A few weeks ago I received a discounted one-month trial of Livemocha, a website that offers language courses in a variety of tongues as well as an online community of other language learners from all over the world. I figured it would be one more tool in my French-language-acquisition arsenal, in which is also stockpiled a slew of grammar drill workbooks, subtitled French cinema, and French podcasts, as well as one French husband who refuses to speak to me in anything but English.
Livemocha exercises are surprising effective; each unit starts with a video featuring two French people having an action-packed dialog (for instance, a woman loses her sac and her friend instructs her to call la banque to annuler ta carte and then offers her a cognac), followed by various grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing, and speaking exercises. Quizzes are plentiful, as is the opportunity to submit your writing and speaking exercises to be reviewed by native speakers who are learning other languages.
“Pas mal pour une débutante!” I fumed to Mr. Pinault after seeing one comment on a speaking submission that involved me talking about where I live. “I can’t believe it! What a prick.”
“What, that is negative? He is saying you are not bad for a beginner,” Mr. Pinault said.
“In English, that is a condescending thing to say to someone, unless it was horrible and you’re trying to make them feel better about being horrible,” I explained. Indeed, I am a little sensitive to the feedback that I receive, which is general (“ok” “Bon travail”) and rarely particular enough to be of any help. Plus, I can’t get over the irony that people in France are reviewing my efforts while my in-home French husband listens on, impassive.
At first I made a real effort to review the writing and speaking submissions of English learners, but it was painful. There’s only so many times I can correct “I am boy, she is girl” before remembering that I am paying for this privilege. The speaking submissions are frequently hilarious. My favorite is a restaurant scene that takes place in Hollywood, in which the Livemocha learner has a dialog with a pre-recorded bouncy blond American girl:
Bouncy blond American girl: Omigod, is that Tom Cruise?
English Language Learner from Venezuela: Yes… et…. es…
Bouncy blond American girl: Wow, there are so many famous people here!
English Language Learner from Venezuela: Shhh… I… know.
Bouncy blond American girl: This is a great restaurant. Thank you for bringing me here.
English Language Learner from Venezuela: You… are… wel… come…
What could I do but give him five stars and comment, “Not bad for a beginner.”