THE best way to learn a foreign language may be to surround yourself with native speakers. But if yo



THE best way to learn a foreign language may be to surround yourself with native speakers. But if you can’t manage a trip abroad the Internet and a broadband computer connection may do the job, too, bringing native speakers within electronic reach for hours of practice.

Web-based services now on the market let people download a daily lesson in French or Hindi, pop on their headsets, and then use Internet telephone service and the power of social networks to try their conversational skills with tutors or language partners from around the world.

For those who want to polish their high-school German before a vacation, or to master snippets of well-intoned Mandarin Chinese to charm a future business host in Shanghai, these sites offer alternatives to more traditional tools like textbooks and CD-ROMs. LiveMocha (livemocha.com), for example, is a free site where members can tackle 160 hours of beginning or intermediate lessons in French, German, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Hindi or English. There is no charge for tutoring; instead, members tutor one another, drawing on their expertise in their own native language.

Members chat online by typing messages, by talking or, if they have a Webcam, by video, in exchanges with others who want to tutor or be tutored. English speakers learning Spanish, for example, can write or speak descriptions of a vacation and receive feedback on their grammar and choice of idioms from native Spanish speakers on the network. A Spanish speaker, in turn, may seek advice from the English speaker about English assignments.

LiveMocha introduced its Web site in late September 2007, said Shirish Nadkarni, chief executive of the company, which is based in Bellevue, Wash. Since then, he said, about 200,000 users from more than 200 countries have joined.

“It’s a community of like-minded learners who can leverage their native language proficiency to help one another,” he said. The name “LiveMocha” is meant to evoke the relaxed atmosphere of a coffee shop.

The site is still in beta, or testing, phase, Mr. Nadkarni said. Advertising will soon be added, as well as charges for some premium content and services.

Paul Aoki, director of the language learning center at the University of Washington, Seattle, signed up at LiveMocha primarily to see if his students might benefit. He says he thinks the site’s social networking component makes it useful. “It seems to be a pretty powerful opportunity for people around the world to connect with language partners,” he said.

He also likes the chat capability. “Doing voice and text chat simultaneously is very useful,” he said. “If you don’t understand something your language partner is saying,” he said, even when people at the other end speak slowly, “they can type it out and you can read it.”

Curtis J. Bonk, a professor of education at Indiana University in Bloomington, is specializing in ways to integrate online technologies into teaching. He says LiveMocha is part of an explosion of educational resources for language learning on the Web.

“You no longer have to learn language as an individual in a silo somewhere, using a canned program on a CD-ROM,” he said. “Instead, you have thousands of tutors to pick from — if the first one doesn’t work out, you can choose another.”

Another electronic-based language learning program takes a different approach: podcasting. Praxis Language, based in Shanghai, offers free lessons in Mandarin Chinese (ChinesePod.com) or Spanish (SpanishPod.com) as podcasts.

Many lessons include business-based vocabulary on topics like how to hire a courier in China, said Ken Carroll, a co-founder of Praxis. While the podcasts are free, transcripts, exercises and other services typically cost $9 to $30 a month, he said. For $200 a month, members can receive daily tutoring from professional, native-speaking teachers by way of Skype, the Internet-based telephone service.

Mr. Carroll says  has more than 270,000 visitors a month, several thousand of them paying about $240 a year for a combination of premium services. Most of the paying customers live in the United States, he said.

“They tend to be thirty-somethings, slightly mature, with some kind of business connection to China,” he said.

Mike Kuiack, an investment banker in Vancouver, British Columbia, who often travels to China, was an off-and-on student of Chinese for eight and a half years before he signed on to ChinesePod. He has since been studying diligently for a year and a half, paying about $240 a year for premium services.

Since he started using the service, he said, his vocabulary has grown as much as it did in all of the previous years of study combined.

“Speaking and listening skills were what I needed,” he said. “The podcasts have been very useful for this. Part of the reason I’ve made so much progress is that they are so enjoyable.”

He works on lessons whenever he has a moment. “I listen when I’m stuck in traffic,” he said, “and also at my PC, where I can listen and read at the same time.”

The studying is starting to pay off at work.

“I don’t try to conduct negotiations in Chinese,” he said, “but now at least I can listen to what’s going on in meetings.”





對於想要在一個假期之前鞏固他們的高中德語的那些人,或者想要掌握一些零碎的發音標準的普通話來迷住上海的未來企業主的那些人,這些網站提供了象課本和CD-ROM這類更加傳統的工具讓他們選擇。例如,免費網站LiveMocha (livemocha.com),在這裡,成員能夠獲得160小時的用法語、德語、漢語、西班牙語、印地語或英語講授的初級或中級教程。輔導不收費;,而是成員間互相輔導,充分運用他們自己在母語上的專業知識。


公司的首席執行官Shirish Nadkarni說,總部在華盛頓 Bellevue市的LiveMocha是在2007年9月下旬推出它的網站的,從那以後,大約已有來自200多個國家的200,000名使用者加入了。



在西雅圖的華盛頓大學語言中心主任Paul Aoki與LiveMocha簽約主要是為了看學生們是否能從中受益。他說他認為該網站的社會網路這一部分很有用。“它給世界各地的人與語言學習夥伴聯繫提供了很大的機會。”


美國布隆明頓市印第安那大學的教育學教授Curtis J. Bonk專門從事將網路技術融入教育中的研究。他說LiveMocha是網上語言學習教育資源大爆炸的一部分。


另一個以電子為基礎的語言學習計畫採用不同的方法:播客。總部在上海的Praxis Language語言學習公司,以播客的方式提供免費的中國普通話 (ChinesePod.com) 和西班牙(SpanishPod.com)課程。

Praxis的合夥人之一,Ken Carroll說,許多課程都包括商業詞彙,比如怎樣在中國雇傭快遞人員。他還說,雖然播客是免費的,但抄本,練習及其它服務通常要每月花9到30美元。對於一月200美元的成員可以通過Skype這一網路電話服務,接收每天由專業的、以英語為母語的教師們的輔導。

Mr. Carroll 說ChinesePod每月有超過270,000名遊客,其中有幾千人花240美元一年獲得組合增值服務。大部分的付費用戶生活在美國,他說。


Mike Kuiack,不列顛哥倫比亞省溫哥華的一位投資銀行家,他經常到中國,在簽約受雇於ChinesePod之前,他已經斷斷續續的學習中文八年半了。簽約後,他已經又堅持學習了一年半,為增值服務支付約240美元一年。







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