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

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

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

50 thoughts on “Virtual spaces and foreign language learning

  1. Since human is originally a social animal, those website makes the desire of communication and interaction be a strong motivation of reading and writing, which is beneficial for language learners. And also, through talking to the native speakers in targeting language, users of those websites are able to learn the language use and the cultural background of the local region as well. Therefore, virtual space is a creative tool to use in language education.

    • Thank you and yes, Lizzy. When we first used Livemocha, it was really appealing for us. We could mark other learners’ Chinese speaking. We are all teachers of Chinese on that website, which motivates learners a lot!

    • Yeah, absolutely right. Teachers can make full use of these websites to stimulate students’ interest and spark their creativity through online learning. Most of the students will find learning process intriguing and engaging, and they will automaitically devote a great deal of time to communicating with native speakers, instead of being forced to study foreign languages.

    • Yeah, absolutely right. Teachers can make full use of these websites to stimulate students’ interest and spark their creativity through online learning. Most of the students will find learning process intriguing and engaging, and they will automaitically devote a great deal of time to communicating with native speakers, instead of being forced to study foreign languages.

    • Yes, dear Lizzy, I do agree with you, this virtual space does offer a good platform for students sharing their language and background knowledge together.

  2. Not having used the learning site, I suppose I would be a bit skeptical about whether it delivers what it purports to. I also am a little old-fashioned in that I prefer meeting people face-to-face rather than on-line. I think it would be difficult to build up a dedicated online community of people who have never actually met.

    • I agree and would prefer the old-fashioned way of learning. I have tried such language learning websites and apparentely I quited soon, for sometimes it’s hard to wait for useful comments on-line for weeks when I probably had forgotten my project.

    • Everyone has preferable way to interact. Actuallly, online learning websites make people from different countries to communicate through these social network. We cannot make people from various parts to have face to face communication due to the distance and time. It just create a connection between people. So it is a kind of complimentary platform for interaction and learning, when face to face communication is not available.

    • Yes, comparing to the traditional way of learning, I think this kind of online learning site will be more time consuming. After all, there are a lot things going on togehter at the same time when learning online. There might be more distraction than just learning from books and classrooms.

  3. Interested in how Live Mocha works, I registered and signed in. Then I found foreigners are really cute when they learn Chinese at the beginner’s level. I tried to help them with their mistakes. However, I failed because of the limitation of the website, I guess. For example, I can just grade their pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar generally instead of giving detailed comments and feedback. There is no space for giving comments. So it is not helpful enough for learners to know what their mistakes are.

    Another thing is that there is a time gap between asking for help and giving help. Thus, it is possible that learners will not get feedback immediately which will delay the process of language learning. I think the website can be a good assistant in learning but cannot be a main learning channel. What is most valuable is the communication between a teacher and a learner, for their communication has the real-time nature and is the most effective learning way.

    Different people hold different attitude towards learning language through website. For me, the effects of learning a language through website depend on the learner’s personality. Those who are knowledgeable and talented will attract and benefit others when learning a foreign language and they may develop positive social relations with native speakers from other countries.

    As Tracey has pointed out, I also did not find any link connecting language partners. To run a website for a long term, being user-friendly is a key factor.

    • Great to see you bring up learners’ personality in using the website! Anxiety is a barrier to language learning, and the web decreases such anxiety to some degree. Therefore, for those shy and introverted learners, language learning website can be a fabulous starting point.Thanks very much Fiona!

    • YES,dear Fiona, I do agree with you, That’s so nice that you registered on it, and had some experience on it. some websites they do have the limitations, and sometimes we don’t have the solution to these problems, so it is very important for teachers and designers to know more about websites, and a well-planned website is so significant.

  4. Thanks for this interesting post. One thing that I find interesting about these social network sites for language learning is the idea of applying a ‘collective intelligence’ model, with peers teaching peers. This fits with Lankshear and Knobel’s ‘new mindset’ in that it emphasizes distributed knowledge and expertise, rather than treating all expertise as residing in the teacher.

    • Thanks Christoph, as a Chinese sayings goes, “solidarity means strength”. We as learners do benefit from such collective intelligence in many ways. However, Michael Gorman also decries a user-controlled Internet as “a world in which everyone is an expert in a world devoid of expertise”. We trust and doubt, agree and argue. Maybe that is the fun…

  5. I like the idea of such language learning websites and “peers teaching peers” notion. All the registered members in this community are experts of their mother tongue and are capable of giving comments. However, language learning websites, I think, are far from being flawless. Commentators are all language learners and lack of certain language teaching techniques, related cultural backgrounds and similar language learning experience, thus may not able to leave sufficient feedbacks. Such idea should and can be revised in some way and be promoted to be more effective.

