Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Review of LiveMocha.Com : The Internet's Largest Language Learning Website

This review originally appeared as a guest post on the Everyday Language Learner's Blog. Thanks to language coach Aaron G. Myers for his encouragement! You can go to the original review on Aaron's blog for additional user feedback on LiveMocha.com. Do you have experience with LiveMocha.com? I'd love to know how it has worked for you!


I’m an American expatriate bursting with enthusiasm to get out and experience our globe! When my two children graduated from high school, I saw that as my opportunity to see and hear the world from alternative points-of-view by moving overseas. I sold everything and moved to Prague, Czech Republic. Now I’m living in Istanbul, Turkey. I enjoy it so much I’ve decided to put down some expat roots and learn the local language.

As Aaron G. Myers is also an Istanbul, Turkey resident, it wasn’t long before I ran across his Everyday Language Learner’s blog. Aaron coaches people from all over the world on self-directed language learning. I started his free ten-week journey of emailed inspiration, resources, and advice on how to do just that. In Week Two, he recommended a resource for language-learning that was new to me: LiveMocha. Since LiveMocha billed itself as THE largest language-learning website on the internet, and it was free to boot, I immediately started an account.

The best thing about the site is its intuitive design. There is no mystery to how to work the site, everything is clearly labeled and easy to figure out. When I logged in, I could immediately switch the site to English and choose between working on my language courses, exploring the culture of my new language, or practicing Turkish with native Turkish speakers. Livemocha offers over 38 possible languages, with 12 million registered users, from 196 countries. The website itself is just five years old!

The genius of the design is using social networking to help people learn languages. Native speakers of one language grade the work of people trying to learn their language. That favor is reciprocated when the ‘teachers’ become students in the language of their choice! Native speakers will not only grade each other’s work, they will offer tips to understand the grammar, and practice speaking live.

LiveMocha courses are divided into three sets of five lessons. I like this. It reminded me of marathon courses. Marathon runners don’t like one long, linear course instead preferring short distances with lots of turns that add up over time. It helps the runner visualize not the entire path, but just the next step. I chose as my first course, Turkish 101, on March 7, 2011 and finished the entire 51-set of Turkish lessons in four courses on January 24, 2012. I was always excited to see what the next lesson would be and to finish a set. Those steps, repeated over and over, made it all seem so doable.

Each individual lesson began with up to 40 Turkish words or phrases. The large number of new phrases and words surprised me, because I had been taught in my TEFL teacher’s certification course, that a language lesson should never be more than eight words, as eight is the maximum a student can remember from each lesson. Maybe online lessons are different, I don’t know. I remembered them.

First I would learn the words devoted to a theme, say “clothing,” and then immediately get quizzed on them via a review session, a listening session, and a reading session. Frequent quizzing has been shown to aid short-term retention. I liked getting all of those answers right! Each lesson required me to do a writing and speaking sample. I would always put that off because they were harder to do. Finally, to complete the lesson, I would take the quiz on that individual lesson. It was fun to take the quiz multiple times and track my improvements in time. How quickly could I finish it?

I can think of four very easy improvements to the site. I was asked by users to be friends in language-learning, but finding someone to grade your samples and be possible language-learning partners seemed so random. Sure, other users would rate us on our teaching ability (I had quite a bit of ego in my 100% useful rating) but toward the end I happened upon a teacher whose answers were truly more complete and educational than others. Sure enough, his profile showed he had been recognized as a Top 10 Teacher in Turkish. Why doesn’t the site show us exactly which teachers are rated highest so we can pick them? I found my favorite teacher when I was on my last five lessons. Finding him earlier would have increased my trust of the site.

Another feature I would add to the site is to not make students guess at the pronunciation of a passage. While I would learn terms or words in a lesson, for the speaking practice attached to each lesson (usually a whole paragraph), I would often have to go outside the site to figure out how I should pronounce the words. It would be so easy to have other users actually create a sample hand-crafted audio for us to mimic. Instead, I inputted my sentences into Google Translate to figure out how to say them.

Users could criticize a phrase in a useful tip left for those learning. This was not always helpful. The lesson would try and teach a phrase and the sidebar featured someone saying, “we don’t say that!” When someone has a specific criticism of the lesson, I think site administrators should use that criticism to change the ‘slide’ and then delete the teacher’s tip. It would be one more way to create a friction-free site.

One area that I did not explore well because I didn’t see the benefit of it was flash cards. Why would I use a flash card set, when there existed a beautiful lesson with visual and audios that I could access again and again? Why would I even try someone’s top-rated flashcard set? Since we all had the exact same opportunity to create flashcards based on the lesson, I couldn’t see how someone’s flash cards could be more interesting than the lesson itself. That was not self-evident.

Lastly, I would ask LiveMocha to put verb work closer to the front of the courses. Even after 51 lessons, I could occasionally pull off a small conversation. However, I would characterize what I knew as words and phrases that were the building blocks of future conversations. I believe if verb work was closer to the front, people would be able to make sentences faster.

I remember the weekend I started to understand the signage around me. I remember the weekend I had my first 10-minute conservation with someone at the bus stop. It’s exciting to become more comfortable in a second culture and examine new ways of thinking about my world in a second language. Thank you, Aaron, for the recommendation. Thank you, Live Mocha, for getting me started in Turkish. I was sad to finish my last lesson and I wished for more and more lessons.

What better recommendation is there than that?

You may also like the post: Time Out for Turkish

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have used Livemocha off and on for about 2 years. The Top 10 teacher isn't a ranking of ability; it's just a ranking of how many teacher points someone has accumulated. I have read inaccurate reviews from people with a large number of teacher points and very helpful reviews from people with only a relative few teacher points.

Karen said...

I figured the algorithm would take in both ranking, 100%, and upvoting by users to show consistency of excellence over time dealing with a wide variety of learners. Thanks for your comment.

 
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