New York: The best way to learn a foreign language may be to surround yourself with native speakers. But if you can’t manage a trip abroad, then the Internet and a broadband connection may do the job, too, bringing native speakers within electronic reach.
Daily dose: Investment banker Mike Kuiack in Vancouver, British Columbia, has been studying Chinese with the help of his iPod.
Web-based services now on the market let people download a daily lesson in French or Hindi, pop on their headsets, and then use the Internet telephone service and the power of social networks to try their conversational skills with tutors or language partners from around the world.
For those who want to polish their high-school German before a vacation, or to master snippets of well-intoned Mandarin Chinese to charm a future business host in Shanghai, these sites offer alternatives to more traditional tools such as textbooks and CD-ROMs. LiveMocha (Livemocha.com), for example, is a free site where members can tackle 160 hours of beginning or intermediate lessons in French, German, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Hindi or English. There is no charge for tutoring; instead, members tutor one another, drawing on their expertise in their own native language.
Members chat online by typing messages, by talking or, if they have a webcam, by video, in exchanges with others who want to tutor or be tutored. English speakers learning Spanish, for example, can write or speak descriptions of a vacation and receive feedback on their grammar and choice of idioms from native Spanish speakers. A Spanish speaker, in turn, may seek advice from the English speaker about English assignments.
LiveMocha introduced its website in September 2007, said Shirish Nadkarni, chief executive of the company based in Bellevue, Washington. Since then, he said, about 200,000 users from more than 200 countries have joined. “It’s a community of like-minded learners who can leverage their native language proficiency to help one another,” he said. The name LiveMocha is meant to evoke the relaxed atmosphere of a coffee shop.
The site is still in beta, or testing phase, Nadkarni said. Advertising will soon be added, as well as charges for some premium content and services.
Another electronic-based program takes a different approach: podcasting. Praxis Language, based in Shanghai, offers free lessons in Mandarin Chinese (hinesePod.com) or Spanish (SpanishPod.com) as podcasts. Many lessons include business-based vocabulary on topics such as how to hire a courier in China, said Ken Carroll, a co-founder of Praxis. While the podcasts are free, transcripts, exercises and other services typically cost $9-30 a month, he said.
Mike Kuiack, an investment banker in Vancouver, British Columbia, who often travels to China, was an off-and-on student of Chinese for eight-and-a-half years before he signed on to ChinesePod. He has been studying diligently for a year and a half, paying about $240 a year for premium services.
©2008/INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE