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Busuu.com: Learn a Foreign Language With Help From Friends

Busuu is an impressive online community that combines some of the most useful lessons for learning a new language with social interactions that reinforce those lessons. Just imagine working through a unit on Spanish, German or French, and then instantly opening up a chat window and trying your new-found foreign language vocabulary on someone that is a native speaker of that language.

If you ask any language expert what the best way is to learn a foreign language, most would tell you that the secret is to immerse yourself into the language. By interacting with other people and practicing with the language every day, you'll pick up a new language fairly quick.

With the advent of booming social communities on the Internet, it makes sense that eventually a website would come along that combines learning a foreign language with social networking. In a world where most people enjoy interacting with other people online, a social networking site for learning a foreign language makes perfect sense. One of the first website to accomplish this kind of successful integration between language and online community is Busuu.

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Signing Up

The first sign that Busuu is a unique language website is during the sign-up process where you're asked not only the usual name, age and gender like you do at other social networks, but you also need to list what language you speak fluently and what language you're looking to learn. The fact that the website needs to know your native tongue implies that you'll be using your language fluency as part of the social interactions on the website.

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Language Areas

When you first visit the site, you'll find yourself in a special page for that particular language. If you add additional languages that you want to learn to your profile, you'll see links to those individual pages on your home page as well. Each language area is a page where you'll find course materials that will help you learn words, grammar and conversation in that foreign tongue.

The top of the page provides a log of the number of hours you've spent studying per week. You can set "goals" for how far along you want to get in the coursework by a specific date. You'll notice that different areas of the site are integrated with Facebook. For example, on this page you can share your weekly goal to your Facebook page.

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The Graphical Course Map

Toward the bottom of the language page, you'll see a course map that provides a graphical representation of the courses you've already completed and the ones that you haven't. As you work through the coursework, each section of the "map" gets highlighted in red. Each component includes a series of activities for you to learn and practice the language.

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Individual Course Components

When you click on an individual component to study, the first page of that course area shows you the different activities included in that coursework. For example, the first step of learning the French language includes a vocabulary section, dialogue practice, writing practice, a chat with someone from the community, and then a review and test to see if you understood what you just learned.

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The vocabulary components walk you through a simple series of words or phrases in the foreign language, with the translation in your native tongue at the bottom. Images are used as a way to help you integrate the learning of that word with visual cues from the world. In many cases each "slide" also displays a sentence at the bottom with an example of how someone could use that word or phrase in a sentence. On each slide, you'll also hear the word spoken aloud.

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A Sample Dialog

Once you work through all of the vocabulary words, you'll move onto the dialog component. This section displays a full dialog between two people in the foreign language on the left side of the screen. When you press play, you can listen to the dialog and try to understand the conversation, which uses the vocabulary words and phrases you just learned.

Once you've listened to and read the conversation, you can click the link at the bottom of the screen to translate the dialog. The conversation then appears on the right side, translated into your native language. This lets you see how well you understood the conversation.

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Help Other Users Learn

Between the different steps of your own coursework, occasionally you'll see a pop-up box requesting your help with correcting some writing posted by other Busuu users. This writing is actually other members trying to learn your native language through practice. This is your opportunity to correct any mistakes they've made and help them better understand the correct use of your native language. In this way, the community is a giant collaborative language learning center, where everyone is both a student and a teacher.

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Learn a Foreign Language Through Conversation

As mentioned earlier, one of the best ways to learn another language is through practice. The best form of practice is a dialog with someone that is very proficient in the language you're trying to learn. Part of your coursework will include practice chatting with other people on the site.

Just keep in mind that while you're there to learn from them, they're also there to learn from you, so if they'd like to practice talking in your native language, try to be as helpful as possible. Overall, this social interaction within a language learning website really makes Busuu stand out from the crowd as a valuable tool for learning languages.

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Printable PDF Learning Units

Once you're finished working your way through each unit, you'll have the opportunity to view the unit information in PDF format so that you can print it out if you want to. This can be helpful if you'd like to be able to study the material even when you're away from the computer.

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Review and Test

At the end of each unit, you'll work through a review of the material you just covered in the form of an interesting test. The test does an excellent job of reinforcing what you've learned through word matches, and test translations of both written and spoken words and phrases.

Keep in mind that while there's a free membership at Busuu, there is also a Premium membership that costs money. The free membership lets you work through writing and reading exercises, as well as take part in live chat with other members and take interactive tests. However, the free membership will not allow some of the key phrase audio and listening exercises, many of the printable PDFs, the video units and material that Premium members have access to.

However, even with the free membership, the fact that you can take much of the coursework and practice conversing with people from around the world makes Busuu a very valuable and useful social network for learning a foreign language.

Written January 16, 2011 by Ryan Dube


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