Language exchange sites: the pros and cons

Technology in the last 15 years has been the greatest help for language learners around the world. Not only are you able to learn and be aware of languages or countries you never thought they would exist. They are a great way of learning more about everyday culture and language, teach about your language, or simply use your language skills at a more informal and relaxed settings.

In the past 2 years (I’d dare to say) many websites and mobile apps have been created with the purpose of connecting language learners and aficionados around the world. Of course, there are social networks like Twitter or Facebook (and before that, Bulletin Boards) that have hosted groups or special language learning communities, but now… connecting with other users and searching for specifical requirements or value added resources are the novelty among language learning websites/apps. For this blogpost, I have analyzed 2 websites and a mobile app. Those 3 sites offer the same service, but with different options, formats and such. Mind you, I am not paid by any of the three companies mentioned (yet), so the opinions are completely mine and may differ from other instances or users.  They also have different pros and cons that can be a help or a nuisance for some.

The first website is actually a mobile app available for iOS and Android systems: HelloTalk.

hellotalk

What is so good about Hello Talk? Its many functionalities and excellent support system. Not only can you do refined searches according to age, language or other pecularities, but they also offer a voice messaging service which is quite helpful if you are on the go or there is a lot of time difference between your language partner and you (personally, it has been quite helpful for me because you do not depend on your or your partner’s schedule). Also, there is voice/video calling and you can get sentences corrected from your partner and viceversa (and with a space for clarification). About its support system… during my first uses, I would get unsolicited messages and since the app describes itself as a strictly language learning community, you can report any dubious conversation or activity to the app and they will get in touch with you quickly. Plus, there is an easy access translation button if you need to get a word translated by an online dictionary and you can do group chats with other app users.

What isn’t so good about it? Limited options for free users. Do you want to list more languages in your profile? You have to pay. Translations, Transliterations or other options are limited, and to unlock its limits, you also have to pay. Sure, nothing is for free, but other sites do have unlimited languages on your profile. Of course, I don’t plan to learn tons of languages, but you can still be language buddies or learn about each other’s cultures. Also, I think profiles are sort of bland. I wish I could list my interests or do some website promotion, but the latter is not allowed for safety and privacy concerns. Still, it is a good app to meet language learners.

The second is an up-and-coming website and android app (that is also becoming an app for iOS) called Speaky.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 21.37.16

I must say, there is one thing that bothered me from their website. The “meet the language partner of your dreams”. I would use that at a dating site, but at a language exchange site… may be not.  And sadly, it is only available as an app for Android, leaving the users of the evil Apple behind (you can still access the app from the desktop or mobile site). Nonetheless, it has really good *free* feautures.

Its great features is that you are allowed to search through interests, list as many languages you know or are interested in, you can use voice/video calling on the desktop site and the mobile app, the search criteria is friendlier. Response time among users is quite fast and you can get a quite friendly e-mail notification when you get a message from your language partners. It also has a text correction and translation option. The site interface is friendly and does not leave you confused afterwards. Plus, you can put up a small ad to look for language partners or exchanges.

Moving up to the third site, it is BabelVillage which is also starting up as a good option.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 21.39.27

What I did not like about this site is that its structure is quite confusing. The Language exchange/practice is confusing and you don’t get the same results of people to practice language skills. Also, there is no option to correct mistakes and learn about them in the website (something GoSpeaky and HelloTalk use really well) and if you want to practice speaking, you may have to set a Skype session or so.

However, the website design is quite sleek and friendly. Profiles are more interesting because you can list (and search for) common interests and you can make your profile more yours. My experience with the site has been positive despite the problems mentioned before. Plus, I do think that sites who help you simply contacting other users can be good for some and move on to another place for speaking or sharing about lives.

According to my opinion, those three sites are quite helpful and I have met extremely interesting people that I have later got in touch in a different place, and also I have helped people with learning Spanish or English… I even talk with someone from Ukraine in Polish (since we are both Polish learners). Also, as I’ve mentioned, there are strong language learning communities and groups on the mainstream social networks, so do not forget about them, too!

