According to Stevenson and Liu (2010), foreign language learning websites provide an interactive platform for people to acquire new languages through online communications. Language learning websites create collaborative communities for people from different countries to communicate. The most intriguing feature is that users can learn new foreign languages and meanwhile teach their native language through online interactions. Real-time online conversations make it possible for students to learn foreign languages outside the classrooms (virtual spaces). Stevenson and Liu (2010) introduce three learning websites in their article, Palabea (this website is going through technical issues), Live Mocha and Babbel . In our blog, we will focus on Live Mocha.
Overall, Livemocha is easy to use based on Stevenson and Liu’s research findings. Our team signed up for a course and explored its features. (click here to see an introduction of Livemocha )
Languages to learn
To navigate the website, users first have to choose their native language and target learning language(s) from a total of 35 languages. Users then decide the learning level of target language(s) themselves. A number of courses are tailored to meet users’ needs.
Integration of four basic skills
Four skills of language are integrated into each lesson. Learners first learn the vocabulary of this lesson and then put it into practice through listening, reading, writing and speaking (See Figure 1). Through this process, learners get the enough “exposure” and use the target language in meaningful tasks.
Translation tools are available on the website as circled in the Figure 1. It is quite useful for learners to understand the instructions, especially for language beginners.
Figure 1 (Click on the picture to see a clearer version)
Building online communities
Receiving and giving is the spirit of language learning websites like Livemocha. To get new lessons requires learners to earn “points” or “beans” by helping other learners. There is a choice called Help others (see Figure 2) where learners can see the profiles of other learners and their progress of learning. By answering questions and giving feedback, helpers earn virtual capital to buy their new lessons. At the same time, learners get valuable suggestions from helpers who are native spearkers of the target language (s). During this process, both learners and helpers enjoy the pleasure of giving and receiving.
Figure 2 (Click on the picture to see a clearer version)
To further involve learners in more authentic and active learning, the website also provides the opportunity for users to interact directly with native speakers through the use of video, audio, or text-based chat. In addition to learning on the Livemocha, users can find links to its Blog, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for following up studies.
The main purpose of these online communities is to share and to learn new languages through social interaction. The social networking features embedded in language learning websites aim for a real-time, interactive and stimulating learning process and productive learning outcomes.
Real-user comments of Livemocha:
I found it quite helpful for students to learn foreign language through online communications. The interactions between learners and native speakers will greatly stimulate their interest in language learning, since native speakers know more about target culture.
However, I also noticed some problems. Some learners may find the beginning courses hard to learn, and gradually feel demotivated and discouraged. Another problem is that some courses are not well designed and elaborated, which may have negative effects on learning foreign languages. Apparently, the present language learning websites still have much to improve.
I am very interested in how direct communication with native speakers is realized through Livemocha, however, to my disappointment, it is not as convenient as I assumed. When I chose the item of Language Partners, I only found a plain explanation of what language partners are and no links lead me to any “chatroom”. It will be an added value if this function can be better designed.
However, I do find the links on Livemocha to its Blog, Twitter, Facebook interesting, because more convenient and instant communication can take place there.
Language learning websites are definitely a big breakthrough! Since Sophie has mentioned the interactional feature, I would like to point out another highlght: all courses are FREE!!! All you need is a laptop and your willingness to help others so you can earn “points” to enroll in the lessons you like.
However, translation tools are sometimes quite poor if one is taking a non-English course. Though this drawback is understandable as computer translation by no means can replace human translation, translation tools still need to be improved.
What do you think of language learning websites? What are the affordances and constraints of language learning websites? How could such language learning websites be used by language teachers and learners?
Image source: Livemocha