By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 8:50 am
Confession time: If there’s such a thing as a language-learning gene, I lack it. Some of my closest relatives have taught foreign languages, but I’ve always considered myself a hopeless case. In school, I took multiple years of French, German, and Latin; I was mediocre at the time, and almost everything I did learn long ago departed my noggin.
Strangely enough, I haven’t given up hope. So I’m intrigued by Livemocha, a language-learning service that’s launching some online courses in the U.S. today after mostly doing business in other countries until now. The company is going up against Rosetta Stone–the 800-pound gorille of computer-assisted language learning. Unlike the CD-ROM-based Rosetta, though, Livemocha is a Web-based service. And it has cool community features: You can chat with native speakers and record lessons for their feedback.
Livemocha’s new “Active Courses” are available for Spanish, French, Italian, German, and English. (The company also offers more basic online courses in dozens of other languages for free.) Pricing for the Active Courses looks reasonable compared to Rosetta Stone, which starts at $249.99: They’re $19.95 a month or $149.95 a year.
That’s reasonable, of course, only if the courses get the job done. Like everybody else in the language-teaching business, Livemocha sounds super-confident about its wares, and says that anyone who takes the time to complete a course will gain conversational fluency. I’m going to dip my toe into the French course–if nothing else, I’m a good worst-case test for how effective Livemocha’s approach is.