One of the major issues with learning a new language is trying to figure out where to start! There are so many tools and programs, books and TV shows which promise to have you speaking fluently with little time or effort that it is hard to know what to use. I recently decided to try to teach myself French, and I wanted to do this relatively free of charge. I had heard of LiveMocha in the past – a web-based language teaching website – but had never used it, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to give it a go.
The most apparent advantage to using LiveMocha is the sheer range of language programmes it offers. I was only interested in the French, but the website offers courses in 35 different languages from Catalan to Chinese, Icelandic to Esperanto and Urdu to Ukrainian!
The actual learning experience itself is quite similar to Rosetta Stone. The course I chose started from absolute zero, so the first lessons where things like greetings and numbers. Each lesson has four sections; learn, review, write and speak. The “Learn” section presents you with a series of pictures with the vocabulary word underneath which is then spoken. A translation is available, but the website encourages you to keep away from using translation to learn. The “Review” section then has you match up the word with the picture.
After these two sections, you are meant to have learnt the basic vocabulary and phrases of that lesson. Then, in the “Write” section, you have to write a composition based on the guidelines given and the vocabulary you’ve just learnt. Lastly, the “Speak” section has you read, recite and record a passage based on the lesson vocabulary. There are also 4 optional exercises with each lesson to reinforce the lesson if you’re having difficulty with a certain bit.
At first, LiveMocha feels like a cheap web version of Rosetta Stone in that most of the learning is through matching phrases with pictures. But what makes LiveMocha different – and in my opinion, more interesting – is that you get feedback on your written and spoken exercises from native speakers of the language you are learning. When you sign up to LiveMocha, they ask you what languages you are fluent in, and you are then expected to give feedback on other users language exercises. You then also receive feedback from native speakers on your own exercises. This feature has been really helpful for me with learning French, however I don’t know how well it works with the less popular languages i.e. if you want to learn Catalan, I’m not sure how many users there are that can help you do that.
When you first sign up for LiveMocha, they bombard you with messages and ads telling you to purchase the programme and give them monthly donations. However, you don’t actually need to pay anything to use the website. By giving feedback to other users, you earn “mochapoints” and once you have 300 of these points, you unlock all 100, 200 and 300 level courses on all the languages. It took me about ten minutes to earn enough points, and once I did, all the notices asking me for money went away. However, I don’t know what happens when I get to the end of the 300 level course.
To summarise, there are a lot of good things about LiveMocha. It’s easy to use, free; it seems to cover all the language learning basics. The native-speaker feedback is a really nice addition and very useful for people who are learning a language with no outside help. However, it does seem very basic in that there doesn’t seem to be much structured grammar teaching; it is very heavily focused on vocabulary.
So I do recommend using LiveMocha to start learning a language, but I would suggest supplementing it with reading some basic grammar material and trying to converse with real people in the language you are learning. It is a great tool, but should be used in conjunction with other methods in order for you to get the best language learning experience.