Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Learning another language?

There's been two new free (for the time being, at least!) language learning sites opened (to beta) in the last week. I've signed up with both of them, to learn Chinese.

The first I tried was mango. I got as far as slide 28 of lesson 1 before giving up. I learnt how to say "hello" - theoretically. From a Chinese friend I went out with on Friday night, I learnt that mandarin has 4 tones - the lesson didn't explain this. I had no idea if I was saying it right or not. The lessons were very repetitive - the same sentence from a male and female speaker...over and over. But at least it was things like "Hello" and "My name is". When it got to "May I ask your name please?" I gave up. Too damn hard.

Also, if you intend to learn some non-Latin language, you need to install the appropriate language pack. It doesn't tell you this anywhere, but I worked out why I was getting little squares instead of Chinese characters...eventually. (You can find the language packs at Microsoft).

So today I tried out Live Mocha. It sounds good - they have tutors on hand and you can practice with 'friends' you find at the site - people who speak the language you're wanting to learn and are themselves learning a language (that you might be able to assist them with). They have a points scoring system for working your way through a language and you can choose where to start - absolute beginners to intermediate. The scoring system is supposed to be a motivator: the highest points in a language get published to a 'points board'.

They quite candidly say that they will be charging for the use of some parts of the site at some stage, though some things will remain free (probably you tutoring others?).

So, how did I go with this one? I gave up after the 3rd or 4th slide. I don't want to learn how to say "man" or "girl" or "I'm fat" (I'm not joking! And OK, the lady was chubby, but I wouldn't say fat!) before I learn how to say "hello".

The good thing with this course is the ability to switch between 'learning', 'reading', 'listening' and 'magnet'. And the pictures to give a hint. The learning one is as pictured. the 'Reading' one give you the pinyin (the way Chinese is written with Latin characters) that you have to match with the pictures. The "Listening" version speaks the text and you have to choose the picture, whereas "Magnet" makes you choose the pinyin words to match against the picture and the meaning spoken in English. This certainly beats the Mango site's list of slide numbers from 1 to over 100 for a lesson.

Another annoyance with both of these online courses is that you can't copy and paste from the slide to another program, to take notes...

Ah well, I guess a teacher led course is best in the language learning area - at least with tonal languages that are so completely foreign to me. Even if I have to pay for it: further motivation to complete the course, I suppose :-)

ETA: Had to take out the photos, download to my PC and then re-upload them in the blogger website's interface because Windows Live Writer insists on making .png of them and putting my user ID in the photos' URL paths. Not a good thing!

No comments: