Saturday, January 19, 2008

#41: Live Mocha - learn a new language and make friends along the way

Like many people I know, I have the desire LATER, like when I retire, to go back to languages I have learned in the past and try to revive those competencies, or to start new languages. I know that to some extent this will always be a dream. I have never had any trouble learning the grammar of a language or reading it, but when it comes to oral competency just forget it! I do not have the ear for it. So, I am interested to see how this site works. I really want to brush up my grammar and reading skills in a couple of languages and think that I am capable of doing so, but do I still dream of the oral competency?

I was interested to notice recently on Facebook an ad for another social networking language learning program, My happy planet. This program also talked of connecting with others to learn, though it was closed down for production when I sourced it. However, it seems that the idea is not limited to LiveMocha.

So I logged in and joined LiveMocha. It seems that one can learn, practice and return the favour there, people who are learning your native language. A whole list of languages was offered initially and I chose French because I'd like to revive my competency in that. I did study it for six years at school and for a year at University so I am hoping that I can get into this reasonably easily. Louise and I, however, were quite challenged a couple of years ago when we thought we might get back to French at Alliance and were freaked out by the induction test.

Once I had chosen French, I discovered that despite the long list of languages being offered, in fact the only ones really offered were English, Spanish, French, German, Hindi and Mandarin. Others are "coming soon". There were a few people who were learning French whom I asked to be my friends, though I think that for this program to be effective there would need to be a greater network.

I then embarked on French 101 (I was offered 101, 102, 201 and 202) and completed the first lesson. The course (French 101) is supposed to take a total of 50 hours but as yet I haven't any sense about how long it will take me. I found it quite confusing in each section as there were no instructions and I had to play about trying to work out what to do. I lost scores while playing around and felt that with clear instructions I would not have, as absolutely none of the language was new. I wondered what it would have been like to start a course with absolutely no knowledge, and maybe that is really what I need to do to test the usefulness of the site.

It's an interesting concept and maybe an area where social networking can really help one's learning. I think from my experience of LiveMocha and MyHappyPlanet that this is still very much in an embryonic phase but I'll continue with the French and maybe later when I have time to ponder it I will have access to the other languages I am interested in.


Jon Bischke said...

Interesting to hear your thoughts on LiveMocha. We're building something at that we feel will make language learning more efficient and fun than it's ever been. We hope you review our service when we go live in February! :)

Anonymous said...

I’m due to finish university in a year or so and am considering going backpacking across Asia, iv heard the countryside is beautiful and the people are so spiritual I think it could be an amazing opportunity to see the world. However I can only speak English and basic French, does anybody know if I would need to learn Thai? Another problem is how to go about learning the Thai language, or any other language that I would need! Is there any good language learning software available that’s pretty cheap?

Susan said...

In Huangshan (黄山) southern Anhui province in Eastern China, Fu Shou-Bing logs on to the computer in the public library near his village. Since discovering (, the retired High School Chemistry teacher has been logging on almost every day to the English-Chinese teaching website. Sometimes he cycles the 25 miles home, cooks himself a simple lunch of rice and stir-fried vegetables with salted fish, often returning once again to the library and his new hobby in the evening. boasts an educational website that teaches members conversational English or Chinese (no “this is an apple” stuff here) via video clips contributed by other members. After a vetting and often transcribing process by language tutors commissioned by the site, the clips are available free of charge in YouTube fashion. The twist? Members
film each other in everyday activities, hoping other members will learn not just their native tongue, but also cultural innuendos lost in textbooks and more conventional means of language learning.

“One member filmed himself cooking in his kitchen. We got a few emails asking what condiments he used,” says a bemused Warwick Hau, one of the site’s more public faces. One emailer even wanted to know if she could achieve the same Chinese stir-fry using ingredients from her regular CR Vanguard (华润超级) supermarket. “We often forget our every day activities may not be as mundane to people on the other side of the world,” Hau adds. Another such clip is “loaches” - a Chinese mother of 3 filmed her children and their friends playing with a bucket of loaches - slippery eel-like fish the children were picking up and gently squeezing between their fingers.

Lately the members have also begun to make cross-border friends and contacts. The ECpal function works much the same way sites like and work - members can invite each other to view their clips and make friends. And it has its fair share of juvenile humor as well. “Farting Competition” features two teenagers and graphic sound effects. Within several days, the clip was one of the most popular videos that week, likely due to mass-forwarding by the participants’ schoolmates.

For other members keen to learn more than the fact juvenile humor is similar everywhere, there are many home videos featuring unlikely little nuggets of wisdom. “The last thing I learned from the site is why you never find green caps for sale in China”, says Adam Schiedler one of the English language contributors to the site. Green caps signify cuckolded husbands, particularly shameful in China as they are a huge loss of face. Adam vows not to buy any green headgear for his newfound friends.

The subject matter of the videos often speaks volumes about its contributors. Members choose their own content and film the clip wherever they please, some of their efforts drawing attention to rural surroundings and the quaint insides of little homes otherwise not seen unless you backpack your way thru the tiny dirt roads and villages along the Chinese countryside.

Idyllic countrysides and cooking lessons aside however, ECpod marries the latest video sharing technology with the old school way of teaching a language - from the native speakers on the street. It’s a modern, more convenient alternative to spending 6 months in China. And why not let the Chinese teach you?


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