Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Learning Languages

Approximately six months ago I joined a daily e-list called ClickSchooling which recommends web sites for home schooling on a daily basis: Monday Math, Tuesday Science, etc. I've found a couple of really nice sites through ClickSchooling, but the gem I found there in July has been mind-blowingly wonderful.

Livemocha is a foreign language site with FREE lessons in just about every language imaginable. I had been bemoaning our lack of finances as I had wanted to purchase the Rosetta Stone German program for Timothy's freshman year of high school, and all I had on hand besides my own ancient textbooks (all at the college level) was a Barron's Foreign Service German audio CD and text set which really focused on travel and not on truly learning a language. Jonathan, in 7th grade, had mentioned wanting to learn Japanese, and I possess nothing at all on that language. And with Rosetta Stone at a couple of hundred dollars per level (and needing at least 2-3 levels for each language), studying foreign languages just didn't seem possible for our boys this year. And that was sad because one of the major reasons we wanted to home school our children was foreign language acquisition at younger ages than the public schools allowed.

But we are pleased as punch with Livemocha. The lessons are quite similar to the old versions of Rosetta Stone, using pictures to naturally teach not only vocabulary but also sentence structure and grammar. I'm taking Timothy through German which is still quite familiar as I taught it briefly at the university level both as University of San Diego (as a TA) and at Point Loma Nazarene University (first year, second semester). I am very pleased with the lessons, although I have found a simple mistake or two here and there, but nothing major. Keith and Jonathan are doing the Japanese together as well as they both want to learn it, and they're really enjoying it. Our one complaint is that sometimes the native speakers go a little too fast, and it can be difficult at times to understand what they're saying. I can catch the German well enough to get Timothy through it, but Keith and Jonathan are struggling a bit here and there. But, hey, it's FREE!

Livemocha does have a paid "Plus Program" which is $100 per level, but the free one is quite adequate. Each free lesson has four parts: 1) a 40-word/sentence learning part, 2) a 40-word/sentence review part that involves reading, hearing, and dragging words into sentences, 3) a writing part that involves composing sentences and receiving feedback from native speakers, and 4) a spoken part where we record ourselves reading a paragraph, and again we receive feedback from native speakers.

The beautiful component that makes Livemocha different from even Rosetta Stone is the worldwide community of language learners available at one's fingertips. We as native English speakers can give feedback to students of English on their written and spoken exercises, and we can also make "friends" with speakers of either our native language or of the language we're learning in order to teach and learn, give and take, within the Livemocha community.

I'll be helping Timothy with his fifth lesson of the first level (101) as soon as I post this, and there are Intermediate and Advanced Levels as well. Plus, the program keeps track of all reviews and keeps a running percentile of all lessons combined; he is running at 94%. Quizzes and extra review material are also available in the free version although we haven't needed either yet. Overall, I am quite impressed with Livemocha and highly recommend it to my home schooling and non-home schooling friends alike. And thank you, Diane at ClickSchooling, for recommending it to us in the first place!

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