Bueno? Dobre? How to learn a foreign language online

languageWhether I was squeezing myself into a crowded subway car or admiring the fall leaves around at Tsaritsino Park, I was continually learning new Russian words during my two-week study trip to Moscow last October.

When I came back from my trip, I had vague notions of continuing my linguistic education through classes and books. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any convenient classes, and the textbooks didn't hold my attention for long.

I had basically given up when, about two months ago, I came upon the opportunity to use a program called Rosetta Stone. Having refreshed my vocabulary with it, I then turned to the Internet to see what other resources were available to help me stay on top of my language learning.

Here's what I've found:

Free online learning

With the boom in social media, it makes sense that learning a language online would take on a Facebook-like component. My general impression is that these are great ways to exchange languages with people all over the world, but you might not always get helpful feedback.

With Livemocha, you get to learn the language of your choice while helping others who want to speak your native tongue. Once you complete a structured lesson, you submit your own writing and audio recordings to other users for feedback. Reading a sentence aloud and then sending my recording off was pretty intimidating, but I got a response within 10 minutes from a girl in Russia who gave it five stars and a "Good!!" although she was surely too kind.

I also got to review English submissions from other users, which felt particularly gratifying because I had just been in their uncomfortable situation of sending off my words to strangers.

There's also Lang-8, which is all about the practice of writing. You essentially keep a journal in the language you are practicing, and others in the online community read and correct it.

Want more structure? The Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium gives out awards every year for outstanding language-learning Web sites: read the full list. No Russian sites made it there, but for Spanish (my second language) they cite a wonderful (and free) interactive refresher called Spanish Language and Culture with Barbara Kuczun Nelson.

This site uses popular Spanish songs, photo essays and other activities to teach grammar and vocabulary. It's intended for people who have had some exposure to the language, however.

useful links: transport rankings 

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