Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rosetta Stone teaches Michael Phelps grammatical gender in genderless Chinese

You might recall that Michael Phelps did a stint as the spokesman for Rosetta Stone. Did you also know that Rosetta Stone and Phelps managed to uncover something about Chinese that has eluded linguists, scholars, and even the Chinese themselves for millennia?

The highlight starts at 0:53:
Interviewer: And, Michael, I understand you used [Rosetta Stone] to learn a little Mandarin to prepare yourself in Beijing. How did it go?

Phelps: Uh, it's a very tough language.
That's getting dangerously close to saying, "I didn't really learn anything so please don't ask me to say anything in Chinese." (But, then again, as Rosetta Stone is an advertiser on Fox, I suppose he didn't really need to worry about getting grilled by the interviewer.)

Phelps continues:
Phelps: Um, you know, uh, um, foreign languages have always been very tough for me to learn, but, you know, I figured I might as well, um, I'm gonna give it a shot and, uh, try it and, uh, learned a few of the simple terms and, and the masculine and feminine term, feminine terms, so…
And to think that for years everyone's been running around thinking that Chinese didn't have any grammatical genders.

Oh, right. It doesn't.

Now go to the video and watch Rosetta Stone's CEO Tom Adams' face when Phelps drops the gender thing. I'm not completely sure, but I get the feeling based on the way his expression changed that he realized right then and there what was wrong with what had just come out of his spokesman's mouth.

So how did Michael Phelps come to learn about Chinese's non-existant grammatical genders?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

If there weren't so many frickin' naked dudes, ChatRoulette could be a good tool for language learning

ChatRoulette has been generating quite a bit of buzz over the past week or so. The concept is quite simple; you video chat with randomly selected people, and if you don't want to chat with any particular person, you just press F9 to get hooked up with another random person. It's the brainchild of some 17-year-old Russian kid who's now getting courted by U.S. investors.

The idea has great potential for language learning. However, before it can reach that potential, they're going to need to make a few changes.

And priority number one is getting rid of all the naked dudes.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kudos to Transparent Language for what they're doing for Haiti

This is one time when I'm happy to recycle a quote from a press release:
Transparent Language Inc. announced today the release of free versions of their Haitian Creole language software based on the British Red Cross Emergency phrase list. The language learning company has added the 62 common medical questions and statements from the British Red Cross to its Haitian Creole Byki software. In the hope that these software programs will enable thousands of people to better mobilize and respond to the emergency, Transparent Language has made them all available for Windows, Mac, iPhone, and Web Browser, all at no charge.
I commend you, Transparent Language!

Emergency Drives Thousands to Learn Haitian Creole [Transparent Language]
Free Haitian Creole Language Learning App for iPhone and iPod touch! [Transparent Language]
Free Resources for Haitian Creole Language Learning [Transparent Language]

What does Rico Suave think of language learning?

Score one for the Hattiesburg American, a newspaper serving Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and its community columnist, Cindy Burleson, because they got us the answer to this pressing question. And I quote:
Rico Suave suggests language learning aids you in finding a future husband or wife by simply "increasing the size of your selection pool."
I don't think we can deny Mr. Suave's point. Indeed, given that I found my own wife on one of my language-learning jaunts, it probably wouldn't be inappropriate for me to consider myself a beneficiary of this "increased pool".

However, I wonder whether or not this is the real Mr. Suave, or just an impersonator.

Link: Learning a new language [Hattiesburg American]

NY Times' "The Web Way to Learn a Language" is misleading and incomplete

The New York Times last week ran an article by Eric Taub entitled "The Web Way to Learn a Language". For the most part, the article is an uncontroversial list of some of the better known language-learning resources on the web, followed by a grab bag of a few lesser-known, language-specific resources plus a few iPhone apps.

That the article is an incomplete list of the numerous resources available on the internet is probably the nature of the medium, but it also to some extent reveals Eric's prejudices about language learning: that some kind of structured "class" is needed, along the lines of those found in the offerings of Rosetta Stone, TellMeMore, Livemocha (see my review of it here), Babbel, and BBC Language. Some things that are not really part of a course fall into his grab bag at the end, but he completely misses out on great resources like iTalki, Lang-8, or LingQ, which respectively can be used, among other things, to let language learners freely tackle whatever content they like in speaking, writing, and reading and listening.

However, the article is shockingly misleading in how it characterizes the results of one language learner's experience.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Livemocha lays down the smack on Rosetta Stone

In a post aptly entitled "Why Livemocha is better than Rosetta Stone" (hat tip: Kirsten Winkler), Livemocha explains just that. Here's how Kirsten sums it up:
Reason 1: Livemocha offers hundreds of hours of free courses in over 30 languages.

Reason 2: Livemocha lessons include revision of speaking and writing exercises by native speakers.

Reason 3: Livemocha has a community of over 4 million members to connect, socialize and practice with.
Here's what I think Kirsten (but not Livemocha) glossed over: price! Livemocha lets you do lots of stuff for free—most notably, in my opinion, getting in touch with lots of people in Livemocha's language-learning community (see my full review of Livemocha here)—whereas Rosetta Stone lets you do very little for free, and charges you out the wazoo for whatever they do let you do. When Livemocha does charge you, their prices are much more reasonable.

And we all know that this blog loves a little bit of snark, so I can't help but appreciate these gems from Livemocha's post:
Rosetta Stone gives you CD-ROMs. Remember those? From the 1980s?

If you pay Rosetta Stone $999 (yes, that’s one dollar short of 1,000), you can get into one of those clunky group tutoring sessions. Ahem.
The 1980s. Lulz.

Why Livemocha is better than Rosetta Stone [Livemocha]
Livemocha Aims at Rosetta Stone – and Pulls the Trigger! [Kirsten Winkler]