Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Learning Languages Using Social Media

People who follow my blog know that I am interested in learning languages and have recently been going back to try and re-learn some of the Greek and earlier the French that I have forgotten. I have been using Web 2.0 skills for that and primarily have focused on Livemocha, though I do feel some inadequacies in the site which I have described elsewhere.

Laura Gomez over at Mashable recently did a guide to learning languages using social media. She looks at three categories of sites: Community, Video/interactive, Blogs and Twitter. Most of the examples she gives for Blogs are really general stuff about language quizzes, language learning and not really about intensively learning an individual language. The video/interactive category includes a range of things from BBC languages to plain Youtube, with a number of them being paid courses.

Twitter was an interesting newcomer to the field with a range of sites to follow which give words of the day etc. Examples Laura gives are of Linguick, I kinda like languages, Learn Japanese, Learn Spanish, and French language. I have signed up to follow these (excluding the Japanese one) and I'll report back on how I find them.

I am particularly interested in those that fall into the category of Community as I think that that is where social media has its strengths. How good is it to be able to get in touch with native speakers who are happy to help you learn a language in an unthreatening, sharing environment! I already use Livemocha, of course but was keen to explore the other five: Babbel, Busuu, SharedTalk, iTalki, and xLingo.

Babbel is a site where you can learn French, English, German, Italian and Spanish. There are free vocabulary and phrases packages but the actual online courses are charged for. Though this is essentially a business, there is a community element to it with learning partners, chat, messaging etc.

Busuu whose image heads the post also focuses on four main European languages, English, Spanish, French and German and was established as a project of UNESCO's Year of Languages. It is free and provides online interactive courses as well as a learning community. There's vocabulary, dialogues, interactive exams as well as community elements. Check out an introduction to Busuu at Youtube. It looks quite good, so I might give it a burl for my slack French some time, but it's not much help for my Greek given the limited number of languages it offers.

Shared Talk by Rosetta Stone (cool image that if nothing else!) is a place for practising what you have learnt, according to Gomez. It is also an adjunct to paid Rosetta Stone products. There's voice chat, text chat, language partners and all in about 30 languages, ranging from Afrikaans to Yiddish with a lot of minority languages in between on the list. Presumably this list is dependent on whether anyone is signed up on the site for a particular language. I checked out Greek and discovered a potential pool of 99 people who were interested in Greek. They were listed by name, native language, practising language, country, and age. I am not sure what relevance age has, but maybe some people only want to form communities with people their own age? I also checked Amharic and found 15 possibilities. This might be a site worth checking out - it is certainly worth knowing about.

iTalki is more of a learning exchange: it helps you find a teacher, find a language exchange partner, ask questions and discuss in groups, and find resources. They seem to cover most languages, though there is more focus on the more populous European languages. Resources seem to be submitted by members as well as by links to other resources. The teacher marketplace puts one in touch with paid tutors. Again I checked out Greek and found resources and nine teachers. Amharic wasn't on offer, so I tried Latin and came up with resources and eight teachers.

The final site, xLingo, is also a language exchange where you can find language partners to chat either one on one or in forums, make resources and share. I checked out what was available in Amharic and came up with three possible language partners: you can choose by age, gender and country. Then I checked out the Greek and found a page and a half of possibilities. I tried Latin for fun and came up with 12 people. So here's another site where I could practise my lost language skills.

Use of social media for language learning is an interesting topic and probably an area that is going to grow. I was interested in a comment I received on my blog about a new site It's not up yet but it says it is about learning a new language anytime, anywhere and with language partners and teaching others yourself. There was an offer for pre-launch signups to become VIP members though I don't quite see the benefits of that if it is all free as stated.

It has been interesting to do this survey but I think that I'll stick with LiveMocha for the present. I want to do free, actual online courses specifically in Greek and LiveMocha has that for me. I am happy to participate in the Livemocha community by helping others to learn English, though I don't do much of that. If I want to pursue my French further (and I have done some French on Livemocha too) I can see that there are other options out there for me, as indeed there are if I want to practise Greek rather than doing an actual course.

PCMag's Top 100 websites of 2009

I've just been browsing through PCMag's Top 100 sites for 2009. They have divided the list up into two sections Classic and Undiscovered, and then divided the Classic into Apps, Fun, Info, News, Shopping and Tech and the Undiscovered into the same categories excluding News. I'm not sure why there's no News category in the Undiscovered as I would certainly be adding a few news sites to their Classic ones.

I was interested to browse them and discover that I regularly use 20+ of them (mostly the Classics like Facebook, Twitter, Picnik, Google apps, Youtube etc but some so-called Undiscovered like the World Digital Library) and I have played with others. There were half a dozen that I will explore personally and also some that I thought might be worth exploring for Web 2.0 classes either for the staff or the public, eg for travel.

However, I must say there were quite a few that I know I will never look at because I don't live in the US. I might be interested in restaurants in NYC if I were travelling there, but I really am not interested in US real estate or where to get a pet from a shelter in US. It would be interesting to see what an Australian list of 100 best websites for 2009 looked like, but maybe it's just too many to be focusing on for anywhere.
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