Learning a new language becomes increasingly harder, the older we get – but it’s not impossible by any means. People do it all the time for school or work, but they very often have the advantage of taking a formal class or lessons.

The internet is brimming with opportunity to learn new languages, but often lacks the structure. Many websites promise to teach you a new language (usually for a fee), but their lessons are too long, or too short, or focus too much on written, with little emphasis on verbal skills – an understandable limitation, since it would be challenging to program a web script to detect the accuracy of a spoken accent.

These sites also tend to use a rather formulaic teaching approach that just doesn’t work on some people, and tends to get a little boring even for the people who respond well to the teaching methods.

Read vocabulary words, use in a sentence, pick the right word from multiple choice. Die of boredom. Rinse and repeat.

Enter LiveMocha – also known as OMG-I’m-never-going-to-get-anything-done-or-sleep-ever-again-this-is-so-coolhow-did-no-one-come-up-with-this-sooner-how-did-I-not-come-up-with-this-idea-gaaaaah.

I should back-up a little. I have always been a major language-buff, ever since I was a little kid. At my best, I spoke about 5 – English (of course), Spanish, German, Maori and Irish Gaelic (I had a thing for obscure languages) – and I was fluent in American Sign Language.

Of course, I also wrote in my journals in mirror-text, years before I found out DaVinci used to as well, and had gotten pretty good at writing in the Tengwar. Weird kid.

I digress…

LiveMocha does a lot of things right where other language sites completely miss the mark, from overall concept to the technology used in their execution. LiveMocha is billed as a social language-learning community – not the usual stale, boring language course with some crappy forums where people feel awkward posting because they aren’t good enough at the language yet. It is a community of people who are trying to learn a new language, and want to help others do the same – but more importantly, with LiveMocha, members are given the tools to effectively do that.

I’m not actually sure whether LiveMocha’s members are that dedicated to helping you improve, or whether LiveMocha’s engineering, technology and flow make it so easy to help others improve that they really can’t avoid it.

Unlike every other language-instruction website I have ever tried, the community and the lessons are not separated in LiveMocha. Communication with other members is part of how you learn, and their lessons and community features are so nicely integrated, you don’t make the conscious choice to “stop working with lessons and go to the community.” The two aspects co-exist and cooperate fabulously.

Learn

The lessons interface is easy to use and intuitive. You start off by learning new words and phrases, which are accompanied by audio and a photograph. You can reply these as often as you like, if you need to work on your pronunciation, and can always come back to them later for review. Text on the Learn tab shows you how many words and phrases you have completed, and how many (out of 40) remain, and a bar at the top of the lesson module shows you your overall progress in the lesson.

picture-61

Lessons: Learn

Review

Once you’ve completed the Learn portion, you move on to Review, where you complete a series of fun exercises related to the vocabulary you learned in the previous section. These exercises are a combination of sentence-building, mix-and-match, and audio-translations.

Review: Sentence-building

Review: Sentence-building

For the sentence-building exercise, you simply drag the words into the box to create the sentence when prompted.

Review: mix-and-match

Review: mix-and-match

For mix and match, you just pick the image that best presents what they’re asking for.

What I particularly like about their review section is that they use a variety of teaching and review methods here. The sentence-building is great for visual learners who focus on the written words, or for the aural learners who say the sentence out loud, at which point it clicks. In the mix-and-match, they sometimes offer a written sentence and sometimes a spoken phrase without written words. This is handy for me, as a visual learner, because it prevents me from just memorizing the word+picture combination without actually grasping the content.

Write

Once you have completed the review, you are asked to complete a series of free-form sentences, based on the words and grammar you have learned. You get to pick the sentences you’re writing, and are given only guidelines as to what you must include.

Write

Write

Unlike the Review section, this part doesn’t get a pass/fail or a numerical grade. Your sentences are reviewed by community members whose native or fluent language is listed as the one you’re trying to learn. This means 1) they can keep the site free/low cost, since they don’t have to pay staff to review, and but also 2) you end up with multiple people giving you their input on what you can improve.

For Spanish 101, I submitted:

Write: sample submission

Write: sample submission

And a community member replied with:

Write: member-submitted review

Write: member-submitted review

By his comments, I can see what I did wrong, specifically using a masculine ending to a feminine word, using rico instead of rica, with the feminine word niña. You can also see he is very supportive of my beginning efforts, as he added that his correction was the only error he encountered, and “Congratulations!” Of course, as you can see, the reviewer wrote his comments in his native language, but a quick check-in with Google Translate fixes any confusion.

