Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and LearnLaunch Announce World Languages Design Challenge Winner Following Live Pitch Competition

Winner, Chris Hammer, creator of Charlala, will receive $10,000 prize and opportunity to bring idea to market

BOSTON – Learning company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and LearnLaunch today announced the winner of the $10,000 World Languages Design Challenge to support innovative approaches to World Languages teaching and learning.

The winner, Chris Hammer, presented what was determined to be the most innovative idea that identified, articulated and resolved a challenge to help today’s World Languages learners develop the linguistic skills and cultural experiences they need to become global citizens and leaders.

Chris is the creator of Charlala, a conversational language practice platform that offers teachers a new system to assess oral proficiency, monitor student progress and expose students to a variety of authentic speaking experiences with native speakers. Since launching, Charlala has grown its user base to 12,000 engaged users and is on a mission to bring its authentic interpersonal speaking practice to students and teachers around the world.

Out of a pool of nearly 40 applicants, seven finalists were selected to participate in a Finalists Pitch session on March 1 at HMH headquarters at 125 High Street in Boston. The finalists were scored based on degree of innovation, commercial viability, partnership potential, and overall impressions by a panel that included Jim O’Neill, General Manager, Core Solutions at HMH, Eileen Rudden, co-founder of LearnLaunch, and Paul Murphy, Vice President, Digital Product Management at HMH.

“HMH is committed to encouraging creative thinking and innovation when it comes to tackling education’s challenges. We are thrilled to recognize Chris Hammer and his platform Charlala as the first-ever World Languages Design Challenge winner,” said Murphy. “We were so impressed with the well-developed, innovative ideas presented by each of the finalists, and we look forward to working with Chris to explore bringing this effective idea to World Languages classrooms.”

Finalists included:

  • Winner, Chris Hammer: A Spanish teacher and World Languages curriculum specialist based in Forest Park, Ill., Hammer recognizes the focus on communicative proficiency and authentic activities in today’s world language classrooms and seeks to address the lack of support for interpersonal speaking practice and assessments.

  • Elizabeth Black: An entrepreneur based in Washington, D.C., and co-founder of Bee-Bilingual, Black and her team focus on addressing the important fact that most U.S. elementary schools do not have the time, staff or funding to offer students world language instruction at the ages when they can most easily acquire additional languages.

  • Dr. Peter Dublin and Jonathan Bower: CEO and president, respectively, of Flink Learning based in Cambridge, Mass., Dublin and Bower seek to address the lack of language literacy products for young children to accompany in-school instruction.

  • Jennifer Huang: A mechanical engineer and founder of Hihilulu based in Boston, Mass., who—inspired by watching her children learn and imitate other languages while watching cartoons—Huang seeks to address the lack of high-quality, culturally-relevant content available, especially in an early-learning environment.

  • Richard Wade Kimbrough: A game designer and professor of game design at Emerson College from Allston, Mass., Kimbrough and his team are working to address two problems with current second language acquisition curricula: 1) tools that create authentic and immersive environments are not as effective outside of the classroom; and 2) traditional means of measurement and assessment fracture authentic and immersive environments.

  • Wade Steadman: Founder and president of Steadman Productions from Boston, Mass., with more than 20 years in video/film production and educational media, Steadman focuses on the challenges teachers face when trying to utilize video content in their World Language classrooms.

  • Daniel Verdugo: A high school Spanish teacher at Huron High School in Ann Arbor, Mich., Daniel holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Barcelona. Working with students on a daily basis, Daniel recognizes the need for students to be involved in the development of content, focusing on relevant aspects of Hispanic culture and developing digital literacy.

Chris Hammer will be awarded the $10,000 final prize and will work closely with HMH over the next several months to explore bringing the idea to market.

About Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (NASDAQ:HMHC) is a learning company committed to delivering integrated solutions that engage learners, empower educators and improve student outcomes. As a leading provider of K–12 core curriculum, supplemental and intervention solutions and professional learning services, HMH partners with educators and school districts to uncover solutions that unlock students’ potential and extend teachers’ capabilities. HMH serves more than 50 million students and 3 million educators in 150 countries, while its award-winning children's books, novels, non-fiction, and reference titles are enjoyed by readers throughout the world. For more information, visit www.hmhco.com.

About LearnLaunch Institute
LearnLaunch Institute catalyzes a community that drives innovation to transform learning and increase achievement. Our education innovation ecosystem mobilizes educators, entrepreneurs, learners, investors, and industry affiliates. As a nonprofit, the Institute offers learning opportunities and connections to individuals, support services to schools, and a district network. We believe in expanding access to learning that is engaging, personalized, and effective. Edtech is a critical component of achieving this vision at scale. For more Information and our upcoming events, visit www.learnlaunch.org or follow us @LearnLaunch. LearnLaunch Institute is a part of the LearnLaunch family, which includes LearnLaunch Accelerator and coworking space LearnLaunch Campus. Learn more about our full family of services at www.learnlaunch.com.

Leah Riviere
Senior Communications Manager
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt