Spanish version

Spanish on the Web
The Centro Virtual Cervantes

José Antonio Millán
Linguist and electronic editor;
former Director of the CVC Project.
Home page

The Centro Virtual Cervantes of the Instituto Cervantes (Spain) strives to apply state-of-the-art information technology in order to pursue the objectives of the institute —to promote the Spanish language and Hispanic cultures in the non-Spanish-speaking world. Instead of having a physical site in a specific country providing classes, library services and cultural events within a radius of just a few kilometers —with all the costs involved in buildings, teaching staff and travel— the Centro Virtual (CVC, the Cervantes Virtual Center) uses the Internet to reach a broader public and provide better service to Spanish-related communities.

There are many Spanish language pages on the Web; however, they do not amount to much (about 2% of all Latin character pages: Millán, 1997). The CVC strives to increase the quality and quantity of Spanish language resources on the Internet, attracting new users and creating a competitive range of cultural materials within the Web.


In order to understand how the CVC is organized, one can think of it as a physical building, and the best way to begin exploring it is to have a look at the floor plan. On the second floor we see the Sala de profesores (Teachers’ Meeting Room), which leads, among other places, to a series of materials referred to as Interacciones (Interactions). These dialogs drawn from real life include:

1. audio
2. transcriptions
3. functional and grammatical contents for the highlighted elements ("primera" is used to "indicate location", and also belongs to the "ordinals" category).

In addition, these dialogs can be searched by Level, by Subject (in a taxi, on the telephone, in a department store, in a bank) or by Contents. If we choose the latter, we enter a database with Functional or Grammatical Contents. If we choose Functional Contents, we can then select "Iniciar discurso" (Begin Speech), for instance, which leads to a variety of contexts: travel, banking, or shopping in a department store, with dialogs for each one of these situations.

In addition to providing its own materials, one of the CVC’s goals is to encourage the use of other resources that are already available on the Internet as realia (namely, as real elements to be used for learning purposes in the classroom). That is why many of the available materials are not directly provided by the CVC, such as "Nuestras recetas" (Our Recipes) in ¡Qué aproveche! (Enjoy!), or the works of Picasso in Colores (Colors). In addition, the Oteador (search engine) provides numerous lists of resources available for teachers.


In the near future, an Online Spanish Course will allow long-distance learning for students. The course will include remote tutoring and the use of chat programs for teaching purposes. These projects are being developed in the Pilot Centers (see below).

Currently, the CVC provides its own materials, which allow students to study or review certain semantic fields and assess their own language level.

Familia (Family) provides the terminology for family relationships based on a bitmapped family tree. Pull-down menus are used in Colores (Colors), and ¡Qué aproveche! (Enjoy!) provides tables for comparing different terms used in Spain and Latin America.

The Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera (DELE, Diplomas in Spanish as a Foreign Language) enable students to determine their language level. For example, in a test such as DELE inicial, comprensión auditiva (Beginner DELE, listening comprehension) students can listen to a dialog, answer multiple-choice questions and then "visualize results" to check the number of correct answers.


The CVC contains several reference materials:

The Archivo Gramatical de la Lengua Española (AGLE, Grammatical Archive of the Spanish Language) by Salvador Fernández Ramírez includes over 112,000 file cards and almost 15,000,000 characters. The sources are literary works dating from all different periods (from the Poema del Cid to the present) as well as scientific texts, newspapers, pharmaceutical information leaflets, or, in some cases, samples of spoken language (conversations in the street or on a bus).

The texts can be looked up by grammatical category, by author, by work or by any word they contain. These different elements can be searched with all the access options provided by text databases. At this moment, the CVC includes a sample of the information to be delivered in the first stage, namely over 16,000 file cards for the following categories: preposition, adverb, conjunction, interjection, and connective particles.

Access to this database is now free of charge, although there will be a fee in the future, varying according to the type of access chosen (single search or subscription).

Voces y Letras Hispánicas (Hispanic Words and Letters) is a complete encyclopedia of Spanish language and literature, drawn from the multimedia video disc presented by the Instituto Cervantes at the 1992 Sevilla World Fair. The main subjects covered are the following:

  • Sounds. Phonetics. Intonation. Dialect regions in Spain. Dialect regions in America.
  • History (Middle Ages, 16th-17th Centuries, 18th C., 19th-20th C.)
  • Literature (prose, poetry and theater from all periods)
  • Words (word history, words in Spain, words in America)

These materials, which will gradually be placed on the Web, include a variety of resources: Real Audio, video, interactive areas, etc.

