23,000 from Queen’s and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, but Hosek said her efforts to get additional funding from the two haven’t resulted in more.

She said she’s had a lot of “positive resonance” from her colleagues, the LLCU department head and the administration.

“We recognize that [Queen’s] budget concerns are very grave, and we believe that it’s very important to support teaching and learning initiatives that come from the grassroots,” she said.

“It’s increasingly challenging to get the funding that we need in order to deliver the educational product that we want to be able to deliver to students … because you can’t run a website for free, and you can’t improve a website for free.”

She added that they asked for $8,000 because “the more money you have, the more you can do”.

“We thought that it was enough that would make us pretty sustainable for pretty long, and at the same time it seemed like a doable goal, a makeable goal.”

When The Journal went to press, LinguaeLive had raised $1,260.

“It’s a very cost-effective way to leverage the complementary knowledges of students all over the world, and to enable our students and all students to gain intercultural competency, international exposure and improve language-culture knowledge.”

She said she uses the term “language-culture” because part of learning a foreign language is also learning about the culture it’s used in.

“All the students that I know that use it love it because they feel like it makes the language-culture come alive for them — they feel like they’re learning, living language,” she said.

It also encourages the exchange of knowledge and friendship between students from different cultures, she added.

“They feel like they have a peer, buddy, tutor, and they also can be in the position that they are a peer and a buddy and a tutor to other people,” Hosek said.

Samantha Ortibus, a student contributor who does public relations and outreach for LinguaeLive, got involved with the platform as a second-year when she used it for her Japanese class. She later took a work-study position with LinguaeLive, though she’s now a volunteer.

Ortibus, ArtSci ’15, said the number of Queen’s students who had donated to the project was “pretty stunning”.

“That’s been great, but we’ve been trying to push it harder just to make sure that we meet the goal, and we have high hopes, but, you know, we’ll see how it goes,” she said.

She added that a lot of students are “quite eager” to use the platform.

“It’s daunting at first, but … it’s based on the boundaries of making mistakes, because when you’re doing it with a pencil and reviewing notes … you don’t really have that fear of actually talking to someone,” she said.

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