    • Thanks Clover for your comment. The lessons on language learning websites have fixed modes, which,as you mention, is impossible to cater to every learner’s needs and tastes. Both sides need to negotiate, I think, for the website to instill more individuality and the learner to adapt to a new teaching style in this digital age.

  6. I once used a similar learning website named Englishtown. At first, I found it interesting because I could arrange my learning process without anxiety, for example, I could review and repeat what I’d learnt whenever I wanted and I didn’t have to worry about making mistakes or being punished. But the tasks of four basic skills were neither functional nor meaning-making, which bored me overtime. The highlight of the current website Livemocha is that learners also act as contributors and experts to help others practice learners’ native languages, from which they will get more motivation.

    • Yes, if the four skills are not practised in a meaningful task, learners will get bored quickly. Like we said in the post, Livemocha uses different tasks, which are more authentic and meaningful.

    • I consider putting ourselves into an authentic language enviromnt or directly connect with native speakers on the Internet as a start can maximize our interest. Later, we can use learning website with free courses to improve our English skills. (IMHO).

    • Thanks for your comments, Cassie! I used Englishtown before and I totally agree with you. I think that Livemocha is more interactive than Enlishtown, for users can act both as teachers and students. The exchange of roles will definitely boost learners’ confidence and motivation.

    • Very interesting point about the changing roles of learners in these SNS for language learning: as Cassie points out, you not only act as a learner, but as an ‘expert’ teacher as well. One wonders how this affects the language learning process.

    • 🙂 Thank you! I think that comparing to classroom teaching, these learning websites enable students to adjust their learning process and learning progress more flexibly. It all depends on their own situations.

    • Hello, dear Cassie, I do agree with your opinion, I also think this kind of language learning website could let students learn the foreign language in a low-press environment, such as for grammar learning. However, it is so important it makes sense to those students who are almost the beginners. However, for advanced learners, maybe another language learning website is more useful.

  7. Livemocha, as many other language learning website, has many affordances. It can have the access to anytime, anywhere of the world as a language lab with supervision.I think this could be a tool for students to use outside of the classroom to motivate their interests. They can get feedback on the pronunciation and accent from native speakers and track their own progress on Livemocha. As for the drawbacks, even though it has no links or poor translation, well, I guess any language practicing website is not perfect. Those with access to native speakers or video camera could cause other issues as well.

    • Good point! I want to reply to you about the translation tool. When we tried a Korean course, we could not understand the instruction at all. Then we wanted to use the translation tool, which was also not helpful.This is why we raise the problem of translation tool. We are intermediate or advanced learners of English so translation tool is not necessary for us. But it may be a problem for beginners.

    • Thanks, Caroline! Just as you said, users can have access to these learning websites anytime and anywhere, for these websites break the national and regional boundaries between people by creating a large online platform. Also, students can learn the new languages outside the classrooms, which make the learning a part of their lives.

  8. Livemocha is not only a platform to learn a foreign language, but also a place to meet foreign friends. I think this kind of authentic interaction with native speakers is appealing to language learners and motivates them to learn. But as for the exercise part, the types or contents are not as flexible as those in traditional language class. I mean, we can have role play or group discussion in class, but in Livemocha, we only have one-way input or output. I always believe that the traditional in-class model can never be replaced by distance or internet education. So I think on-line learning community like Livemocha can be used as a complementary tool to motivate students and increase their chance to use the target language outside the class.

    • Yes. I agree with your idea. I also think online learning websites should be used as a complementary tool. It is called blended learning if I don’t get it wrong.

    • I have tried livemocha before, and the part I like the most is the language learning community it provides. Although it is not easy to meet new friends, it is still an exciting way of learning English for lots of learners. The video and audio chat is brilliant, but I was too shy to speak up with native speakers or other peers. Even when I type, I used to check many times to make sure there weren’t any silly mistakes about grammar and spelling.

  9. In my college years I have ever tried to practice my English on an online language website, and English is the second language for most learners. Therefore, an interesting thing is that lots of amateurs learning from another amateur. Although I agree that online platform is useful for learners, I think one thing can’t be ignored, which is the exchange from native speakers. Learning language is a communicating process and will be used in social context.

    • Hi, Lilian. I am not sure what you mean by “learning from another amateur”? Learners are interacting with native speakers of the target language. Do you mean that maybe those native speakers are not qualified to teach or?

  10. I love using this kind of online language websites, but most of them need to charge. Livemocha is free and that’s good.
    When students have low level of L2 proficiency, they will find this kind of website quite useful because the curiosity, everything is new to him/her. However, if they have specific needs for learning, unlike teaching by real people, websites are hard to satisfy all their requirements.
    But I still like the idea that you can get a language partner. It can be really fun.

