Aug 1, 2010

Crowdsourced language learning

A recent New York Times article made me aware once again of something I've heard of a few times and encountered occasionally on places like the BBC web site: online opportunities for learning languages. The sites mentioned in the NYT article are a bit different though. Many are a form of crowdsourcing, with ordinary people interacting with voice and written submissions, coaching and correcting each other. Not what you need to get a bit more polish as a university lecturer, perhaps, but this strikes me as an interesting opportunity to be exposed to the rough-and-tumble of everyday usage. Where else will you get skateboarding Algerian teenagers to tell you how much your Arabic sucks?

As an experiment I set up a free account at one of the sites mentioned by the article (Livemocha). It's interesting correcting little exercises from learners around the world or putting together online flash card sets for German hunting terminology and other subjects. Read the article, try out one of the sites that interests you, and enjoy! Even for professional translators, exposure to an environment like this may have value, depending on the types of texts you do. Some of the authors of the German texts I translate have rotten educations, or they simply can't write, or they simply can't write High German. Texts like these might be a problem for someone in Kansas who never encounters the language of the street in Stuttgart until they have to translate a manual patched together by an overworked, verbally challenged engineer.

In my copious free time I'll try to revive my Russian and pick up a bit of Farsi and French this way. (The latter two will surely come in handy when I start selling nuclear secrets on the international market.)

1 comment:

  1. I've tried Livemocha. It's a very interesting and exciting example of crowdsourced language learning, but it does leave something to be desired.

    I tried the Farsi course and gave up after a bit--as with many free Farsi courses, it skipped over the part where you learn the script. Because of this, the lessons get less and less comprehensible as you go. I picked up a copy of Teach Yourself Modern Persian (John Mace) and find myself progressing with leaps and bounds. I have hope for crowdsourced projects like this, but sometimes it's worth the price of a carefully written/edited publication ...


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