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Interview with LingoZone.com

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Introduction:
Learning languages can be a fun activity because when you make new friends you also broaden your horizon. This is an interview with Alex Esterkin, the founder of LingoZone.com - a website for people who want to practice and improve their English. Alex is one of our ESL partners.

Torsten:
Alex, you have created a community of language learners. How and when did you come up with the idea for this project?

Alex:
I was always fascinated by how the Internet works across countries and distanced. In seconds you can travel around the globe and chat with people who are thousands of miles away. I thought (and still think) that most of the Internet sites are too local, focused on their own country, town or community, and wanted to build something that would take advantage of this global nature of the Internet. And one of the major barriers that divide people is language. Of course the best way to learn another language is to travel to the country where people speak that language. But even then, people are usually not too interested in your country and too polite to point you to your mistakes (I know it from my own experience). However if the other person is learning your language you both are in the same boat and that makes it a totally different story. And the Internet makes travel free and instanteneous.
So, naturally, it all came together: the Internet and linking people who speak opposite languages. I could not find any web sites that would do something like that (it was 2002) so I decided to build it myself. It turned out later that, like most of the good ideas, my idea was not new and a couple of web sites had already existed (there is even a special term «language exchange» which I did not know at that time), but I am still glad that I built LingoZone without seeing any other implementations of the idea.

Torsten:
Alex, you obviously have a passion for learning languages and communicating with people from around the world. How have you been able to create all the interactive features available at LingoZone? Have you done the programming work yourself?

Alex:
I've been doing software development for some major web companies for more than 10 years, so yes, I built the core of the site myself. But I would like to mention Elena Belinkaia, who is a programmer as well, and who spent countless hours helping me with programming, design and testing.

Torsten:
At LingoZone I have met users from Europe, Asia, the Americas, Austrialia and even Africa. It seems that your website is popular in any part of the world. How have you managed to spread the word so fast?

Alex:
We practically spend no money on advertising. The main sources of visitors are search engines, links from other sites and, most valuable, member referrals when members who liked the site tell their friends about it.

Torsten:
So word of mouth (or rather word of mouse as it now is often referred to) is working for EnglishZone very well. I can see why a user would tell their friends about your site - you offer a lot of interesting features such as the various word games. My favourite one is Word Ladder. Who came with this idea?

Alex:
The basic idea of the word ladder game is attributed to Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland). But I thought that it could be converted into a nice Internet game. I extended the rules (you can add, delete or rearrange letters) and made it mutli-user (all users play the same game and compete against each other). I believe that playing the game is a fun way to learn new words (you can click on any word that appears in the game to see what it means).

Torsten:
I think the opportunity to play a word game with other English fans from around the world really can contribute to building an Internet community. Do you have any plans to add even more interactive programs to LingoZone?

Alex:
We will probably have more games, improve and extend the «My Vocabulary section», and add totally new features to LingoZone. It is too early to talk about them in detail but our goal is to build useful and entertaining tools and programs for our users, so that they have many reasons to come back often.

Torsten:
I see. To use a marketing term, you want to increase the «rentention rate» of your website. LingoZone seems to quite popular among users from all around the world. Are there any particular regions you would define as your «target market» or do you want to cater to all countries.

Alex:
We treat all languages and all regions equally and are glad to see members from any country and with any language set. Currently our most thriving language community is English-Spanish because of the mutual interest and penetration of these two cultures. But I am sure that members with even the most unusual combination of languages will be able to find some good language friends at LingoZone.

Torsten:
Could you please elaborate on the way LingoZone brings language learners together? You have mentioned the terms «language set» and «combination of languages». Does this mean that for example a person whose mother tongue is Spanish looks for an English native speaker who wants to learn Spanish and then both start a «language exchange»?

Alex:
We have a unique introductions system that helps match language partners. The «Introduction» feature is just a short message where a user tells something about himself (herself). Each member can create up to three introductions. Let us use your example. The person whose mother tongue is Spanish and who is learning English can create the introduction for everyone whose mother tongue is English and who is learning Spanish (the most important one), and also the one for everyone who speaks English and the one for everyone who speaks Spanish. Introductions are delivered to the special introductions box of matching users. Users whose mother tongue is English and who are learning Spanish will receive the first one as an exact match, users who speak English will receive the second one and users who speak Spanish will receive the third one. They can just reply to the introduction they like to start an exchange.
The idea is that even when you just join the site you already have dozens of new messages from other users. You don't have to initiate the conversation, you can just reply to a message you like. And even if your language combination is unusual and there is no exact matches most likely there will still be some matches. In addition to all that we of course have a standard search, so you can find a partner based on language, country and age and initiate the conversation with anyone you like.

If you have any English grammar or vocabulary questions,
please post them on this English Grammar Forum.


Next:ESL Cafe: Interview with EssayTown.com

Author: Alex Esterkin and Torsten Daerr


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