A few weeks ago, I was a speaker at INplay 2010, a Toronto conference that included content creators from all aspects of children’s media. I mentioned that one of the things that impressed me about INplay attendees was the way in which many of them struck me as looking at marketing their products to children as something more than just an opportunity to make money. A good example of this is GoGo Lingo, a company created to help kids learn foreign languages through activity-based play in an online environment.
I had the opportunity to meet with GoGo Lingo Founder and CEO, Afsoun Yazdian, who’d made the trip from Los Angles to Toronto to speak on a panel about achieving balance between education and entertainment and how technology factors into the equation. A recent parent, Ms. Yazdian’s enthusiasm for her product and the way in which it can help children learn was palpable. Her background, including an MBA from Stanford, an MA in Education and a degree in psychology, combined with a professional background working for companies like Sesame Workshop and in film development for the likes of Paramount Pictures has clearly prepared her for the challenges of designing effective and entertaining educational material for kids within a viable business model. Other members of the GoGo Lingo team have been involved in gaming, web comics, Playhouse Disney and Neopets, bringing a great deal of relevant experience and entertainment firepower to the table. The company’s Advisory Board is made up of senior educators, including the Executive Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. Clearly, GoGo Lingo takes education seriously and it was recently included in a Wall Street Journal article on the growing trend toward supplementing students’ education at home, without having to resort to an expensive tutor.
Set in the online community of Lingoland, GoGo Lingo makes the most of colorful characters in an immersive setting to teach children how to speak Spanish with the help of GoGo, their own tutor. The target age is 3-7 and the curriculum has been designed specifically for this age group. Note the use of the word “curriculum.” While LingoLand is meant to hold kids’ attention through mini games, exploration and activities, it is designed from the ground up as a teaching tool and backed by considerable research in computer assisted language learning. As a child interacts with the game (which includes teaching their own Little Lingo character), they are presented with images in Spanish. They are asked to identify the image based on audio and visual cues, their ability to identify the image with only an audio cue within a limited time is tested and learned concepts are retained as children progress; as their knowledge increases the amount of Spanish used is geared up, helping them become more comfortable with the language. Kids earn stars by interacting within the environment, including teaching their Little Lingo how to speak, feeding it, reading it a book or by playing mini games. So they are guiding and teaching their Lingo, as opposed to it simply being their avatar. Kids find the content compelling and they learn as they progress. Parents receive progress reports and have access to an online Parent Dashboard, so none of this is happening in a vacuum. Forums help to keep parents informed and a part of the community. To help extend the learning offscreen, there are printable flash cards and other activities as well as a music CD that’s available through Amazon.
My own children are a bit too old to be part of the target demographic and we’re based in Canada where French is the dominant second language instead of Spanish, however, they did find the visuals appealing and I have no doubt they would have made use of the site under different circumstances. The “evil” Mumzi King and his minions are particular favorites among the characters. Based on what I’ve seen (and what I’ve seen in countless other online games), GoGo Lingo has struck a nice balance. Rather than a typical video game with a few educational elements tacked on to keep parents from switching off the computer, GoGo Lingo offers exploration, a storyline, characters, mini games and activities that will appeal to young kids combined with a solid and results-based educational element that’s bound to please parents and teachers. If you have kids in that target 3-7 demographic, it’s really worth checking out gogolingo.com to have a look. While it is a membership based site, it’s split into Free and Premium levels. Free gets a surprising amount of functionality, including teaching over 150 Spanish words and phrases and parental reports. Premium gives you access to additional vocabulary, supports 5 additional children and gives kids additional color customization options for their Lingo, among other extras.
According to Afsoun, other languages besides Spanish are something that GoGo Lingo is considering for future releases and there are plans to expand the virtual environment.