No doubt you have all heard of the growing importance of social networking through the internet. In an age where friend has become a verb, it seems only logical that social networking would evolve to be useful for purposes beyond filling up free time. Recently Literacy Network Volunteer Kelley Burd-Huss told me about Livemocha.com, which does for language learning what many more expensive computer programs do, but does it for free. You or your learner can study English, Spanish or many other languages with the help of native speakers who are trying to learn your language. It's "Facebook Meets the Rosetta Stone," so to speak.
To get the experience of Livemocha for myself I signed up for Spanish lessons. The experience stretched both my mind and my email in box. The site ran me through an introductory lesson of fairly straightforward basics-telling time, using present tense and so on. But within minutes of completing it a dozen emails had come in from other Livemocha users in Colombia, Mexico and other places in the Spanish-speaking world, offering encouragement and criticism of my efforts. Clearly, the social networking aspect is a major factor in how it all works.
The website's welcome page says,
The best instruction begins when people teach and learn from each other...[P]eople from different parts of the world offer their help and perspective. Livemocha has the world's largest community of native speakers eager to help and learn from each other-and that's what makes Livemocha so addictive and effective.
The screen capture of my in box at right shows just a few of the reviews of my work from that native speaker community. Note that these six all came in within two minutes of each other. The messages came from native speakers of Spanish, offering encouragement like, "muy bien! continua asi" ("very good! keep it up") and words to that effect, as well as some helpful, practical criticism. Also coming in the original email blizzard were some offers of friendship. Within a couple hours of my signing up I had "friended" and was sharing text chat with Dessy, the screen name of my first Livem ocha learning partner. We talked about our difficulties learning languages and our goals for how to use them. Now, a month later, my in box continues to take in messages from people who want to learn English.
If I had been this popular in high school I might have gone to prom.
Eventually one can sign up for higher-level lessons that cost money. However, the cost for the service, for the learning and for the companionship is mostly time. Since participants get peer feedback on their lessons, good form requires one to reciprocate. Reviews can be very short, and one can choose to leave an "audio comment" in lieu of or in addition to writing. The site makes it clear that they expect participants to keep their comments constructive.
As for equipment, if you or your learner would like to participate it is a good idea to get your hands on an inexpensive microphone headset. You can find models at Comp USA starting at $7.00 and costing as much as $200. A set in the $15 range will generally perform quite well.
While I was writing this message the Livemocha site was up on my computer and I had my headset on from leaving an audio feedback. To my surprise some pleasant tones started playing in my ear and a pop-up window informed me that David in Brazil wanted to share text chat. It is possible to change your status when you log in to the site. If you prefer not to be interrupted by pop-ups, you can change it to "busy."
This site is free and not hard to use. For an introduction to the site or for practice tutors can visit Literacy Network's Mobile Learning Lab during its open hours Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:00 to 6:00. The public libraries, with their computers and high speed internet connections would make an excellent place for learners to practice between group classes or meetings with their tutors. Kudos to Kelley Burd-Huss, This Week's Favorite Tutor for her tip.