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Hidden Gems of Social Networks: 3 Language Learning Tools You’re Not Using

Learning Italian online requires several webcams to capture the hand-flailing.

If I told you to “go and learn a language online, socially” – you would probably end up joining several groups on Facebook. That’s the obvious choice, and the go-to solution for many: after all, it’s the biggest social network in the world, and if movies are made about it, then it’s got to be worth something, right?

As it turns out, this doesn’t have to work all the time. If you read on, you’ll find why big, catch-all solutions in social media may actually impede your progress – and how to use three simple (and free) tools to set up a successful, socially-powered language learning system.

Too Good For You: Why Facebook Doesn’t Help Language Learning

You can check your account at home, at work, on your smartphone and in a computer store. You play games, chat with friends, receive updates from your favourite bands. You invite people over to parties and share photos from your holiday.

Facebook – if you’re on it – is a huge chunk of your online existence. And it’s become almost second nature: the things you do on Facebook are rarely deep and profound. More likely, they’re habitual, semi-conscious and based on repetition. If you don’t believe me, try to think of the last time your Facebook interface changed: you raged for a day or two (because your habitual “paths” around the website changed) – and then cheerfully settled in (as the new paths developed). Is that about right?

I’m not going to devote this post to Facebook (for hard-core users, there’s another post coming up, devoted to re-wiring your Facebook usage). Instead, let me suggest three solutions you may never have heard of.


Edmodo: “It’s Like Facebook For Schools”

This is actually what my boss said when I demonstrated the website.

Edmodo is a curious crossover between your beloved social behemoth and Moodle. The groups you’re joining are probably based around your class, and each group has a teacher. As such, this is ideal for use in schools – and with features such as quizzes, assignments and libraries, it makes learning online much easier and more attractive visually (say what you will about Moodle – but pretty it was not!)

How to use it: Ask your tutor to set up an Edmodo group for the entire class to benefit from online attention and extra practice.

Indie use: set up a group yourself – for a few die-hard learners. Let everybody be a co-teacher. Develop your library, build your own quizzes and share ideas about your language.


Livemocha: A Social Take on Rosetta Stone?

A quick look at the demonstration video below will instantly make two things clear.

One: this is clearly developed with language learners in mind, and as such should be your first port of call. Two: this caters mainly to lower levels and more popular languages – in a basic, albeit attractive way.

Livemocha‘s main asset is the way it draws you in – if you want native speaker help with your assignments or recordings, you have to give something in return. The easiest way is to help out and teach your language – although the law of supply and demand makes it hard for the English speakers…

How to use it: sign up and choose your language. Feel free to go through the courses the website has on offer

Indie use: make sure you can find your Livemocha friends on other, more flexible social networks – where they can be of more use (see below).


Google + Hangouts: A Great Idea, And Nobody To Share

When I first saw what “hangouts” were about, I was ecstatic:

This was just like a real-life conversation, or a classroom! No arbitrary screen sharing privileges, no limitations or turn-taking. Everybody speaks at once, naturally and freely.

Quickly, this excitement gave way to slight irritation (why is there never anybody on Google + !?!). But the idea remains, and as long as Google’s social network is live, hangouts are something worth thinking about.

How to use it: This is the closest you might get to socially-powered live conversation. Get a good computer with a powerful connection, befriend your native speakers (remember these Livemocha folks?) – and chat away!

Indie use: If you’re a language teacher, this is your most liberal and radical platform ever. If you can make this work for your teaching, you deserve my respect and five hundred internets.


How do you use social media to learn languages better? Let us know below!

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