That's the whole concept behind RhinoSpike, a new, completely free website launched on Thursday by Thomas Hjelm and Peter Carroll, the two guys behind the language-learning blog Babelhut.
Here's how Thomas described RhinoSpike via email:
You submit [the target language] text you want to be read aloud/recorded by a native speaker. It goes into a queue for that language. Native speakers see your request, record their voice and upload the audio file. You download it and add it to your Anki/SRS flashcards or load it onto your MP3 player or do whatever you want to do with it.Helping others and getting bumped to the front of the line is a nice touch.
You can also record your voice for people learning your native language. Doing so bumps your own requests forward in the queue, so native speakers will see them faster. Help others and you receive help in turn.
Thomas went on to explain how this might be used in conjunction with another of my favorite language-learning sites:
You could think of it like Lang-8 for audio files, except instead of getting corrections you are getting audio for any text you want. In fact, you can use the two sites together. Write a journal entry on Lang-8 and get it corrected by native speakers. Post the corrected journal entry on RhinoSpike and get it read aloud for you by a native speaker. Use the audio file for listening or speaking practice.This meshes quite nicely with being able to get your own spoken language corrected on Lang-8, but I'd do it a little differently than Thomas suggests. After getting your writing corrected on Lang-8, submit your own audio recording of the text as an entry on Lang-8 with a link to the text on RhinoSpike. Then Lang-8 users can tell you what you're doing wrong on Lang-8 and provide you with a correct recording on RhinoSpike. And I don't think Anki and Lang-8 are the only tools that RhinoSpike will find synergies with. LingQ, for example, is all about having audio paired with text.
For RhinoSpike to be good at what it's trying to do, it'll need to obtain a critical mass of users. Given that it was launched just two days ago, it's nowhere near that point. As of this writing, there aren't more than 80 members on the entire site (4 pages in the profile list, a max of 20 profiles per page).
Given the number of users, it's not surprising that there aren't that many requests for recordings up there yet. Before I added some stuff to the site, there were only 17 audio requests on the audio request page, with Japanese topping off the list with 7 requests. And, of those 17 requests, there were only 6 recordings, and all were in Japanese done by a single user. I recorded four more in English and had my wife do one in Japanese, which made a total of 11 audio recordings in English and Japanese done by two users. Assuming that kind of participation rate is typical, their user numbers need to go way up to make this the kind of tool it has the potential to become.
After putting up my own recordings, I posted a bunch of requests for recordings of texts in six different languages. The same user who did all the other Japanese recordings came almost immediately and fulfilled my Japanese requests as well. The others (Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian) remain unfulfilled. With more users, RhinoSpike could very well become like Lang-8, on which native-speaker input is often immediate but in any case never takes long.
One thing that's probably holding back users on RhinoSpike from adding recordings is that it's a hassle to put the recordings up there. You've gotta record your own audio file and then upload it. They recommend Audacity, but I found it easier to simply record my voice with the Voice Memos app on my iPhone, sync the iPhone with iTunes so that the recording ends up in iTunes' music list, right click on the track in iTunes and convert it from an M4A to an MP3 from the contextual menu, dump the MP3 on my desktop, and then upload the MP3 to RhinoSpike. Recording from directly within the RhinoSpike web app, a feature found on Livemocha, is coming in the next version, but for now anyone who wants to upload audio recordings has to go through the hassle of using some other app to generate the audio file. I don't expect that many users will go through all this work to put up audio recordings.
Another issue that's going to limit users is the number of language localizations. It's currently available in English, Spanish, and Japanese, while it's possible to submit requests in a ton of other languages. I doubt the website will see nearly as many native-speaker members in languages for which it is not localized, so hopefully they'll start the crowdsourcing efforts to localize for various languages, as is common on many language-learning websites.
There are two other things that I noticed that could be improved to make the website easier to use. First, searching for friends is a pain. There's no way to filter the profile list to find native speakers of the language you're learning (and searching for, e.g., "Japanese" or "English" strangely produces no results at all). Second, there's no way to quickly find recordings. I'd love to be able to quickly look at all available recordings in a given language to be able to hear native speech, but there's no easy way to do this. As is, you've gotta click on the request and then, if there's a recording (and that's still a big if), you can listen to it.
Nevertheless, I would pretty much chalk off all of the above to the site still being a just-released web app. The bottom line is that RhinoSpike is a great start for a language-learning tool with a lot of potential, and I hope to do my (self-serving) part in bringing more users to it.
However, there is one thing I still don't get... how the heck did they come up with the name "RhinoSpike"?