Learning to Teach to Learn

I’ve been making steady progress with my Italian podcasts: please (per piacere or per favore) and thank you (grazie), days of the week (oggi è giovedì!), numbers (up to 100), Merry Christmas (Buon Natale! Clearly I’m still working my way towards the present in podcast-land). I’ve also been picking up more vocabulary through livemocha.com‘s Rosetta-Stone-like lessons. They step you through six phases, in increasing difficulty: learn (look at pictures, read the caption, listen to it spoken), reading (match pictures to text), listening (see picture and match audio to text), magnet (drag and drop word tiles in the right order to form a correct caption for a picture), writing (compose your own sentences based on the new vocab), and speaking (record yourself reading a passage aloud).

I finished the first six-part lesson and ran straight into a huge potential time trap. You see, once you submit your writing and speaking “lessons”, they are posted for others to comment on. This is absolutely fantastic, as you can get feedback (for free) from other users of the site, and generally from those who have more expertise in the language you are studying than you do. But once you submit a lesson, the site lists for you the last few entries other people have made on that same lesson. And since it’s fresh in your mind, of course you might click through… and then you might start spotting small mistakes… and writing little helpful comments. And then the teacher in you roars to life and you start clicking through all of these entries, because, well, you can’t let this happen. Not only that, but you get “mochapoints” for commenting on others’ submissions, and extra points for being the “first to review” anything. (Mochapoints aren’t worth anything, they’re just a status marker indicating your level of activity on the site. But apparently this is still motivating on its own.)

An hour later, you realize that you’ve just spent an hour grading other people’s rudimentary Italian essays (e.g., “The woman is tall. The boy is fat. You are rich. I am poor.”). While this is undoubtedly yet another useful way to reinforce your language learning (you end up checking extra-carefully before posting a correction for anyone else!), it’s not clear that this is overall the best use of your time. You step gingerly away from the site, but not after listening to (and commenting helpfully on) one of Vitor-from-Brazil’s spoken English submissions. Sigh.

P.S. Vitor later “friended” me, apparently in gratitude for my comments. Awwww.

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I knew this already. I learned something new!