Interview with Shannon from Eurolinguiste.com

This week, Shannon from Eurolinguiste.com will be sharing her experiences with language learning. She is also a quite talented musician from Belfast who is now based in California, USA. I must say, I really love her Instagram posts with the inspiring quotes she shares over there.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your main occupation?

My name is Shannon Kennedy and I run Eurolinguiste.com. I am a musician first and foremost, but I also love learning languages. I blog about my personal study routine and the resources I’m using, how they work for me, and the places I’ve been where I’ve had the opportunity to use them on my blog.

How did you become involved with languages? Did anyone motivate you?

Languages have been a part of my life as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t really until university that I began to enjoy learning languages and chose to pursue it as both a “hobby” and for my studies. As part of my degree, I studied the relationship between language and music, and in order to work on my research, I had to learn other languages. The learning process was incredibly enjoyable for me, as was getting the opportunity to really apply what I’d learnt.

Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?

My family has been supportive of my language learning. Even if they don’t understand why I want to learn so many languages, they are still the first to purchase language books for me as gifts. I also have the benefit of having family that speak two different languages so I get quite a bit of practice depending on who I am with.

Did you ever face a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?

Every so often I hit plateaus in my language learning where my progress kind of stagnates. Finding the motivation to work through it can be difficult – especially when I need direction. I’ve found that studying with a teacher and getting input has been extremely helpful. A teacher can help you work out which aspects of your language abilities need attention and provide you with tips to improve them. This has been irreplaceable when I reach those plateaus in my language learning.

What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your lifehacks for that language?

I speak French and English, and can have basic conversations in Italian, Croatian, Mandarin and German. I am currently focusing on Mandarin and Croatian. I use Assimil and a variety of podcasts to study as well as the help of teachers I met through iTalki. For vocabulary, I use Memrise. I share my resources for each of these languages here: http://www.eurolinguiste.com/mandarin and http://www.eurolinguiste.com/croatian.

Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you will not be able to learn it properly?

For a while I was interested in learning Breton, for which there is not a large variety of resources. I would not necessarily say that I would be unable to learn it properly though. It might be more difficult than some of the other languages that I am learning, but there are resources for the language. If one is truly motivated to learn a language, I believe they’ll find a way to make it happen.

Can you tell me a short, positive anecdote about your language learning history?

For me, the realization that I could navigate my way through a country using one of the languages that I had learnt without relying on my family.The first time I traveled abroad alone I was terrified. I feared I would get off the train at the wrong station, that I would eat something I was allergic to because I didn’t understand the menu, that I would end up lost with no way to contact a taxi, and so on. But none of that happened. I managed to get through the trip successfully and that was life changing for me. Incredibly motivating. I would absolutely encourage everyone to step outside their comfort zone when it comes to language even if it’s not as extreme as what I did. Some of the best learning experiences (about yourself and the language) can certainly come from it!

Comics and foreign languages: a love story

First of all, happy world book day (Sant Jordi in Catalunya)! 😀 I didn’t realize that today’s post was going to be related to it.

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Did someone say… shelfie?

 

As promised, this week’s post will be more general and focused on different strategies and motivations to learn a language. Looking for interesting material can always be a problem for people who learn languages at more formal settings or because they need to acquire a language for work or their education. I must have been lucky that I always managed to look for extra motivation when I learned my languages in formal settings, but still, it was hard most of the times.

To be honest, I always relied on special material to practice my language knowledge in a more fun setting: COMICS. Since I was young, I remember reading comics. Whether it was Condorito (a classical magazine for any Chilean about a humanized Condor), Tintin, Asterix, The Simpsons or Dragon Ball Z… comics had an important role in my interest for cultures, reading and writing (and of course, learning grammar and new vocabulary). Unlike many people of my generation, I was more interested in the expensive, European comics than the US-American big-muscled superhero comic magazines I could easily get on my local kiosk. Good thing my godfather lived in Spain back then 😛 (Otherwise, I wouldn’t have managed to get a full Tintin collection when I was 11). Despite I left behind comics when I was in High School, at Uni, comics came back to stay! Easier access to them, looking for new ways to practice and the growing popularity of graphic novels helped a lot: reading Tintin in my target languages, Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novels in French, reviewing English with Craig Thompson’s beautiful works and now… I am starting to read Thorgal… IN POLISH!

