In my journey to learn Spanish, I have used a lot of different resources, figuring out which ones are the most helpful, and which ones are a large waste of time.
One resource I have used extensively is Livemocha, and today I’m going to tell you how you can get the most out of it.
What Livemocha Is
Livemocha is the world’s largest language learning community online. It is basically a social network for language exchange, and has users from all over the world, covering nearly all of the most well-known languages across the globe.
The site is free to join, and enables you to get started learning almost any of the world’s major languages. The site offers a few free courses to start with –more on those in a moment– and offers you the opportunity to connect with people who can teach you your target language, and who want to learn your native language.
The site has a rating system of points and helpfulness rating. You get more points for contributing to the community, in the form of reviewing exercises. And your helpfulness rating is determined by how others rate your feedback to them as they are learning their language. In this way, you can tell which members of the community are helpful and active members, and which are merely ‘consumers.’
There are also premium offerings, like extra courses, private tutoring, and higher-quality reviews, which you can purchase through Livemocha’s virtual currency system. In this guide. however, I am interested to show you how to get the most out of Livemocha without spending any money.
How To Get Started
Like any social network, you have to create an account with a username, password, and some personal details.
Now, you don’t have to put in a lot of personal info, but the drawback is that you will not be as personally invested in the network, and will not be able to connect as cordially and openly with others unless you include a little friendly information about yourself! (I consider a decent photo to be a necessity).
Choose the languages you want to learn or are currently learning. This will target the people on Livemocha who are willing to teach you the language. Don’t put all the ones you wish to learn, just put the ones you are actively going to pursue, say, over the next year.
And, choose the language that you already know. This will target the people on Livemocha who want to learn your native language. (Thousands of people want to learn English!) Once you confirm your email, you’re account is up and running and you’re ready to go.
How To Use The Network Effectively
Once you’ve created your account, you can start engaging the network. It can be a little overwhelming at times, because there are a lot of options. But, basically, I think there are 4 main ways you can use the Livemocha effectively, to maximize your learning speed and to avoid wasting time within the network. Here they are:
1) Sign up to take the free courses, but ONLY do the speaking / reading exercises.
Many modules in the languages courses involve clicking pictures to some degree. Clicking pictures exercises are, in my opinion, a waste of time. You will not learn much by clicking pictures, and you especially you won’t learn to speak anything because the exercise itself doesn’t require any speaking.
And by the way, I am speaking from experience… I spent hours clicking the pictures on Livemocha and made extremely little progress in reading, speaking, listening, or writing. Don’t waste so much time like I did.
Instead, immediately skip the picture clicking and go straight to the reading exercises. The task involves recording an audio of yourself reading a passage, which you can then submit to the community, and receive feedback on your pronunciation.
As a general principle, you should learn proper pronunciation as early as possible when learning a language. Thus, you should do these exercises and submit them for feedback even if you don’t understand what you read. Focus on pronunciation.
2) Immediately begin to review exercises and offer helpful feedback to those who are learning your language AND can teach you your language.
For example, if you are a native English speaker and you are learning Spanish, you should make it a point to help out native speakers of Spanish who are learning English. In this way, you contribute to their learning, and subsequently, they will likely help you out. Mutual help is a great way to make friends.
To find exercises to review just hover over the ‘Help Others’ tab and choose ‘review submissions.’ This will take you directly to exercises that people would like a native speaker to review. By default, your native language is the filter, but you can review exercises in any language you feel competent in.
Again, the idea with reviewing exercises is to contribute to another person’s learning and to add value to the community. This is an important part of utilizing a community like Livemocha effectively.
3) When you receive feedback on your exercises, make sure to rate the ‘helpfulness’ of them, and offer a comment of thanks.
By doing this, you will not only increase your point levels, but also will increase your relationship with the other Livemocha member. If the other person has offered helpful feedback, then the least you could do is to rate them helpful and to say ‘thank you.’ This in turn will help their point levels go up, which reflects a more valuable member of the community.
Also, by rating unhelpful comments as such, you help get rid of lower-value content on the site, including spammers and those who aren’t contributing to anyone. In this way, Livemocha is like a self-improving community, where the most helpful are recognized as such and the least helpful are also recognized as such.
4) Once you have connected with native speakers of the language you are hoping to learn via exercises or messages, connect with them via chat.
I personally can’t stand the chat interface of Livemocha, but it is a good first way to get a conversation going. After awhile, you can exchange Skype info with your new-found friend, and then you can do a video chat and continue building the friendship!
This is the most powerful aspect of Livemocha– the ability to connect with native speakers of your target language. If you first offering them value in the form of feedback on exercises, you can be more sure the subsequent exchanges will be positive. Again, this is a great built-in feature of Livemocha which weeds out not only creeps and stalkers, but also those who really won’t help you learn very well.
If you find a very helpful native, and you yourself are very helpful, you instantly have an incredible opportunity to learn a foreign language from a native in a way that is mutually beneficial. Livemocha streamlines this process in a way that is better than any other website I have come across, including many other language-exchange sites. And the best part about it is that it is free.
And, not to go unmentioned, you might find a cute Colombian girl to practice your Spanish with… 😉
All of which is to say…
If you are trying to learn a language and you’re not on Livemocha, get in on it!