Tesoros (Treasures) of the Archivos Nacionales de España (National Archives of Spain) offers materials from the Archivo General de Indias, Archivo de Simancas, Archivo General de la Administración, Chancillería de Valladolid, Archivo de la Corona de Aragón and Archivo Histórico Nacional. These valuable documents are available in four different resolutions:

1. very low, for reference only (thumb index), in the general index
2. low (in the document file card, which always includes the call number)
3. medium
4. high

The purpose of these options is to enable different researchers or users to view a document with the degree of resolution they require, avoiding unnecessarily long download times.


Spanish language professionals will also have access to cultural resources such as those offered by the CVC on Arquitectura (Architecture) or the Oteador search engine.

Arquitectura provides information on representative buildings in one of the most important urban planning projects developed in recent years: the Olympic Village in Barcelona. Elevations, floor plans for different levels and interior and exterior images are shown for each building, along with video and audio tracks provided by their architects. The user is even able to modify the preliminary sketches that were drawn for each one of these works.

In addition, the Paseo virtual (Virtual Stroll) allows the user to view different locations in the area from 15 different 360º panoramas.

The Oteador is a subject-based search engine (much like the popular Yahoo) that classifies close to two thousand Internet addresses, grouping them according to the subjects that are most important from the perspective of the Instituto Cervantes:

  • Language (databases, distribution lists and newsgroups on grammar and spelling, style sheets, exercises and other pages related to Spanish language usage and teaching)
  • Dictionaries, lexicons and glossaries (Spanish, bilingual and multilingual dictionaries, abbreviations, regional variations, slang or quotes)
  • Literature and electronic texts (Spanish and Latin American literature with pages by well-known authors, anthologies, literary magazines)
  • Libraries, databases and other resources (from Spain and Latin America, resource centers in Spain, Latin America and the rest of the world)
  • Publishers and bookstores (foremost publishing companies in Spain and Latin America, bookstores in Spain, Latin America and the rest of the world, as well as magazines, distribution lists and newsgroups)
  • Academic and other institutions that promote the Spanish language (institutions working to foster Spanish throughout the world: organizations, associations and universities in Spain, Latin America and the rest of the world)
  • Political organizations and government agencies (pages for governments and institutions in Spain and Latin America, non-governmental organizations, political parties, union organizations, trade associations, international organizations)
  • Media (newspapers, magazines and other media in Spain, Latin America and other countries)

These categories will be followed by others until an overall picture is completed. To start surfing the web, the Centro Virtual Cervantes recommends sites that include the R icon (for Recommended). The "Buscar" (Search) key leads to a word search within the Oteador: for example, if would enable a user to find all the information available on Quevedo, regardless of its category. On the other hand, "Otros buscadores" (Other Search Engines) allows the user to perform direct searches in 5 Spanish and 11 English language search engines.

In the future, in addition to this Yahoo-type search by categories, there will also be a word-based search for the words contained in the pages (as in Altavista), within a program that will build a crawler and index the contents of Spanish-language sites. This effort is being sponsored by Fundesco and Telefónica.


Other virtual rooms are located on the first floor, such as the Conference Hall.

In the very near future, the CVC will host virtual conferences. At this time, it already contains the papers presented at the Primer Congreso de la Lengua Española (First Congress on the Spanish Language) in Zacatecas. Users can actually listen to the Voces (Voices) of the lecturers.


Virtual exhibitions offer excellent opportunities: The first one hosted by the CVC presents the works of the Mexican-based graphic designer Vicente Rojo, a leading figure in the history of Spanish-language publishing and the evolution of corporate image in Spanish-speaking countries.


The plaza on the floor plan leads to the Forums, virtual meeting points for CVC users with each other and with the Institute.

Following the latest trends catering to inexperienced Internet users, the CVC has included an HTML forum, with full visualization of threads and individual messages. The Forums are moderated, both to avoid interferences that could damage the Institute and to establish a certain degree of discipline among participants. The Foro del español de hoy y de mañana (Forum for Spanish Today and Tomorrow) is intended for translators, journalists, and other Spanish-language related professionals. The Foro didáctico (Teaching Forum) is aimed at Spanish-language teachers, and the Buzón del Hispanista (Hispanic Studies Mailbox) has been developed for teachers from Hispanic cultures worldwide. In addition, there is a Foro General (General Forum).