Comics can indeed teach you about history, the local culture and many different things. Do you remember the trial Tintin got in Belgium because of its xenophobic portrait of the Congolese? I remember I was appalled by it when younger, but for any academic working with ethnicties, it might be a valuable source! Do you remember when Mafalda and her friends called each other “¡sos un papafrita!”? No, that doesn’t mean you are delicious, yummy and good as fries, but that you are dim-witted. Do you wish to learn about Modern Argentinean History? Well, El Eternauta can help you with that!

Right now, online comics have become relevant for many language and culture learners. You can viralize your comic strips easily thanks to the Internet and publish your comic from Santiago, Chile and get it read in a different language in Baku, Azerbaijan (true story!), interact with different users worldwide and even create an official translation team or living out of them! I am quite proud to have sponsored some comics (local and foreign ones) either by buying their work (and use them as perfect gifts for friends abroad) or chipping in when they need it. I am quite surprised to know when comics I started reading when they had a small fanbase now take over the world!

Comics can be a perfect gate for people to practice their languages at a more friendly setting and serve as window to cultures and learning expression and jokes. I am even having a big multilingual collection of Tintin comics and I often compare and contrast different translations 🙂

Do you use comics in your language learning process? Do you have any good recommendations in your target languages? Please write a comment and share your suggestions!

Special mentions to Itchy Feet Comic, Expat Gone Foreign, Lunarbaboon, Sephko, Diario de un solo, Y, viste cómo es and many more people who give us a daily/weekly smile online, and this post is dedicated to María José (aka Kotorra) and Jaime who have helped me rediscover my passion for comics. ¡Muchas gracias chicos!

Interview with Malachi Rempen

The second person who is getting interviewed is our beloved Malachi Rempen from Itchy Feet Comic, one of the most successful language/travel-themed online comics. Based from Berlin, every Sunday he uploads a new comic strip based on his experiences and other curious aspects of foreign languages and cultures.

Without further ado…

IMG_0635_Fotor

  • Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your main occupation?
    I’m half American, half German, all New Mexican, baby. I am a freelance filmmaker by trade, doing mostly web commercials and short documentaries and so on, but I do lots of different things to “occupy” myself. I keep myself well-occupied. My main big project right now, aside from Itchy Feet, is The Merry Mariner (www.themerrymariner.com), a series of children’s adventure/fantasy books I’m writing and illustrating. 

  • How did you become involved with languages? Did anyone motivate you?
    What’s more motivating than love? I met an Italian girl a few years back. Her English was so-so, my Italian was non-existent, so we were forced to learn each other’s languages. And now she’s my wife! Also, living in France and Morocco gave me the impetus to learn French, and being half German inspired me to pick up my father’s language. It was a great personal moment for me when I was able to speak to him for the first time in his native tongue.
  • Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?
    Of course!
  • Did you ever face a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?
    Anyone learning a foreign language knows that it’s just a long series of hard moments, embarrassments and faux pas coming one after another tirelessly like an opponent boxer’s jabs and hooks. Eventually, as you get better, you learn to duck and dodge, or at least get up faster when you’re knocked down by failure. I think all language troubles stem from fear–fear of sounding foolish, of screwing up, of being the object of ridicule. The only cure for this fear is to realize that you’re going to look and sound foolish no matter what you do, so you might as well get on with it. At least you’re trying. 

