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As you log on to Facebook or MySpace, how about taking a slight detour to a social networking site of a slightly different kind? Launched in September 2007, LiveMocha promises to make language tuition as warm as a cup of mocha. Mocha, by the way is a rich pungent Arabic coffee. So brew yourself one and read on.

English has been the ‘lingua franca’ for a very long time, but with the trend towards globalization, no individual or business can ignore the impact of the native tongue. The concept behind LiveMocha is simple. It is a Web 2.0 platform from its interface to the culture of social interactivity that makes learning a new language not only fun, but more importantly free.

LiveMocha adopts a community based approach to learning a new language. Users help each other learn a new language by offering tips, checking each other’s uploaded exercises or assignments and also engaging in one on one interactions. A speaker fluent in English might for example want to learn the subtleties of French. Through this site you can teach a native Frenchman (or better, a mademoiselle) some English and be tutored in French in return. As LiveMocha calls it – return the favor.

LiveMocha.com

The log-on process is simple and attractively free. Imagine learning a whole new way to communicate without spending a dime. LiveMocha to date offers lessons in 11 languages – English, Spanish, French, Hindi, German, Russian, Japanese, Portuguese, Icelandic, Italian and Chinese.

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Choose your language and if your tongue can handle the linguistic challenge you can choose more than one. With ‘4’ modules covering four different learning levels, spending 160 hours can take the user from the basics to a level of passable everyday conversation.

The Courseware

CourseWare

Each level drills down to ‘units’ and further to ‘lessons’. The learning content uses text, audio and video inputs to teach the nuances of a language, leveraging the advantages of a Web 2.0 platform. The student follows a defined path –

A Lesson Page

1. Learning through visual and auditory cues.

2. Reading and associating it with an image.

3. Listening to the way the word is pronounced.

4. Magnet, a small exercise. The student listens to the word / sentence and drags it to a box to check the match.

5. Writes some text and submits it to the community for feedback.

6. Records a passage and submits it to the community for feedback.

The learners and the teachers can communicate with each other through texting, talking or with a webcam.

It is not all footloose learning. Using some real world devices like a course progress bar, course points and a ‘leaderboard’ with the names of the five top ranking members taking the same course keeps the involved learner on his (or her) toes. Members also earn points based on their contributions to the community and their level of interactivity within the community. For example, tutoring someone earns points. So does sending out invites for signups.

Practice makes perfect

Learning a foreign tongue need not be a solitary exercise. With this thought, the practice section of LiveMocha helps the student brush up on his or her vocabulary and diction with the aid of a community member. Text, speech or dialogue, some community member is always ready to lend a hand or an ear.

There is a “flashcards’ utility on the site. Akin to the real world, flash cards can be created by the user to help him or her along with any lesson revisions. An user can also use the flashcard sets created by another user. A friendly way to share and share alike.

The community of learners

This is an atypical community of learners. A global one, every learner is also a tutor here. The text and chat tools are a great learning aid providing real time interactivity. LiveMocha is a friendly meeting place of learners with a common purpose. Just like any other social networking site worth its salt, you can invite friends, search for friends, and send messages and/or chat. Plus if you don’t like a pesky one just press delete. To help you keep track there is the ubiquitous ‘Recent Activity Feed’ which records your activities within the site.

The report card

The biggest advantage of a social learning site is that it encourages interactions and helps the user gain conversational skills by understanding the peculiar ways each language is spoken.

Though the website still carries the beta tag, it seems to be gung-ho with nearly 350,000 users globally. New improvements like a TOEFL preparatory course also are in the pipeline. So are more enhanced levels of instructional content like live tutoring and certification tests. These may come at a cost in the near future.

As its founding CEO Mr. Shirish Nadkarni elaborated, the name ‘LiveMocha’ was used to deliberately suggest a lively and light ambiance of a coffee shop on the net. That is the only drawback. The brewing has to be done at home.

Do you use LiveMocha? Or do you use another website to learn a foreign language? Tell us all about your online foreign language learning in the comments.

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