Speak

Once you’ve gone through the learn, review and write process, the final lesson section requires you to say a series of sentences out loud, recording them and submitted them for peer review. The recorder is built right into the interface, so you don’t have to worry about any special software. As long as you have a microphone (external or built-in), you can participate in this.

Speak: record audio

Speak: record audio

Once you’ve submitted your audio, (and if you’re not happy with the first recording, you can re-record as many times as you want before submitting), native speaking peers will offer you their comments on your pronunciation, and can even record a submission in response, so if you’re really stuck on how to pronounce something, a native speaking member can demonstrate what it should sound like.

Speak: peer review

Speak: peer review

As you can see, I did better on my pronunciation than I did on my written portion, and the comments and ratings were all positive, with Mireya even telling me she thought I didn’t need any correction at all! (Go me.)

Peer Reviews

Each time you submit a new lesson, you are prompted to take a moment to review written or audio submissions by others. Because the written and spoken portions of the lesson are short, it really doesn’t take long at all to give a review – and by doing so, you’re giving back to the same community members who are helping you learn.

Flashcards

Another great feature, especially if you’re a visual learner or can speak a language fairly well but need help improving your reading skills are flashcards. At the end of each lesson, you have the ability to print out flashcards based on the words you’ve just learned – and there is a large bank of user-created flashcard sets that you can freely print.

Extra Exercises

Once you’ve completed the core lesson, you also have the ability to optionally work on some additional sections that do not count towards completion of a lesson, but provide you with more opportunities to practice if a specific lesson was more challenging than others.

Extra Practice

Outside of the core lessons, LiveMocha offers some fun ways for you to practice your language skills by completing simple writing or pronunciation assignments, such as an introduction to the community, your last vacation, the weather, and so on. These little quickie assignments can then be reviewed by other members, to allow you to improve your improve your writing skills or accent.

Learn with a Friend

You will make friends while using LiveMocha, that much I can promise you – but if you’re a little nervous and you have other friends who want to learn a language, you can invite them to use LiveMocha as well.

Premium Services

The main LiveMocha site is 100% free, however they do offer a few products and services for a fee if you choose to partake, including a 500 word/phrase mp3 pack for those about to travel to a country where they don’t know the language (available for only $10), and premium tutor services that allow non-English speakers to speak over Skype with a native English-speaking tutor. I expect as their community continues to grow, they will add tutoring services for additional languages as well.

Of course, nothing’s perfect

LiveMocha isn’t perfect – there are still a few areas that could use improvement – but I say that with consideration for all the great things about it I’ve just outlined. A few things they could do to make it even better:

Store words and phrases you miss for more review later. This is just like what I used to do in school. If I had no problems with 15 of the words, but there were 5 that just wouldn’t stick, I’d spend my time working on those five, instead of the 15 I already know. You could certainly handle this through their flashcards, picking only the 5 words you’re stuck on as review words, but it would be nice if they built something in to track those words or phrases you’re having difficulty with.

For kanji-based languages, a phonetic pronunciation written out for every word and phase would be really, really helpful. It might just be me, but I’m struggling with their Japanese and Mandarin lessons. I have NO background in either, unlike Spanish – and both of those languages are much harder to learn than Spanish, but I was struggling with even the beginner lessons because the symbols have no meaning for me whatsoever, so trying to remember a sound and/or meaning is very hard for me. I would probably do better with an introduction to the symbols (where they are written very large – they’re hard to differentiate at normal type size if you don’t know what you’re looking for), where I can process the visual with the sound, and then move on. At least if I have a written pronunciation, I can attach that sound and that symbol together a little easier in my head.

A final glossary would be great, too. Occasionally in the Review portion, they’ll throw in a word that they didn’t cover in the lesson itself. I can usually figure it out from context, but its a little disconcerting. And sometimes I’m not sure about the meaning, so I have to look it up on Google. It would be nice to have those little gotchas addressed.

So, that’s LiveMocha. It looks like they are actively striving to add new languages and features, so I expect this fantastic service to only get better. They do promise that the features that are currently free will remain free, even as they expand their premium services – but honestly, I would pay for this service.

If you’ve ever wanted to learn another language but didn’t have time or money for formal classes, you have officially just run out of excuses. Sign up today.

And if you’re a Twitter user, be sure to follow @livemocha for updates on services and special offers!

