Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Adventures in social learning

As my weekly Spanish class comes to an end this week, I have been looking around for new, flexible, (cheap!) and effective ways to continue my language learning.

busuu.com has great resources for learning new vocabulary but I need to practice speaking and listening and with a new, full-time job looming where will I find the time or the right sort of class?

I have used verbalplanet.com before to locate native Spanish speaking tutors with whom I can connect on line at times to suit me, but it can be expensive if you need regular, say weekly, conversation.

At this point in my deliberations I was contacted on busuu by a young woman from Bilbao who wants to improve her rusty English and so we have set up a regular session to chat on line.

This has highlighted for me the power of combining e-learning with social networking. Busuu has a rudimentary but effective (and unobtrusive) social networking element which simply involves "friending" other learners, occasionally messaging one another, correcting each others' posts and sending virtual tokens or gifts. And it has certainly enabled my Spanish friend and I to make this connection which benefits us both.

What I am learning too is how really helpful this peer to peer teaching is. We each choose a topic and we divide up our sessions into half English and half Spanish so we both get the chance to practise our language skills. The fact that we are both learners as well as "teachers" means that, for me at least, I feel less self-conscious about mistakes.

Of course, a less sympathetic partner or one with considerably better skills (or considerably worse ones) might make for a difficult co-teaching relationship: but then it would be easy enough to make one's excuses and leave.

Now I have tried out this form of learning I know I would feel far more confident in contacting other busuu members for voice and text chats.