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Interview: August Flanagan of Lenguajero

January 3, 2010

Lenguajero is a great website for learners of Spanish or English looking to connect with language exchange partners through audio or video chats, by practicing their writing which will be corrected by native speakers of their target language or by making and reviewing flash cards. I recently interviewed August Flanagan, one of the creators of the website.

Tell me a bit about Lenguajero, how does it work and who is it for?

Lenguajero is a website that connects Spanish and English speakers for online language and culture exchange. We provide our members with three effective learning tools: Online Conversation Exchanges using a voice, video and text chat app., a Writing Club to practice writing in the language they are learning (native speakers leave feedback on submissions), and a Smart Flashcard program to help them memorize and retain new vocabulary.

Where did you get the idea for Lenguajero?

We were living in Medellin, Colombia, and had been studying Spanish for a few months. We were getting to the stage where our Spanish was really starting to take off, that is, we were starting to feel comfortable speaking the language.

It was around this point in time that Natalie pointed out that, despite the thousands of language learning websites out there, none of them were focusing specifically on connecting Spanish and English learners with one another for conversation exchanges. Given how much spending time everyday speaking with native speakers had helped in our own learning process, we thought that there was real potential for this type of site. Since we had our laptops with us we thought, “What the hell, let’s give it a try and see if we can build something useful.”

How did you build the site?

In the age of the all encompassing “Cloud” you no longer need things like your own servers, or an office full of people to get stuff done. Instead we looked to the web for solutions to all of the challenges we faced.

Websites like eLance and 99designs connected us with designers and programmers from around the world, and allowed us to outsource the work that we couldn’t do ourselves. At one point in time I was coordinating profile page design with a guy in Taiwan while Natalie was messaging with a team in Romania that was doing the HTML & CSS for our homepage. All this was done while working from our apartment in Colombia.

For the geeks out there, there is a four part series on how we did all this located on the Lenguajero blog. Read the first part here.

Does it cost anything to become a member?

Nope. Lenguajero is completely free!

What are your plans for Lenguajero in the future?

Currently we are working on developing a Classroom Edition of Lenguajero. This will give teachers the ability to sign up their classes, and monitor what their students are doing on the site. That is, who they are talking to, what they are writing, whether or not they are studying flashcards, etc. We have just launched this tool, and are offering it for free to colleges and universities for the next six months. Depending on its success we may choose charge schools a small fee per student to continue using the tool.

As our beta testing for the Classroom tool continues over the next six months we will be listening in on teacher feedback, and improving the tool based on what we hear from teachers. We are also working on a couple of other features to offer to Lenguajero members (text chat, and member blogs).

In addition to Lenguajero we are currently working on a couple of other sites. Voxily – a site that allows teachers and language bloggers to record short audio files and embed them in their blog/website without hosting any files or downloading any recording software. Spanish Movies Online – a resource for Spanish learners who are interested in finding good Spanish language movies to watch.

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Radio Lingua Club

January 3, 2010

Radio Lingua has just announced a new feature, the Radio Lingua Club. A club for language learners wanting to fine-tune their language learning with the help of people who are knowledgeable on the subject.

We’ve been developing a course which provides tips, tricks and tasks to help you make progress more effectively in your language learning. This “Learning a Language” course is an incremental course: when you join the club you receive access to the first lesson, and you’ll receive a new episode every week, coaching you through the process of learning a language. Topics covered in the course include:

– getting started with your language-learning
– useful tools for learning
– tips for learning vocabulary
– strategies for building your confidence in grammar
– choosing – and using – a dictionary
– tasks to help you focus your learning
– advice for learning two languages at once

In addition to these topics we’ll be featuring interviews with language learners and teachers who will share their tips and tricks, and we’ll be giving you some practical tasks to help you plan your learning. The club isn’t just for beginners – there is plenty of advice for those of you who have been learning a language for some time.

Like most clubs, you need to be a member, and unfortunately it isn’t free. A 12-month membership costs 24 GBP, which is not very expensive but the last thing I need right now is to read more about the language learning process! So I personally am going to pass on this for now but I hope that they are successful with it because I’m definitely a fan of Radio Lingua.

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Off to Hungary

December 28, 2009

I’ll be in Hungary for the next few days with my boyfriend visiting his grandparents, I’ll be back on the 30th! Maybe I can gather some Hungarian resources while I’m over there! 🙂

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Jahresvorsatz: ENGLISCHVERBOT.

December 27, 2009

I love languages and language learning. I love reading about language learning. I love sitting at my desk and reviewing vocabulary. I love taking language courses and meeting people who are also learning languages. I am going to study a language degree and will hopefully end up in a language related profession, be it teaching or translating. My boyfriend speaks three languages and I live in a foreign country. I have the opportunity of a lifetime here and I waste so much of it by simply speaking too much English. I am improving all the time by speaking more and more German in more and more situations but I could be doing much better. Therefore I have decided that my biggest and most important New Year’s resolution will be to stop speaking English.

I have figured out the main reason why I have a hard time speaking German in social situations. I first came to Austria nearly three years ago to be with my boyfriend who could speak English extremely well, my German was limited to Auf Wiedersehen and Danke schön. We had spent years talking in English prior to me coming to Austria. When I met all of his friends we spoke English together. I even spoke English to his parents who can’t even speak English! Everyone had gotten so used to speaking English with me that it is now a very hard habit to break. It is extremely nice of them to speak English with me, because of course it makes it easier for me to participate in conversations, and I really appreciate their effort, but I’m going to have to start telling everyone that they’d be doing me even more of a favour to strictly speak only German with me!

