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Santa Barbara, Ca

I'm a full-time rambler and contract designer with as many skill sets in my quiver as there are plane tickets in my passbook. I've worked in ornamental iron, jigsaw puzzle design, bookmaking, glass engraving, and a variety of other mediums. I'm currently living out of a backpack as I trek my way around the world.

Blog

Livemocha: The Online Language Learning Authority

Zak Erving

I've been touting to my friends the merits of Livemocha for years, and I'm still finding pockets of people who are enthusiastic about language learning. Livemocha, however, remains absent from their radar.

"Live-mocha? As in, coffee?" they often ask, still trying to integrate the name into their consciousness.

"Yeah, exactly. If you wanted to learn a language, you and your language partner would meet at a coffee shop, right?" This answer usually facilitates some comprehension, but to drive the point home I always take it a little further: "Think of it as if Facebook and Rosetta Stone had a love-child, and that love-child became a demigod, like Pericles." (And Pericles, of course, is a better example than Achilles or Hercules, because the Savior of Athens is synonymous with the Golden Age of Greece—a time of learning par excellence.)

But Livemocha isn't just about learning a language through rote memorization. 

Instead, Livemocha offers a truly innovative spin by fostering a discussion-based environment. Language students are connected with native speakers through the basic unit blocks (Learning, Review, Write, and Speak). In turn, these native speakers are likely language students themselves. Livemocha is the story of native speakers giving feedback to students, while these students offer feedback to learners of their own native tongue. It's give-and-take education at its finest.

In years past, I've utilized it to build and maintain my Spanish and Italian, all while helping people around the world perfect their English. Lately, though, I've chosen to pursue a new language: Croatian. I needed to add a slavic language to my quiver, and Croatian—with its mutual intelligibility with Czech (and several other languages) and its overlap into cyrillic-scripted Serbian—is proving to be an exceptionally versatile tongue.

But enough of my blubbering…let's take a look at the nuts-and-bolts of what makes Livemocha so special:

Transient

It's free to learn any of the 38 languages available: By creating a profile, users are entitled to four courses' worth of education in any language gratis. Each course has 2-3 units of 5-6 lessons…even the language courses with a smaller curriculum pan out to about forty lessons, or one hundred hours of language learning opportunities. Skill-builder exercises and listening drills are available at the end of each lesson for additional practice.

Learn at your own pace: Life sometimes makes us rearrange our weekly priorities: the kids have play-dates, a project at work is looming, or sickness knocks you sofa-side for a week with a green tea IV drip. No worries! Livemocha will be there when you get back.

Crash courses are available for quickly mastering common phrases: Frequent travelers (or people who enjoy learning languages) can take each language for a test run by purchasing one of the crash courses. They're fairly short, and constructed specifically for immediate utility. No longer will users be required to be three units into the coursework before being able to ask where the bathroom is.

Social networking is a natural part of the learning process: As mentioned before, Livemocha has a unique social structure to its learning: while all of the coursework is pre-programmed, all feedback is given by native speakers, who are students themselves. Users wishing to have additional feedback from a professional tutor can purchase an upgrade, too! Moreover, added social features include: Chat with native speakers in real-time using your mic/webcam or the built-in virtual keyboard (or swap Skype info, if you're feeling brave!)

Those responsible for this ill-advised meme comic have been sacked

Those responsible for this ill-advised meme comic have been sacked

Extensive add-ons are available at affordable prices: Short of total immersion in a foreign country, Livemocha will take a student about as far as one can go in the language-learning process, especially in their Active Language Series (currently available in German, Spanish, Italian, French, and English). New users are given 200 Livemocha Tokens, which can be used to unlock a handful of free activities. More tokens can be purchased using Paypal or a credit card, but those going-for-broke can purchase a Gold Key, which makes every feature in every language available to the owner.

Have you ever used Livemocha before, or gone abroad knowing a little bit of the language beforehand? What was your experience?