A comparison of Livemocha and Rosetta Stone

Which is better Livemocha or Rosetta Stone? Here is a comparison, in what looks like a Livemocha news release.

Do we really learn languages in chunks?

Here is an article about the concept that kids learn languages in chunks and that second language acquisition can be done in the same way. I feel that learning phrases is an important part of language learning, but I still come down to individual words as the key basic element of language learning. Words, words and more words. If we learn these, through massive reading and listening and few other learning tricks, the rest kind of falls into place. I still believe that the number of words you know ( passively) is a reasonable measure of your ability in a language.

Americans do not learn languages!

Here is a promotional film clip which is supposed to encourage Americans to learn languages. I doubt it will have much effect. “200,000,000 million Chinese are learning English and 60,000 Americans are learning Mandarin”, it says. Most of these are sitting in classrooms and will never speak these languages. I think that new methods of learning and the proliferation of language learning sites on the Internet, and language learning apps for the iPhone and Android etc., will have more effect than these promotional videos. Not to mention the fact that English is of far greater utility internationally than Mandarin. I wonder how many Chinese are learning Spanish?

Japanese political leader says Americans are not very smart.

Ichiro Ozawa may be the next Prime Minister of Japan. He said recently that he does not think Americans are very smart, and that he does not like British people. Two questions come to mind. How smart is Ozawa? Probably not very. And what would happen if a leading American politician, possible Presidential hopeful, said that he thought Japanese people were not very smart, and that he did not like, I don’t know, Chinese or Italians. The mind boggles.

Mandatory Mandarin

I have written before about the Mandarin madness that is sweeping parents in the West. I speak Mandarin, and think that kids should be exposed to more and better language instruction in schools.I also think we should offer Mandarin as an option. Mandarin is one of the most important world languages . I think kids should be offered the chance to learn it for its cultural value, not because it will get them a job in the future. It likely won’t.

??Here is a school in Toronto that offers only one foreign language, Mandarin.

As a Canadian, I would prefer to see French as the only mandatory second language, since it is an official language of Canada. But even with French, practically no English Canadian school kids learn to speak the language, except for those in immersion programs. Will the results be any better for Chinese? I doubt it.

I guess results may be all right for some students at this school, since Chinese immigrant families are the largest single group at the school. But when we consider that a large number of school kids in ESL (English as a second language) programs were born in Canada, it might make more sense to have these immigrant kids learn French, rather than take their native language as a foreign language.

The cost of literacy

Poor literacy costs our economy billions of dollars. Literacy levels track more closely to economic success than years of schooling. According to some estimates,?? 40% of North Americans should improve their literacy.

Obviously society should invest in raising literacy levels. Here is a project that reaches out to help people improve their literacy.

“The Learning Center, located in the James V. Brown Library and supported by a $26,500 allocation from Lycoming County United Way, serves adults with a wide variety of skills and ambitions.”

“Last year, nearly 400 people from all over the county participated in programs offered by The Learning Center,”

“Currently, The Learning Center provides basic literacy and other instruction in reading, writing and math in a classroom setting or through one-on-one tutoring,”

These initiatives are wonderful but there has to be some way to leverage the activity of teachers and vounteers and bring economies of scale to literacy instruction, or there will continue to be only anecdotal improvement. The 40% level of people with inadequate literacy skills will not change. That is the opportunity and challenge represented by the new learning paradigm of Internet, electronic tablets, smart phones, and distributed, bottom up learning.