  • What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your lifehacks for that language?
    I’m learning French, Italian and German, at various levels. I used to know Spanish pretty well, but it’s since been squashed by my Italian, which insists on occupying much of the same shelf space in my brain as Spanish. I’d like to learn something totally different like Chinese or Arabic or Swahili, just to have a new perspective. I’ve loved how learning languages changes how you see the world. It’s fascinating. I practice them by meeting people and talking to them! That’s the only life hack I can think of. If I knew of any others I’d probably be a lot better at those languages. 
  • Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you will not be able to learn it properly?
    Well, “properly” is in the ear of the beholder, wouldn’t you say? I’m not even sure I speak English “properly.” Leonardo Da Vinci said that art is never finished, only abandoned. Language learning is like that. You’re never really ever 100% totally fluent, you just get less and less crappy at it.
  • Bonus question (just because I love comics) What are your main influences in comics? Do you have any referents (regarding styles, themes or so)?
    I’m actually not a big comics guy, at least not in the Marvel/DC way. Growing up, I always read the comics in the morning newspaper over breakfast, and I used to doodle on my notes in class, but that’s about the extent of my relationship with comics. Actually newspaper strips inform a lot about Itchy Feet, particularly the somewhat “softball” type of jokes I tell and the short form “pacing” of the strip, which often includes for example a blank panel in which two characters stare wordlessly at one another. That comes from classic newspaper comics like Calvin and Hobbes, Foxtrot, Garfield, or Peanuts. Stylistically though, the Itchy Feet guy is sort of the bizarre love child of Homer Simpson and a Don Hertzfeldt stick figure.

Thanks a lot to Malachi for his interesting answers! You can follow him on his official site, Twitter, Facebook (even in Czech, Russian, Japanese and Spanish), and of course… his Patreon site! Break a leg on Friday! 😀

Before signing off, I invite you to follow the DLC on Twitter. The DLC or the Digital Language Collective is a place where language/lingusitic bloggers and enthusiasts can meet and share their experiences and looking for further online promotion and collaboration. If you have a language blog/vlog/twitter account, please feel free to connect with us 😀

Interview with Lindsay Dow

As I already wrote on the newsletter, I am starting a new section on the blog, which will be a monthly weekly interview (due to the interest I have got from different people) with other language bloggers and learners from all over the world. Some of them may be typed, others taped and so on, and so forth. Every Tuesday, I will upload a different interview with language learners and/or bloggers, so you can get to know them, their methods and passions. Thus, a new update day is added to the blog 😀

The first person who accepted to be interviewed is Lindsay Dow from Lindsay Does Languages. She focuses herself on blogging, vlogging and also manages the #iglc (Instagram Language Challenge) which is a quite success among language learners on Instagram.

Thanks Lindsay for your photo!
Thanks Lindsay for your photo!

Without further ado, here are her answers.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your main occupation?

Sure! My name is Lindsay and I’m self-employed. Lindsay Does Languages is my little company, which started out as private face-to-face tuition but has since expanded to a blog and YouTube channel as well, with primarily Skype tuition on offer now. We’re just turned three!

I also study part-time with The Open University. My degree is in Modern Language Studies and will have taken 6 years when I finish…this year!

How did you become involved with languages? Did anyone motivate you?

Hmm. Interesting question. I went to French Club at primary school because they gave you croissants at the end of term. That’s pretty much the only reason I kept going. It did mean that when I went on holiday to France I would try and talk to people at the playground or in the pool, but I didn’t really realise what I was doing until I chose Spanish at GCSE aged 14. My mum and dad paid for my French lessons, and Shakira songs were the reason I started Spanish…so I guess thanks go to my parents and Shakira for the motivation!

Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?

Completely. 🙂

Did you ever face a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?

Oh my goodness, so many! All the time! But language learning has also taught me skills for life in general when it comes to overcoming these difficult moments. Something that’s often a problem is restarting a routine after losing it for holidays or something else. It’s easier to start again each time. I wrote about that this week on my blog: http://bit.ly/1CP10XJ

What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your lifehacks for that language?

Right now I’m in my final year of my Modern Language Studies degree so I’m studying Spanish pretty heavily for that but I’m also learning Japanese at a much slower rate on the side. As well as this I’m doing the Language Script Challenge, which is a personal challenge I set myself to become familiar with 31 different scripts, alphabets, and writing systems in 2015. I primarily use Memrise for the scripts, my course materials for the Spanish, and the Instagram Language Challenge to keep my Japanese ticking over. Lifehacks? I would say incorporate your language into your daily routine and it will feel almost effortless.

Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you will not be able to learn it properly?

I feel an affinity to every language I’ve studied but I’m fascinated by 2 languages in particular: Burmese and Tok Pisin. They’re high on the ‘to learn’ list! I wouldn’t say I’d never be able to learn any language properly though. I think given the right commitment, anyone can learn any language.

