Busuu.com – Language Learning Community

Fresh ideas are welcome, especially in learning and acquiring new (foreign) language. We present here one of the reinvigorated approaches in online language learning – Busuu.com, free language community that speaks in English, Italian, French, German and Spanish language.

Internet is hefty media and we have witnessed its power unleashed in vast world of social sites, visited by millions of users daily. They are bases on new concept called Web 2.0 and introduce great amount of pictures, sounds, videos, comments and communication. Some of the concepts are used in Bosuu.com and we are here to give you an overview of how this service can help you learn new language.

Busuu.com is created as an online meeting place around interactive courses, lessons and exercises where you can talk and collaborate with natives speakers.

Let there be Tree

When you register you will have your own Learning Garden that list all languages you learn as trees which grow gradually as you progress through the courses. It is a great visual tool that motivates younger learners but those mature as well. You will be rewarded with small tokens that symbolize your progress. It is also possible to take a look of other peoples’ threes and see their progress.

Languages on Busuu Tree – French, Italian, German

Four languages are available at this moment: French, Italian, German and English and the staff announced plans for adding more, even the elusive Busuu language the site is named after.

For each language there are several ways to go through the lessons. You can do them one by one, by choosing the level of difficulty or by selecting the grammar sections or topics that interests you.

Busuu main page with Language Tree
Busuu main page with Language Tree

New words are presented with an image which helps in acquiring, especially for visual types of learners. Of course, you can hear the word spoken by native speaker, and if you are a premium user, you can hear it in the context (an utterance). This will greatly help you master your pronunciation and get sentence rhythm.

Premium users can download lessons in PDF, print it and work offline – this is not available for common users.

It would be more interesting and of more benefit to have different lessons for each language: here the content is the same, only in different language. This negatively affects motivation in some users, wile others will appreciate familiar context. However, acquiring foreign language is also learning about culture and differences, and users all over the world would appreciate diversity in this globalized society. It would be very refreshing to learn about Maria from Sicily or Amelie and Jacques from Paris…

Test and mistakes

After the vocabulary training and short texts you can work on tests and see how well you are doing. The things that you find more difficult will be saved, so you can review later.

The name of the site comes from the Busuu language of Cameroon, which according to an ethnological study from the 80ies is only spoken by 8 people.

Multiple-choice comprehension test, one of many test teypes on Busuu
Multiple-choice comprehension test, one of many test teypes on Busuu

Hidden value and native speakers

One of the best things about Busuu is the interaction between native speakers and learners of foreign language. This “linguistic productivity” and communication is essential for successful acquisition of a new language.

In some lessons learners have to write on a topic in the language they are learning. This is not daunting as it seems because useful phrases are available and “students” must be creative and work on their own. Learners’ written work is then available for native speakers to edit and show mistakes. This great interaction can further be enhanced by voice chat and webcams – chat windows even contain useful phrases for conversation.

We really hope that this interactive “native speakers – learners” system will further be improved because of all its potential.

Go for it!

Would we suggest Busuu.com? Definitely. Go and meet people, share views and talk – in foreign language. Gauge your progress in Busuu Garden, and let friendly commnity of native speakers help you in your learning.

Busuu.com is a free online community for learning languages. Users have access to audio-visual learning material covering several topics. Additionally, language skills can be directly improved together with native speakers from around the world. Users connect via an integrated video-chat with other users of the community while at home. Each user is not only “student” of a foreign language but also a “teacher” of his own mother tongue. The start-up was founded in Madrid at the beginning of 2008. The company has been nominated Official Project of the UNESCO during the International Year of Languages. – from Busuu.com.

Phonetic Reader – Improve Your Pronunciation and Prosody

Phonetic readers contain phonetically transcribed texts which you have to read properly. Not only you have to know how to pronounce phonemes, but you also have to pay attention to prosody, that is, to the rhythm, stress, and intonation of your utterance (spoken sentence).

During my English Language studies one book was very useful in Phonetics classroom, and helped me and other students to practice spoken English word. After introductory classes about different phonemes in English and detailed instructions on how to pronounce the phonemes, we began practicing. We would listen to our teacher and her perfect English accent that flawlessly conveyed every syllable in the Reader, and then we would practice our pronunciation. The first attempts were unsatisfying, and we had to work hard for the final exam.

Pronunciation

To learn more see article
Top 5 Phonetic Charts

You are probably wondering what we used in classes? We used great little book titled Advanced Phonetic Reader, written by J. D. O’Connor and published by Cambridge University Press. The book consists of three parts. The first is an introduction to different utterance boundaries (pauses in the speech) and tone marks (varying of the stress).

Rhythm, stress, and intonation
Rhythm, stress, and intonation

The second part consists of phonetically transcribed texts. This is the most interesting part of the Reader, and it contains transcription of different spoken styles: declamatory, formal colloquial, colloquial and familiar. See the pictures bellow for the samples, click to see the larger version.

Formal Colloquial Speaking Style
Formal Colloquial Speaking Style

The third part of the Phonetic Reader contains “normal” text, that is, text previously written by using phonetic symbols now is printed in orthographic characters. It is great to read the normal text later and feel how you acquired proper intonation and stress for each spoken style.

Colloquial style in speech
Colloquial style in speech

I would really recommend the Advanced Phonetic Reader to all aspiring English learners. It is such a great resource of knowledge and skill that one always returns to.

I am not sure if you can buy it online, but you might want to check.

Pronunciation is a physical exercise

If you’re learning a foreign language it helps to understand that pronunciation is a physical process, and that dealing with the way speech sounds are created makes you aware of how to improve your diction and accent.

Learning about how articulators (speech organs) interact in the sounds of foreign language can greatly improve the pronunciation. The underlying idea is that learners imitate (acquire) the pronunciation of the target language; for some people this acquisition is simple and easy, while other need to put more effort into it. However, this does not mean learners with difficulties cannot improve pronunciation. They only need to take a different approach. The speech organs are controlled by our brain, and we are unaware of this automated process when speaking our first language. It helps to reverse the flow: learn how sounds are spoken in foreign language, and make their correct pronunciation almost reflexive.

IPA Chart and Human Brain
IPA Chart and Human Brain

What’s so physical about pronunciation? Pronunciation is a complex synchronization of many muscles, primarily of those in the process of expiration and inspiration (lungs and diaphragm), muscles of jaw, face, larynx, and of course – tongue. The sound is produced when all speech organs are in correct position and when air from lungs makes vocal cords produce the sound which then resonates.

The conclusion is that you need to know how to position your lips, teeth and tongue, and how to control your breath while saying a sound. You should read the instructions, stand in front of a mirror, focus your attention on position of speech organs and try uttering the sound – and you repeat this time after time, hour after hour. In this way you exercise the pronunciation. Constant and vigorous practice is very important, but it is also important not to make the pronunciation improvement too “physical”, that is: you must listen how the sounds are vocalized by native speakers.

It is just like in any other form of exercise which includes precise movements and concentration; this also means that whole process will become automatic and easier to perform, and you will permanently improve your pronunciation.

For further reading and references visit Phonetics on Wikipedia, or browse some of the books about pronunciation.