Elevating Potential in Edtech: A Recap of the HMH + LL World Languages Design Challenge

Chris Hammer pitches Charlala at World Languages Design Challenge.

Chris Hammer, founder of Charlala, presents his winning pitch to judges at the World Languages Design Challenge. Image courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


Last Friday, I attended the HMH + LL World Languages Design Challenge. Read ahead to find out more about the seven finalists who competed for the $10,000 prize and the winner, Charlala.

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After reviewing almost 40 competitive applications, watching seven finalists pitch, and deliberating, the judges have selected the winner of the HMH + LL World Languages Design Challenge.


Congratulations to Charlala, a conversational language learning platform with the potential to transform language learning in the classroom by providing instructors with a simple and easy way to engage in conversational-based instruction with students.


After witnessing the Finalist Pitch for the HMH + LL World Language Design Challenge, one thing becomes clear. Charlala successfully fills a demonstrated need for foreign language educators: finding time to give each student the one-on-one attention they need to improve their speaking and listening skills. The Charlala platform, which was created and developed by middle school Spanish teacher Chris Hammer, has the potential to make life a whole lot easier for foreign language teachers by providing them with a quick and simple way to assess student speaking, while simultaneously engaging students in conversational language learning instruction.


The need for conversational language learning technology is exceptionally crucial. In a globalizing society, language learning practices are shifting from grammar-focused instruction to a more authentic communicative and conversational learning experience. Throughout his pitch, Hammer drew on his expertise as a teacher to demonstrate just how Charlala accomplishes this.


Charlala offers video conversation prompts with native speakers and collects students’ recorded responses on a simple, web-based grading page, giving students the opportunity to practice conversations at home and simplifying teachers’ workflow around review and grading.


The platform’s recently launched feature, the Draw Room, allows students to respond to class questions by drawing pictures within the platform individually. The activity is then opened back to the overall classroom where students can engage and comment on each other’s drawings. The platform encourages communicative instruction by actively engaging students in peer responses during class and encouraging students to communicate freely with one another, all without returning to their native language.


Hammer told us that actively seeking feedback from users was an integral part of the platform’s development. During his pitch, he displayed his thriftiness and entrepreneurial spirit by sharing that he ran just two Facebook ads totaling $100 that attracted a beta user group of 1,200 users. The rapid growth of Hammer’s platform also demonstrates the high demand for solutions addressing time management and optimization for language instructors.


In a video interview with Jamie Downy from HMH, Hammer concluded the evening by sharing his belief that language learning can be a powerful tool for students who don’t have the resources or ability to travel the world and be exposed to different languages and cultures. It will be exciting to see Charlala tackle that goal as Hammer moves forward after the competition.


“Many of the innovations presented at the Design Challenge have the potential to significantly decrease the time and effort educators expend in assessing the growth of their students’ language skills.”


As someone who studied and majoried in a foreign language during college, it was eye-opening to see so many educators with unique ideas to make language learning more engaging and accessible for all students. Many of the innovations presented at the Design Challenge have the potential to significantly decrease the time and effort educators expend in assessing the growth of their students’ language skills. Others placed some of the agency in language learning on the students themselves, allowing them to construct and drive the learning process.


Additional finalists who competed for the grand prize include Bee Bilingual, N! Magazine, Flink Literacy Learning, Hihilulu, Licensed Authentic Video Subscription, and EnRoute.


Bee Bilingual, founded by public elementary spanish teacher Elizabeth Black, is an online language learning platform with a human touch. It provides access to language learning to students in lower grades by connecting native spanish speaking educators with learners.


Flink Literacy Learning, led by CEO Jonathan Bower, produces high-quality educational products that are student-controlled, encourage team-based problem solving, and include all six components of literacy


Hihilulu, led by CEO Jennifer Wang, is a personalized streaming animation platform for kids under 8 learning Chinese.


N! Magazine, designed by high school spanish teacher Daniel Verdugo, is a bilingual, student-created digital magazine publication. The concept of the magazine allows students to be both content creators and curators while also affording teachers control over the content.


Licensed, Authentic Video Subscription is an online video platform created by Wade Steadman. The company curates online video content that is appropriate and educational into categories for educators to use.


EnRoute, founded by experienced game designers Wade Kimbrough and Sam Liberty, is a gaming platform that captures and generates measurable reports to teachers. The platform uses the gameful learning concept, a framework that scaffolds assessments into the game itself without breaking the student’s immersion.


The HMH + LL World Languages Design Challenge, created to spur innovation in the global language learning economy, came to a close last Friday. The judging panel consisted of HMH General Manager Jim O’Neill, LearnLaunch Co-Founder Eileen Rudden, and HMH Vice President of Product Management Paul Murphy. This year’s HMH + LL World Language Design Challenge marks the first inaugural World Language Design Challenge in a now annual event. Read the HMH blog for more on the personal background and success stories of these entrepreneurs.


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Jamal Merritt is an intern at LearnLaunch.