I have met two other people who live in Austria who are in situations similar to mine. A guy from England with an Austrian fiancée, and a girl from England with an Austrian boyfriend. The guy speaks nearly only English to his fiancée and has from the beginning of their relationship because he couldn’t speak German when they met but he can now. The girl from England speaks nearly only German with her boyfriend, and has done so from the beginning. Years of speaking English with your foreign friends or boyfriend is a hard habit to break! The guy from England said that it feels weird to speak German with his fiancée, while the girl from England says it feels weird to speak English with her boyfriend!

I am lucky to have a boyfriend who is very supportive and willing to speak German with me, even if it feels a little awkward and frustrating for me because I can’t always express myself fully, but I have to realize that everyone who speaks a foreign language to a near-fluent level has pushed through this phase! Whenever I manage to keep up a conversation in German for a few minutes, it’s a great feeling. I can honestly say it gives me a rush! Unfortunately it is usually me who gets worn out and switches back to English, but I’m going to push through this time.

For anyone who has the same fear of speaking a foreign language, here are some resources to help:

– Benny the Irish polyglot’s great post on not speaking English abroad (this one inspired me the most!)
– An open thread on on the fear of speaking in front of others.

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Merry Christmas! Frohe Weihnachten! Feliz Navidad!

December 26, 2009

Just wanted to write a quick little Merry Christmas post! It’s a bit late, but here is a list of Christmas and New Year’s greetings in multiple languages!

New Year’s is coming up and I’m decided what my goals for next year will be. One will definitely be to work on and improve this blog, so if you guys have any ideas or requests, then feel free to let me know!

Have a great holiday!

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December 17, 2009

I registered for the Österreichisches Sprachdiplom Deutsch exam today. I need to pass the B2 level exam in order to get into the University of Vienna. It will be on January 16th (written test) and January 23rd (speaking test). I also signed up for a four day (two sets of Friday and Saturday, starting tomorrow) prep class. The preparation course wasn’t mandatory but since I am full of good ideas like signing up for courses in Vienna which require me to wake up at 6:40 on a Saturday morning to get the bus to Vienna for a course that starts at 10:00AM, I signed up for it anyway! Oh well, all for the love of language learning, right?

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How to make the most of an immersion environment

December 14, 2009

It’s a language learner’s dream: being absolutely emerged in their target language in a country where their target language is spoken. No matter where they go, who they talk to, what they see and read around them, their world is a classroom and they get to see the language they are learning come to life. Everything from reading advertisements on bilboards to listening in on people’s conversations on the subway (it doesn’t count as eavesdropping if it’s for educational purposes!), it’s all contributing to their language learning.

As amazing as an opportunity it is to be in the country where the language you are learning is spoken, it unfortunately does not mean that by simply being there you will absorb the language over time. Language learning takes effort. I have heard of people who have lived in a foreign country for an extended period of time and still can not speak the language. However, when with the right combination of activities and effort, you can set your language learning on the fast track and make the most of your time abroad!

Step 1. Preparation
Going to a target language country in order to learn the language without any previous knowledge of the language will waste valuable learning time once you get there. You should at least have an idea for the sound of the language, basic vocabulary, knowledge of how the language is structured and the basic “survival phrases” that you will need in the beginning of your stay, but of course the more the better! On top of the wide selection of beginner courses that you can buy online or from your local bookshop, there are nearly endless resources online for beginner language learners. Prepare as much as you can so that you can be prepared when you arrive and make the time in the country really count by being able to get out there and communicate with the locals!

Step 2. Structure (on the side!)
If you are specifically travelling in order to improve your language skills, then you must continue to actually study the language in a formal setting. But I must emphasize: this must be done ON THE SIDE. When I lived in Spain last year I spent way too much time cooped up in my apartment with my nose inside of Spanish books while the whole world outside my apartment was just dying to teach me Spanish. Do not let this happen! There are ways to balance formal studying with immersion.
I for one really enjoy in-country language classes. You get to have a regularly scheduled study time with people from around the world with similar goals as yourself, you have a native teacher and you have structured study time everyday so you can spend the rest of your time (other than maybe an hour or so everyday reviewing what you learned in class, which is important) doing the immersion stuff! If you do not want to spend money on a class, then you should at least allow an hour or so a day to work on your own with an autodidactic course.

Step 3. Language exchange partners
Find yourself one or two (or more!) language exchange partners and meet up with them regularly! This is a GREAT way to get out there and start meeting people, especially if you don’t know where to start. Language exchange partners are people you meet up with to learn each other’s native languages. You meet in a café or somewhere similar, and spend some time speaking in your native language and in their native language. It is a mutually beneficial experience for both participants, and it’s a great way to meet friends.

Step 4. Libraries are your friend!
If you will be staying in the country for an extended period of time, get a library card and make good use of it! Read as much as you possibly can (even if it is just children’s books!) use the study rooms, videos, magazines, etc. for free! Imput is an extremely important part of language learning,

Step 5. Listen!
TV, Radio, conversations in public. Your target language is surrounding you so LISTEN as much as you can!

Step 6. Talk!
As well as finding some conversation buddies, it is also very important to get out there and TALK! Don’t be afraid of making mistakes! Ask for directions, for the time, etc. (even if you already know the answer!) Every little bit helps. The ideal thing to do is to make a pledge not to speak your native language while abroad. Even if you can only speak a very broken version of your target language, it doesn’t matter! The more you force yourself to do it (and it WILL be exhausting at first) try to stick with it, it will pay off big time!

Step 7. Enjoy yourself!
You will be having a great opportunity to learn your target language, but don’t stress yourself! Remember to relax and enjoy your experience. Learning a language is just as much about learning a culture, so go and enjoy the culture that your target language country has to offer.

Happy Language Learning!

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