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I’m a tech geek/dev/infosec-nerd/scuba diver/blacksmith/sword-fighter/crime fighter/ENTP/warcrafter/activist. I'm the CTO at Mass Mosaic and the CEO of Grokability, Inc. in San Diego, CA. Tweet at me @snipeyhead or read more...

  • Testing Facebook connect! 🙂

    I’ve been playing with the Mandarin lessons for a while (though the site’s been “reminding” me to sign back on and make more progress on them!)—it’s a lot of fun! I do hope someone eventually puts up a bunch of Cantonese lessons—if Tiara learns Cantonese, she’ll be able to speak to my folks! 😀

  • Testing Facebook connect! 🙂

    I’ve been playing with the Mandarin lessons for a while (though the site’s been “reminding” me to sign back on and make more progress on them!)—it’s a lot of fun! I do hope someone eventually puts up a bunch of Cantonese lessons—if Tiara learns Cantonese, she’ll be able to speak to my folks! 😀

  • Hello,

    Thanks for the comprehensive review on Livemocha! We are constantly trying to improve our contents so we love any feedback you can give us.

    Also, I would like to invite you to test our beta Premium Spanish 101 course. We would love to hear what you think and please forward any suggestions to pc@livemocha.com

    Sign up here:
    http://www.livemocha.com/premium_courses/view/sku:14

    Thank you,

    Shirley @ Livemocha

  • Hello,

    Thanks for the comprehensive review on Livemocha! We are constantly trying to improve our contents so we love any feedback you can give us.

    Also, I would like to invite you to test our beta Premium Spanish 101 course. We would love to hear what you think and please forward any suggestions to pc@livemocha.com

    Sign up here:
    http://www.livemocha.com/premium_courses/view/sku:14

    Thank you,

    Shirley @ Livemocha

  • This is an awesome site. Thanks for posting this, Snipeyhead! 😉

    I figured Livemocha was another site that just wanted you to sign up and shovel out the $. But the free lessons and interaction is invaluable. I’m on my way to learning Spanish and German quickly.

    Thanks again for the awesome review/intro!

    -J @ int23.com

    James’s last blog post..Choking on Gum and a Netbook

  • This is an awesome site. Thanks for posting this, Snipeyhead! 😉

    I figured Livemocha was another site that just wanted you to sign up and shovel out the $. But the free lessons and interaction is invaluable. I’m on my way to learning Spanish and German quickly.

    Thanks again for the awesome review/intro!

    -J @ int23.com

    James’s last blog post..Choking on Gum and a Netbook

  • Learning Spanish is not so hard, especially now, when you find all kind of “learn spanish” DVD’s.

  • Learning Spanish is not so hard, especially now, when you find all kind of “learn spanish” DVD’s.

  • Uh huh – says the guy whose link goes to someone pitching “learn spanish” DVDs. Was very tempted to mark your post as spam, since it very clearly is. But I didn’t, because who the hell would buy DVDs, when this post is about the fact that LiveMocha is great – and FREE.

  • Uh huh – says the guy whose link goes to someone pitching “learn spanish” DVDs. Was very tempted to mark your post as spam, since it very clearly is. But I didn’t, because who the hell would buy DVDs, when this post is about the fact that LiveMocha is great – and FREE.

  • Dan

    Holy Cow. You rock! Another major language geek here. I just wanted your article to add to my assignment on “Educational Web Site Reviews” and ended up finding a GEM!! Not only was your article an amazing pleasure to read (you DO kick ass) I am joining LiveMocha. I WILL NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. Turkish, Japanese, Welsh, here we come! (By the way, I'm also fairly fluent in Irish Gaelic. Maith thu, a chailin!)

  • Pingback: Livemocha Social Network: The Latest in Language Learning | Thoughtpick Blog()

  • ashleyn90

    I agree, Live mocha is a great way to learn a new language. I have been a member on the site since Feburary 18, 2010. I am currently learning Italian with the site and I am doing very well at it. I like that the site is free. I believe that learning a new language should not leave a burn hole in your wallet. Live mocha does not do that, unlike Rosetta Stone. Before I used Live mocha, I was using a software called BYKI by Transparent Language Inc. The software is great for people who travel alot. All of the software was flashcards that would have audio and the word and then the translation. There were writing and self-check modes, but that will did not help me. When I discovered Live mocha, I was thrilled. I have been wanting to learn Italian for seven years and Live mocha is making it into a reality.

