+ Learning Languages on the Web

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An NY Times article by Eric A Taub explores some products available for learning language on the Web.

The growth of broadband connectivity and social networks has resulted in a range of Internet-based language learning products. 

Rosetta-Stone’s yellow boxes may be the most recognizable, but there are many more to choose from.

Taub categorizes them as “Pay and Learn,” “Free Now, Pay Later,”  and “Free Language Learning.”   In addition, he discovered apps for smartphones.

Here they are.

RosettaStone Totale

This seems to be the best known language program.  It offers a $1000 product that includes RosettaCourse, a traditional lesson-based module; RosettaStudio, a place where a learner can talk with a native speaker via video chat; and RosettaWorld, which is an online community where one can play language-related games.

Says the company’s CEO Tom Adams, “We offer modern-day pen pals with voice-over IP.”

The product uses such things as colorful flashcards to help students learn words and then connect those words to concepts and sentences. 

According to Adams, the idea is for the user to let go of the adult “technical questions and just get into a comfort zone, learning new sounds and trying to make sense of them.” 


TellMeMore believes it has an advantage over RosettaStone.  Its software not only teaches words and phrases, but incudes a speech recognition component that analyses pronunciation, presents a graph of speech, and then suggests how to perfect it.

Other videos show students how to shape their mouths to create particular sounds that might be difficult for a native English speaker (for example, the rolling r of Spanish).

TellMeMore has 10 levels of content, a 1,000 word glossary, videos of native speakers and more than 40 practice activities.  According to Adams,  their methods keep people interested. 

 TellMeMore’s charge of $390 will give you a year’s access to its resources for six languages.  If you need a quick refresher you can buy a $10 daily pass.  Weekly, monthly and half-year passes are also available.

Currently it’s only available on CD-ROM, but online versions for both Mac and Windows are coming later this year.  See below about coming smartphone apps.


This is a two-year-old Web start-up, which offers free basic lessons in 30 languages. 

Users can upgrade to advanced courses with additional features on a monthly or six-month basis.

Students can submit up to eight voice recordings to a native-speaking tutor for $20 a month.  The tutor will review them and make recommendations withing 24 hours.  Alternatively, pay $70 for a six month commitment and submit two examples per lesson.

Whether you are using the free or the pay model, you can join social networking groups.  Using VoIP, you will speak live to native-speaking people around the world who are interested in learning to speak English.

However, writes Taub

As with all social networking sites, this feature is open to misuse.  Within hours of signing up for Livemocha, I received a note from a young woman, ostensibly from Poland, wanting to meet me.

Livemocha says it has the world’s largest community of people learning languages; they claim 5 million registered users in 200 countries.


Babbel is financed in part by the European Union, and offers paid instruction (a trial lesson is free) in English, French, German, Italian or Spanish for $12 a month; if you commit to six months, it’s $6.62 a month.

Users are given extended grammar and vocabulary, but in addition they can communicate with others in their desired language through private or public chats; it’s also possible to arrange for voice contact.

Free Language Learning

Taub notes that a variety of free language learning is available. 

The British Broadcasting Service at www.bbc.com/languages offers several levels of instruction in 36 languages.  Features include audio and video playback and translation.

The German television network, Deutsche Welle, will help you with your German (www.bit.ly/ts6x7). 

You might try learning Japanese at www.japanese-online.com.   Or Koreanwww.learn-korean.net.

Or Smartphone Apps

Many of these exist to help you get along in a foreign language.  For example: simple providers of useful phrases.  

  • The Lonely Planet Phrasebooks ($10 for each of 18 languages);
  • The Oxford Translator Travel Pro ($10 for each of five languages); and
  • World Nomads (which is free and offers 23 languages. 
  • Ultralingua Translation Dictionary offers simultaneous translation of English and six languages for $20 a language.

According to Taub, both RosettaStone and TellMeMore are developing smartphone apps as supplements to their programs. 

Livemocha expects to have an app later this year for both Android and iPhone.  The plan is to integrate text with a native speaker pronouncing the language, as well as to provide an option for voice recording and live video feeds.

sole source: Eric A Taub’s article in the NY Times on 1/28/10.   http://tinyurl.com/ylddopw

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


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