Learn A Foreign Language On The Web & On The Go With Busuu

March 2, 2012 | In: Uncategorized

busuuLearning a foreign language isn’t always easy, but if you pick the right language and take the time to learn, it can really pay off. Picking a second (or third) language to learn is a broad subject, and it’s ultimately a very personal choice. Perhaps you want to live somewhere new, or maybe you’re looking to explore business opportunities. Either way, once you settle on the language you want to learn, it’s time to get cracking.

We’ve covered numerous language learning tools before, such as the excellent LiveMocha and 18 other great language learning sites. We’ve even looked at Busuu before, but today we’re going to take a more in-depth look, both at this exciting language learning website and its companion Android app for learning on the go.

The Busuu Website

Busuu offers both free and paid plans. The paid plans are expensive ($18 per single month, going down to $6.29 if you buy two years in advance), so we’ll only be looking at what you can get out of the site without spending so much. Specifically:

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The free plan includes writing and reading exercises, interactive exams, and a video chat. I’ve picked German as my language. When you start, you can set a goal date for completing the course, using a handy slider to set your own level of commitment:

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Once you set a goal, there’s a very clear curriculum (or “itinerary” as Busuu calls it) showing your path through the course:

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Just click the red Go button and get started. Here’s what a vocabulary lesson overview looks like:

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Each of the images stands for a phrase, which you later see and hear in the overview stage. Here’s “Good afternoon” in German:

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The audio is crisp and very clear.  Once you’re done with the basic vocabulary for the lesson, there’s a dialog:

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You hear the audio of the entire dialog, and you can show its translation on the other side (pretty crucial, especially at the beginning). One annoyance is that the translation doesn’t actually line up with the source language, as you can see above. That’s something that could be easily resolved, and would really help anyone trying to keep track with the dialog in both languages.

Next you take a quiz based on the dialog, but both the questions and answers are in the language you’re trying to learn, but with tooltips showing their meanings in English (in my case, at least):

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Next you’re supposed to introduce yourself to the community by actually writing something about yourself in the language you’re trying to learn. This is obviously not going to be a moving autobiography, but something more along the lines of “Hi, my name is…”. Images along the bottom of the screen help you recall useful phrases included in this lesson for introduction yourself:

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When you submit your text, you can choose up to five Busuu members to send it to, so they could look it over and maybe help you correct it. As soon as you do that, you actually get another user’s phrase to correct yourself, in your own language. I got feedback on my own introduction in less than five minutes, and it was very nice (“Sehr gut, weiter so!!!”, which apparently means “Very good, keep it up!”). I could see the profile of the user who gave me the feedback – a very nice way of starting to talk to a native speaker. Speaking of which, other parts of the website let you chat to native speakers, working as a social network (you can “friend” them, play games, etc.)

At the end of each lesson there’s an exam to show what you’ve learned, featuring questions where you need to pick the right meaning for a certain phrase, or drag each expression to its proper place. There are even questions that have you spell certain words from hearing.

Busuu certainly feels like a solid website if you’re serious about learning a language; now let’s look at its mobile counterpart.

Busuu On Android

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The Busuu Android app is free, and syncs with the website so you can continue right from where you stopped on the computer. Here’s what the quiz looks like on the mobile app:

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You get to compose sentences by dragging works around:

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One slight issue is that some of the questions are audio only – that’s going to be a problem if you’re in a public place and don’t want your phone to start speaking all of a sudden. Another weird part is “Review Your Mistakes”: For some reason, when I asked Busuu to review my mistakes, it introduced some entirely new material mixed in with my mistakes. That was pretty confusing.

Speaking of new material, you can use the app not only to complete existing lessons but also to begin new ones:

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The vocabulary review stage uses swiping to move between words, and the whole app works nicely with a touchscreen.

Final Thoughts

There’s no getting around it: Mastering a new language requires a great deal of commitment. That said, having a mobile app that syncs with a full-fledged website can eliminate some of the common excuses to not keeping up with lessons, such as lack of time.

Did you use an online tool to learn a new language? Did you use Busuu yourself? Share your thoughts below!


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