The Forums draw upon one of the essential advantages offered by the Internet: its potential for allowing users to help each other solve problems and answer questions. In this area, the CVC is simply the host for encounters between third parties; however, it does also provide specialized staff that can contribute its knowledge to each Forum, as well as a network of available consultants and institutions. The Normas (Regulations) for the Forums have been carefully developed to provide a satisfactory framework for participation.

Five months after the CVC went online for testing, there have been almost one thousand four hundred visits in all the Forums.


In the future, students will be able to sign up for the Online Spanish Course in the Secretaría (Registrar), but for the time being, users who wish to do so can sign up in the Registro. Registered users periodically receive information on updates and new materials available at the CVC. At the end of January there were 1,214 registered users from almost fifty different countries. 21% of these people were Spanish teachers and 7% were translators, just to mention two of the CVC’s target groups.


The Centro Virtual Cervantes project stemmed from a market study on the presence of the Spanish language on the Internet and among the private online service leaders (Compuserve, America Online). This was followed by three months of project design (with the participation of all the Areas within the Instituto Cervantes) and nine months of implementation.

A dedicated department has been created to manage the CVC. It now includes a total of 10 full-time positions: one director, one software supervisor, one hardware and communications supervisor, one editorial supervisor, one teaching supervisor, one forum supervisor, three moderators (sysops) and one administrative assistant. In addition, there are 8 part-time positions, two in each one of the pilot centers. These are located in very different time zones and cultural areas: Bremen (Germany), Chicago (USA), Manila (Philippines) and Casablanca (Morocco). Each pilot center has one teaching supervisor and one technical supervisor in charge of evaluating the materials and planning the remote tutorials.

The entire staff has received specific training for the project according to a plan created for this purpose. The training has been technical as well as conceptual, drawing from the recommendations of people with a long-standing experience on the Internet, especially for complicated tasks such as those performed by the sysops. HTML, used with the program FrontPage, has become the in-house standard for information exchange and on the platform for first drafts, tests and final versions.

The materials are generated in Alcalá de Henares (Spain). Every two weeks new information is added and the Portada (Home Page) is changed. This process is carried out on four servers (computers): the CVC4 is solely used for research purposes; the CVC3 is used for development: that is where materials are edited and where Web page developers test and check them; periodical materials (bi-weekly for the time being) are submitted, edited and given a final review on the CVC2. An ISDN connects this server with the CVC1, which in turn provides the Internet connection ([1]).

The CVC1 is located in Madrid, although in the future it will have two mirrors, one in the UK and another in the USA. The project has received funding from Telefónica, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Fundesco and Informática El Corte Inglés, in one of the largest joint sponsorship efforts to have taken place recently in Spain. NewMedia and the Colegio de Arquitectos de Cataluña have sponsored the Architecture Area.

The materials have been prepared to work with the leading browsers on the market, and with small, low-resolution monitors. Plug-ins have been kept down to a minimum. The purpose of these efforts has been to broaden the user base that can visit the site. A survey is currently being carried out (online and by traditional methods) to determine more specifically what the technical resources of the target CVC users actually are, in order to develop materials that are more appropriate for the predominant platforms.

Many individuals and companies have provided their assistance to create this site: among them are Josep Bagà (overall graphic design, animated gifs, such as the WWW/MMM for the Oteador or the Instituto Cervantes logo), Amadeo Condé (compilation and classification of addresses for the Oteador), Delfina Morán and Celina Roig (development of materials such as Interacciones (Interactions), Familia (Family), etc.) and NewMedia (Architecture).


Although the CVC went online at the end of September, 1997, it was officially inaugurated on December 4th by the President of the Spanish Government. Since its first test runs until mid-January 1998, the server provided one million four hundred thousand files, fulfilling a half a million page requests. Users from almost 70 different countries have visited the site.

An advertising campaign for the CVC was launched in the month of December, appearing in the foremost world newspapers, such as Le Monde (France), Ashai Shimbun (Japan), New York Times (USA), The Guardian (UK) or Der Spiegel (Germany).

© José Antonio Millán, 1998
Translation by: Deborah Bonner

[Published in Cuadernos Cervantes, n. 17, 1998]

[1] Technical specifications: the CVC 1 is an HP NetServer, with four 200-Mhz Pentium Pro processors and two 4-gigabyte disks (one mirrorring the other), 128 megabytes of RAM memory, and an expandable 2-megabyte Internet connection. All the servers run Windows NT 4 and Internet Information Server 3.0. [<]