Monday, 24 May 2010

Learning Languages Online - Why I Love the Internet.

In a new range of posts, I thought I'd write about one of the many reasons why I love the Internet. That's right, folks. I don't just like it, I don't just use it for work or see its practicalities - I love it. I use it, obviously, every single day of the year (bar a few days here and there when on holiday or having an action-packed/lazy weekend).

For many, the Internet has become a necessity. In fact, could you imagine the world without it? It's too hard to comprehend. Things that died out would still exist, things that exist would never have come to fruition if it wasn't for the Internet.

Many people use the Internet for keeping in touch, online shopping, playing games and so on. However, I want to take the time to write about specific reasons why I love the Internet - the first one being how it's revolutionized language learning.

I really enjoy learning languages. To date I have had classes in Italian, French, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese - I can speak them all to varying levels of success and failure (my Italian and Japanese are somewhat non-existent but French and Mandarin are not as bad, just terribly rusty and unused). I can also speak some German although I'm much better at understanding it thanks to having some German family. So, to say I enjoy learning languages might be something of an understatement. Fundamental to my learning of these languages, aside from taking classes, working from exercise books and practising, has been using the Internet.

You can use the Internet in countless ways to help learn a language. There's the obvious translation tools. Some 9/10 years ago, these translation tools were somewhat shady. The most popular (and arguably still the most well known) was Babelfish. Originally owned by Altavista, it is now proudly run by Yahoo. Many of my classmates used to try and use it for the Italian homework only for them to unknowingly to submit mangled translations of isolated words. Things have improved - markedly for translating foreign languages into English. Google now have their own translating tool and it works really well - you can even hear your translation in the foreign language. Google also allows translation of websites with their browser toolbar (not for everyone's cup of tea - it automatically scans a page to see if you need it translating). However, it does recognize Wikipedia's front page as being in Russian despite there being a plethora of other foreign languages. The art in using an online translator is not to over expect. Sure it can translate words, sentences and sometimes even whole paragraphs. But its accuracy rates lowers as the word count goes up. So much about writing and speaking is in the pragmatics - what you mean to say and how you say it, not the literal words themselves. Online translation tools sadly can't pick up on this so you will need to watch this carefully.

Aside from online translation, there is loads of resource material for you on the web. Whether you are just learning the basics or an advanced learner, there's bound to be some online tasks for you. A lot of websites even have really interesting interactive flash games that make learning fun. A dictionary is a great way to learn vocabulary (the harder it is to find a word, the more effort you put and the greater chance of you remembering that word for later use), unfortunately they can also be quite expensive. Many language resources offer free online dictionaries that work really well. They're often faster than searching through dictionaries too (not to mention some foreign language dictionaries are not simply laid out in alphabetical order like English ones).

Furthermore, exposing yourself to the language you're learning as much as possible is a great way to pick up a few words here and there. The Internet's love of all things multimedia lends itself well to language learner - why not look up television show clips on Youtube, download music from foreign language artists or read a foreign language newspaper (or attempt to at least). I listen to a lot of Japanese music - when it came to study it, I found that I already new a few words and listening to it helped a lot with my pronunciation. Besides, this can also be really fun!

Last but not least, socialize it up a bit! The Internet's second coming (web 2.0) is all about social interactions with and/or through the Internet. Facebook is the second most popular website of all time and its user base continues to grow. Advances in technology mean we can now blog from our mobile phone. So, why not find a group of people who are also learning your language - or better yet why not find someone who is a native speaker? Maybe you can help them learn English and they can offer some help in return.

Learning languages is something I enjoy and the Internet has made it that much more enjoyable! Free yourself from the exercise book and the dictionary and start learning online!

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