If you like to represent your thoughts, project or plans in the form of logical maps and flowcharts – VUE is just for you. This is a free program that all students, academic workers, CEOs, managers, writers and others will learn to appreciate, thanks to its simple use and powerful options, including fully fledged presentation mode (yes, no need for Power Point!).
Visual Understanding Environment is created by Tufts University as “a concept and content mapping application, developed to support teaching, learning and research and for anyone who needs to organize, contextualize, and access digital information”. They succeeded in making a Java-based program that runs on most operating systems and allows great creativity in brainstorming and visual organisation of material.
With VUE you can:
Make mind maps and charts
Format easily and annotate items
Add semantic relations
Share your work
Export in several image formats and PDF (the latter is usually available only in commercial apps)
Map the content dynamically and use “outside” sources
This just a beginning, and for the full list of the features visit the VUE feature page. What we particularly like and wish to mention here is the “presentation mode”: by creating “pathways” (the order in which nods/items are trigged) users can “replay” the path in full screen. This, together with annotations allows seamless presentations, just like in the Power Point. Even without annotations and keywords users can have rudimentary presentations.
Other mindmapping software
We discovered VUE just recently. For some time we used XMind, but we did not like it because it requires paid version for some usable export options. The chance was then given to FreeMind, also a very good application, but we did not like the interface. Office applications not being suitable for mind maps we ventured into Wikipedia discovery – and found VUE.
The VUE homepage lists many tutorials, and that is where you can download this great program.
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.
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.
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.
Babbel.comis an online platform for learning foreign languages. You can choose to learn Italian, French, Spanish and German, while site is available in English and Italian and it offers interactive multimedia content.
After registration you will be welcomed by uncluttered home page from where you can choose tutorials and exercises. Because Babbel.com is a modern site, it is loaded with pictures and good voice samples (“listening material”) by native language speakers.
Vocabulary sets and learning unknown words
Here you can learn words related to a specific topic, such as meeting people, art, weather, food, music etc. After choosing the vocabulary you are guided through the tutorial in several stages. The site will present you in more than one way the words you are learning, and after that you can solve simple and amusing test. If you opt in for the e-mail notifications, you will get a remainder to review your more challenging words.
Learn – Real-life language, Grammar and Exercises
Steadily growing number of tutorials available in Learn section of the site is useful in getting an overview of basic grammar and in seeing how the language functions in real life. The section is presented through mini lessons which consist of language material (audio and pictures) and, again, different tests where you can see how successful you are acquiring your new language.
Community and Language Learning
The site is still being developed, but community plays one of the major parts. You can see what users are online, what languages they are learning and so on. There is an option to get in touch with “learning partner” and improve the learning by working together. However, it is obvious that this needs more work, from technical aspect and available content. It would be good to have voice and video chat, and more multimedia content to motivate learners.
To connect with other users you can also use Chat and Board, available in French, English, Italian, German and Italian (at the moment when this article is being written).
Language learning platform with potential
Babbel.com is a platform with great potential, and being free it is worth trying. We hope that the team behind the site will work more on interactivity within context. It is obvious that learners need more exposure to the language, more content with target language, especially topics related to the culture of the countries where the foreign language is spoken. Also, it would be great to see how potentials of community can be used not only in an interactive part, but in the creation of the content as well.
At the moment, Babbel.com is great for intermediate users that wish to refresh their basic knowledge of foreign language, but we hope to see more content with in-depth language exposure that will benefit all learners.