Over the last weeks, I have been attempting to learn German through various different interfaces. Some have been a huge improvement to how I learned previously, some can be helpful in particular ways, and some just aren’t for me at all.
This post shares a little of my experience using both Busuu and LiveMocha. The reason I’m reviewing them together is that I find both their advantages and their disadvantages to be very broadly similar, even if the actual systems are very different and present different types of interfaces. I’ll start with how I think these can be useful and then say where I feel they fall short.
Note that this article is just my opinion to explain why I wouldn’t generally recommend these popular sites. If you have gotten use out of the parts I personally criticise, then great!
Both site courses offered work by mainly using the flashcard system of showing you an image of the item or scene, and playing the sound of the word
or sentence at the same time.
Free online courses
Now, I’m going to get into a little rant about the “courses” offered on these sites below, but at the end of the day they are free. No matter what setbacks they may have, you can’t really complain too much when it has a 0 price tag associated with it. The reason I will is simply because too many people might think these sites are better than what they are. To be totally honest, I’m surprised at how much Livemocha in particular was recommended to me after using it myself.
Although there are certain paid aspects of the courses, I simply cannot personally recommend these paid versions with a straight face because of how little the free versions managed to inspire me. But the free versions can be very useful when you are starting off.
The main reason I didn’t appreciate the courses offered on either site is because I was hoping to learn a language beyond the basics, since I’m already at more or less intermediate with my German. This means that I can’t really fairly review how useful these sites would be for absolute beginners but I can see how they would be a fun and useful tool to start off.
Either one can be a useful tool to become familiar with the sound of the language and to acquire some basic vocabulary, while also enjoying yourself thanks to the helpful images. If you are starting off, and want to use one, I’d recommend using Busuu for the first week that you sign up (after the first trial week you lose certain useful features unless you upgrade to a premium account) specifically if you are learning English, Spanish, German, French, Italian or (Brazilian) Portuguese. For any other language, use Livemocha.
Livemocha: The main advantage of Livemocha here is its wide selection of languages; an impressive 35! However, this list is not the misleading drop-down list you will see on the home page. Since you use the system to contact natives, you can do that for a larger range of languages (as in Busuu), but the actual courses are not offered in all of them – based on the standard template nature of how the system works (which is a point I criticise), I’m confident that the number will increase further though.
You can’t learn Irish through their courses for example, but you can select it as a language you are learning if you would like to try to practise with someone (whether you’d actually find them or not is another issue). The list is already impressive and interestingly enough; you can even learn Esperanto as one of the 35 languages through it for example.