    I like it because the material is not overwheleming, you can learn at your own pace, and it is entertaining at the same time too. This keeps me coming back everyday. I took German for four years in high school, I passed the class, but I did not learn anything. I shortly took the course and did better on Live mocha than I did in that classroom for four years.

    Yes, Live mocha does need to do make of list of words that you need help with, but I like the fact that you can see how you are doing with a progress score. This helps me very much! I absoultely agree with you, as the community grows, so will Live mocha too. I can not wait to see what they have instore for the future. I this is the language learning website for me!

  • jjdylan

    Hello everyone,

    I'd like to say that I don't agree that there website is affective.

    My first complaint about the site is the cyrillic alphabet. My first Russian lesson started out not by teaching me cyrillic, but by throwing words and characters at me that I had to figure out which letter made what sound. This wouldn't have been so bad, but there are subtle differences between the same character in different words. Without knowing why a letter sounds like it does in a certain situation, you're left guessing why the speaker is saying it that way.

    There were also different endings to words. In the adjective, it seemed the adjective would change based on a masculine or feminine noun. As soon as I figured that out I thought I was in the clear. Then different adjectives for the same noun would have a different ending. It would have been nice to have an introduction to adjectives before learning them.

    I very much liked the idea of being corrected by a native speaker initially. When I first started getting responses and corrections it seemed like I was really starting to get a grip of the language. Then i went to go correct a Russian native speaking English. Most of the English native tutors were telling people they were doing great when their spelling would be off, or giving one correction to a paragraph riddled with errors. I'm not saying that I'm an English genius by any means, but these were simple mistakes. It got me wondering if the Russian natives were just being as lenient with me as the English natives were with them. Also, English is a confusing language for everyone, even English speakers. For example, how many of you noticed that I used 'there' instead of 'their', and 'affective' instead of 'effective' in my first sentence? Like I've said, I'm not an English genius, and I'm sure I've made many more mistakes than I even realize. For this reason, I don't believe being able to speak a language qualifies you to tutor someone else to learn.

    A few ways I think this website would work better.
    1. If live mocha didn't treat every language equally.
    2. If there were a grammar section if needed), before each unit.
    3. As a member, try to find and add friends that are the most critical of submissions.
    4. As a member, review another person's submission carefully, and be very critical.
    5. Until they put in a grammar section, buy a grammar book first to learn key components of the language.
    6. Have pictures of naked ladies in the learning section. (just kidding) 🙂

  • Hiya jjdylan – yeah, I agree with you on a few of these points, some of which I mentioned in my review. In general, learning any non-roman language is harder on LiveMocha because they don't really address the fact that the symbols you're looking at are utterly meaningless in sound and meaning at the beginning.

    For latin-based languages, it's worked out really well. For Japanese, I'm starting to use it as a supplement. I am learning Japanese using Rosetta Stone, an iphone app (not kidding – it's a great ine!), and a few mnemonic books to help me remember all of the symbols, and LiveMocha will be just another set in my toolbox for learning.

    I haven't run into people being “too” nice on LM. Maybe it's just that Spanish-speaking people are better at beong assholes? lol j/k – they've been supportive but not fibbing about my skills.

  • ashley – congrats on your Italian successes! I'm so thrilled to hear that. I completely agree that learning a new language shouldn't burn a hole in your wallet. Americans in particular get criticized for not being multi-lingual, but it felt like in order to really learn a language, you'd have to spend a ton of money. Language is free, and the mechanism for learning it should be affordable. The fact that LiveMocha is a community, not just a piece of software, means that even after you finish your lessons, you'll be able to chat with other language-learners on the site and keep building your skills, which is fantastic 🙂

  • Hey there Dan – sorry for the delayed reply – past two weeks have been beating me to death. You were putting this article in an assignment? How did you find it? I swear a lot on this site, so I'm not used to it being included in reports… lol)

    I'm so thrilled you're excited about LiveMocha! Have you had a chance to play around yet? I've started studying Japanese, so LiveMocha isn't perfect for learning from scratch, but it ends up being an excellent supplement.

  • Another note – it would be SUPER helpful if LiveMocha included both the kanji AND the hiragana versions of the words. Hiragana is purely phonetic, but it's required by law to be included in some instances of Japanese publications, so it's something everyone learning japanese should know, and can be super helpful at deciphering pronunciations. I'd prefer to not have to look at the Romaji versions (english text used to describe the phonetics), but LiveMocha currently only gives me the option of viewing kanji or romaji.

  • Howard

    I noticed your obvious errors, but figured you were not an English speaker and just made a mistake.
    :>)