Can you tell me a short positive anecdote about your language learning history?

Blogging! Writing a blog is the best decisions I ever made in terms of advancing my language learning. It gives me the motivation to say “I’m going to learn XYZ” and the much needed public commitment that means I WILL learn XYZ! If you’re stuck as to where to go next with your language learning, how to keep yourself motivated, or anything like that then I’d definitely recommend starting a blog to document your progress, keep you on track, and make new friends with the same interests. So positive.

Public Service Announcement! Uwaga!

Hello!

Yeah, I am updating on Saturday because I have got two pieces of news to share with you.

First of all, I think you all know Malachi’s Itchy Feet Comic. A classic among Language learners and enthusiasts worldwide. Right now, he is looking for Patrons in order to continue offering us great comics every week. I already chipped in some bucks, so if you have got some spare money and truly enjoy a quality language-related comic, I invite you to check his profile over at Patreon. Not to mention you also manage to get cool rewards as well.

Via http://www.itchyfeetcomic.com
Via http://www.itchyfeetcomic.com

 

The second announcement is an invitation from a fellow language blogger, Paul from Language Trainers, who is inviting all of us to participate on a giveaway of a free copy of the Advanced Korean course (book and CD-ROM included!). Korea is slowly becoming popular everywhere thanks to its impeccable media production and an interesting culture and history. Despite Korean isn’t among my focus languages, anyone who takes on the challenge of learning languages beyond English has all my respect.

You can participate by clicking on this link.

(Also, it’d be an excellent time to motivate you to suscribe to The Krzysiek.cl Times! It is a weekly newsletter written by yours truly in which you can find this week’s post along with really good blogposts from fellow language bloggers AND a sneak peek on next week’s post). So, go to the right side bar and enter your name and e-mail, and every Friday or Saturday, you will get my newsletter delivered to your inbox).

Polish Cinema from the 30’s

Cinema has been a great companion for language and culture learners since it became popular. In fact, Historians have widely researched on how people’s behaviour or perception of certain issues, institutions or other people have changed with audiovisual productions (mainly because those same movies have a discourse itself they want to prove).

Unlike Chile, Poland has a great cinema tradition from early times, being the 30’s a great time for Polish cinema. Meanwhile here, we would often get dubbed movies from the US/UK or Argentinean or Mexican movies (Old Mexican movies are still popular in small villages in Chile -mainly those ones about the Mexican Revolution-), Poland had its own cinema culture, with its own referents, stories and themes. Despite they would be barely known outside Poland, most of those movies had a quite simple script or were adaptations from books, many humouristic situations, plenty of music and of course, certain hidden social criticism or willing for openess. All of that fits the historical context of Poland.

The main film studios were located in Warsaw, Łódź (which is still the capital of Polish cinema), Vilnius (Wilno in Polish; now in Lithuania) and L’viv (Lwów in Polish; now in Ukraine) which also happened to be the places where the main theatres were (filled with plays, cabaret -note, they are not like the Latin American concept of cabaret- and other perfomances). Also, the Radio played an important role of difussion of such stars. Not to mention, you could clearly listen the influence of local dialects (specially gwara lwowska or Lwów dialect) or even other languages, such as Yiddish.

There is a particular movie that since I watched it, it made me realize that I still have a lot to learn about Poland and Polish history. I watched Piętro wyżej (On the floor above) which is about 2 men who share the last name and first name initial: H. Pączek. One of them is a young radio host who loves loud, swing music while the other is a grumpy old man who loves classical music. Their problems start to increase when the niece of the old man comes for a visit and gets into the wrong flat ;). Many misadventures happen and comedy situation, but what impressed me the most was this video:

A man. Dressed in drag. Dancing like no one cares and having fun. In the 30s. Mind you, there is a really conservative perception of the 30’s in Chile that we would never think of such things, but it did happen in 30’s Poland. The actor is Eugeniusz Bodo, a Swiss-Polish actor who was one of the most popular ones. Everyone loved him, despite he had a quite lonely life (he lived mainly with his mother and a dog) and a sad end: he was arrested by the Soviets and was sent to a Gulag in Siberia, where he died. His life and his movies can surely tell us a lot about different aspects in Poland: masculinity (and gender roles), interaction between young and old people, media, language and many other mores in the society.

