Saturday, August 30, 2008

Social Networks for Language Learning

Social networking services can be very useful for language learners, even the trivial aspects that are sometimes annoying in your mother tongue.

Many of aspects of the social networking services seem trivial and superficial, before people leap on this and attack me in the comments I know that they have their benefits also. I am going to be posting more on this on my web related blog and will add a link here when I do, but for now my main gripe is the amount of trivial communication that goes on. Maybe in some sense a lot of this communication is phatic or smalltalk, but this doesn't seem to serve such a useful purpose on the internet (at least in my opinion). Some social networks seem to have developed their own smalltalk that is entirely internet related (some of the more useless Facebook apps. for example).

Once I had to explain to a work colleague what Twitter is all about, when mobile phones became popular many people could see both the good and the bad, part of the bad being the smalltalk and sometimes trivial nature of the conversation, especially if someone was wasting time doing this very loudly in your earshot. The following youtube of clips of Don Joly shows this very well: As I explained to my colleague "unlike with a mobile phone where you can tell somebody that you are on the bus, with twitter you can tell the whole world that you are on the bus!".

Here is the twist though, when learning a new language reading simple content of this nature and sometimes writing it can be a terrific way to practice. Reading a stream of tweets (or equivalent) that are tedious in your mother tongue can have a whole different perspective in a language you are learning.

You can find many different languages on Twitter or better still find a similar service that appeals more to native speakers of the language you are learning. is a twitter clone use by lots of Chinese users. Microblogging services are only the start other social services also have a different spin when working in language you are learning. Even the Don Joly mobile phone jokes point to a useful practice technique, ever feel silly walking down the street practicing out loud, cover it up by pulling out your mobile phone and pretending to have a conversation in a foreign language (don't go over the top though). Do this in a subtle way near someone you suspect to be a native speaker and they may even try to engage you in a real conversation (at least they now know you can speak their language).

This post will be a small part of the background to my upcoming Bathcamp presentation.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Mandarin Learning Resources

I have been experimenting with the service at Twine. Twine allows you to store and share knowledge and still has a lot of rough edges (it is in private beta), however I think it has a lot of potential. I have started a Learning-Mandarin twine which I intend to keep populating with learning resources, also as commenting is allowed resources can be reviewed and discussed.

If anybody wishes to join Twine I have some invites.