    • Yeah, like Aileen said. Online learning websites or tools should be used to complement or facilitate traditional learning. Learners have their own styles so maybe someone is not benefiting from the traditional learning but may find online learning useful.

    • Thanks Lily, FREE is very important. I will leave the moment I am asked to pay. Here on Livemocha, you can earn points by helping other learners with their homework and buy new lessons with earned points. Technically it is FREE! However, as you advance to a higher level and need better courses, you may still have to pay.

  11. Actually I really love the comments (feedback )of you at the last part of this article, which makes the article vivd. 🙂 I do agree with Lily’s idea, I think for different levels students, they need corresponding level language learning websites. I love the methods that the language learners could directly communicate with the native speakers, which makes them feel more interesting. For the beginners, they often make mistakes, some young children are afraid of making mistakes, however, with these websites, they could use language resources themselves, so that can let learning more efficient.

    • Thank you for liking our post! This kind of website is designed to fit learners of various levels. And I think not only beginners also advanced learners are sometimes afraid of making mistakes. So it reduces anxiety for advanced level students as well 🙂

  12. Livemocha remind me of an on-line language learning school called Hujiang Online: It offers its customers online language learning lessons, and when I say ‘customers’, you know it is CHARGED. But it do offers students a platform to learn language whenever and wherever they want. And the language knowledge their lessons provide is systematic and pertinent.
    Besides, although its users don’t work collaboratively to prepare lessons for other users, they can share their notes online with other learners. And I think it is really helpful, because in this way learners won’t miss any important points.
    Therefore, I would say if Livemocha is more suitable for the beginner, online lecture websites like will be more helpful for the intermediate and advanced learners.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience! Yeah, I took one course in Hujiang as well two years ago. Their courses are indeed well-designed for intermediate and advanced learners. However, I find there is a common issue for online learning website: learners must have the perseverance to keep taking the course. I sometimes could not stick to these courses.

    • @Junjie, I totally agree with you. Perseverance is a key factor in such kind of online learning. I once signed in MOOC and made up my mind to learn at least one course per semester. But thinking is one thing, doing is another. I have not completed any course so far.
      And also, when students using it, they should under certain rules or supervision. The Internet is a fascinating world, before introducing students with online learning tools, we should first make sure that students can concentrate on learning instead of distracting by Weibo or games.

  13. I have no experience of using this kind of social network, especially for language learning. Because before I think that I can not focus on the course or language learning when I face a computer. After reading your post, I think I will try this way of language learning and use social network to improve my English more often.

    • Yeah, I cannot agree with you more!! I tried this kind of online courses before. It was really hard for me to stick to it.

  14. Looks great! The peer helpiung function might to somehow motivate students’ willingness of communication cuz it provides oppotunity for they not only to be a student but also other’s teacher. And of course, their language skill will be improved too during the chat with other students.
    So, is that website free? Or need users to pay for some advcanced function?
    And I also think that chat room for students to communicate with each others is important. Only having the link to Blog, Twitter, Facebook of Livemocha is not enough.

    • Hi, Nancy! I like your avatar! You will be invisible, if you choose white. 😛
      I agree with you that chat room is important and social media can enlarge their audience base.

  15. This website reminds me of some Chinese language learning and Especially the first one, learners can also choose many different courses just like Livemocha, and there are also many other exercises like BBC and VOA English dictations. It helped a lot when I was preparing my Tem-8 test. But I think it would bring more benefit to those who persistent learners. For the elemantary learners, teachers should have a good plan and organization about how to use it.

    • I am also a registered user of . There are abundant language learning resources threre. But I think as independent learner,I have a problem. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the resourses that I do not feel like learning after I down loaded it to my computer.

  16. I think foreign language learning website like livemocha is really a good try for beginners. Compared with traditional language learning way, it involves elements like videos, forum and music to arise student’s attention. On this platform, each individual has two identities: student and teacher. We can learn from other members and also give them some suggestions on learning Chinese. Actually I used similar website before, but give up just a few weeks later. Because I found that learning system was not complete. So maybe a better system design also matters for these kind of language learning websites.

  17. Language learning websites can be a powerful tool in language learning. But it is unrealistic for the teacher to introduce this method in class. The reason is that personal preferances vary from the format to the content. Only the one that the student is most interested in could be an effective tool in improving their language skills. A practical way to use these websites would be the continued use of these websites under parents’ supervisal.

  18. Livemocha probably is the most advanced language online learning platform. According to Tracey, she found the links on Livemocha to various social network platform, I am afraid the instant msg function will cover up the original purpose of this software, it is hard to focus on only language learning when something else is happening simultaneously.

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