So, linguists, historians, film producers and directors can all rejoice with Polish old films… however, there is one point that may be hard for learners. They are really hard to understand! When I watched  Piętro wyżej, I watched it with no subtitles, but kindly, I didn’t watch it alone so several aspects were either translated to me in English or explained in simpler Polish.

Review: Turkish for English speakers on Duolingo

So, yeah, that is more or less how I sound and I hope you understood me and if this proves to be good, who knows… I’ll prepare more videos or not 😛

Anyways, my point here is to do a short review on Duolingo’s newest release, its Turkish for English speakers course. As I’ve said before, Turkish has slowly become a popular language for pop culture fans due to music and television and this piece of news came in the best time for many of them. Probably, most of my views also apply to other Duolingo courses, but I am quite confident that it all depends on your previous knowledge, time available and many other factors.

First of all, one of the big pros of this course is slowly introducing yourself to new concepts and being able to practice not just one skill, but the four main communication skills in language learning: listening comprehension, reading comprehension, writing and speaking.  Unlike other apps or self-teaching methods online in which you simply repeat and memorize words without more or less the logic behind them or how to construct sentences on your own (i.e. being an independent speaker of a language), Duolingo is a great tool. Plus, the whole game-like environment in which you can earn “lingots”, compete against friends or buddies can be quite entertaining and motivating for gamers or younger learners. Not to mention, it can be a great tool for preparing yourself for language certification exams. In fact, Duolingo is preparing their own language certification exams, in which you can take them in any place of the world with an Internet connection and just by paying a small fraction of what other certification exams cost (hopefully Universities, workplaces and other institutions worldwide take note of this and support this great idea!).

Now, going back to our main topic, Turkish, it is the first time they design a course for a non Indo-European language, so there is still a long way to polish off (which I’ll discuss below), but the positive aspects is that the interface itself is quite friendly and that you can really feel you make progress in order to become an independent speaker. Such feedback is positive and encourages you to try, try and try again. Not to mention also that you can use Duolingo online or on your phone.

However, now comes my critiques regarding Duolingo. First of all, the Turkish course is still on beta and that means it is not available yet on the mobile app. Duolingo started out as a mobile app, so it would be good to see an option for beta courses to be available on the mobile app regardless of the problems any beta version may have (though you can use it on your mobile browser). I also believe it lacks proper interaction among learners and/or native/competent speakers who probably need help or simply put in practice their skills. I know that there is some sort of bulletin boards in Duolingo, but I would expect it to be highly linked with the app or website itself.  Also, since Turkish has its own particularities, specially in its grammar, I would expect to see a short introduction on it before starting your lesson. There is an explanation, but it’s found at the very bottom of the page, so it’s hard to really know what to expect in the lesson you’re about to start. Due to these different rules, you may get problems like the following ones:

 

These are mistakes that Harry spotted and kindly shared his screencaps with me.
These are mistakes that Harry spotted and kindly shared his screencaps with me.
I had to scroll to the very bottom to find this really good explanation of what I am going to learn on this lesson.
I had to scroll to the very bottom to find this really good explanation of what I am going to learn on this lesson.

 

So, my conclusion would be: Duolingo works great for the motivated language learner looking forward to becoming an independent speaker and creating foundations on the language. Not everyone likes or understands the same learning methods, so it’s important to keep in mind that some people may need interaction, memorising words or even going to a classroom to properly learn the language and/or create learning habits. There are things that Duolingo needs to improve in order to become *the* referent for self-teaching language methods, but I am quite confident they do know more or less what they need 🙂 .

(Big thanks to all the people from the Asian Lingua Franca Challenge, a Facebook group in which the members have agreed to start learning Turkish in 6 months 😮 -at least at a quite basic conversational level-, specially to Emin -who kindly proofread my Turkish greeting on the video- and Harry -who lent me his screencaps from the mistakes he has found on Duolingo-… Teşekkür ederim!)