Livemocha

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Catch Phrase
"The world’s largest online language learning community"

The Background
Livemocha is one of the first social-networking language courses to appear in the Facebook era. Heralded at the time as a likely Rosetta-killer, it’s starting to look an awful lot more like Rosetta Stone as time goes by. Still, the you-help-me-learn-your-language, I’ll-help-you-learn-mine ascetic is still there – sort of – though I'd say it hasn't yet reached its full promise.

The Approach
A Livemocha class begins with online lessons, some of which look suspiciously like Rosetta panels (see below) – until, that is, you are asked to write a few sentences introducing yourself in French in just the third exercise of the first lesson! Having difficulty? Livemocha suggests “friends” (French-speaking, in my case) online who can help you out. Then you submit your lesson for review, and other members will critique it – often within minutes – because reviewing others' work is how you earn tokens – and if you want Livemocha to remain free for your own learning, you need to earn tokens.

You can also (are encouraged to) chat it up with these members, and it’s really not a bad way to learn a language, because you may make some foreign friends along the way, although the weakness is in the exercises, which lurch from being able to understand “une table” to being asked to write and submit (for review!) the following: “Describe a set of objects on a table. Describe another set of objects in a box”. The only opportunities for speaking are, once each lesson, reciting a text (your recording is likewise submitted for review by the community). This is a tough way to acquire oral skills.

In principle, community-shared instruction is a marvelous, almost utopian idea (although less utopian given that you have to reciprocate or – pay up! – and I think this product will only get better. At the moment, I'd recommend it mainly as an accompaniment to one of the premium products, not something to rely on by itself. In other words, Rosetta Stone is safe for now. One final note: Due to the "social" nature of this software, you may get some marriage proposals from foreigners hoping to make it to America. Seriously.

Hot New Feature
Instructor-led classes (so much for utopia).

The Skinny

  • Pros
    1. The ability to interact with people in your target language and country
    2. Rapid turnaround on your community submissions
    3. New, clean interface is a big improvement over the original
    4. Inexpensive, especially if you participate in reviewing (which can make it free)
    5. A variety of learning options available, including live tutors
  • Cons
    1. Online class material not up to quality of premium products (Rosetta, Fluenz)
    2. Writing and speaking exercises are all free-form, and you are not adequately prepared for them
  • Available languages: Over 30
  • Version reviewed: Web 2012 version
  • Cost: $99.95 for a 1-year "Gold Key" account, which provides access to all content. Free account-holders can earn points toward unlocking content.
  • Verdict: For social types, might make a useful accompaniment to one of the other products. Not recommended as a sole language-learning tool.
Website: livemocha.com
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