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What's the good word?

Rohini Kapur | April 11, 2003 10:30 IST

Want to learn how to say 'My dog ate my homework' in French? The Internet can help


Travelling to Mexico? Want to read Dostoevsky's classics in Russian? Dying to watch a foreign film without any dubbing or subtitles?

From simple words and phrases like, "How are you?" or "How much?", to courses that can make you fluent in Swahili in a month, your options are many. I Love Languages, for example, is a guide to language-related Web sites, as is Languages on the Web or LonWeb -- another site for resources. The latter also has Lonweb Online Guides (LOGs) who answer language-related questions. You could also try Transparent Language, for information on language origins, forms of address, grammar, important phrases (with audio files), a word of the day, proficiency tests, games and articles.

Of course, the acid test comes when you try to form grammatically correct sentences with perfect spellings. And this can only come with conversing in a particular language. Which is when chat rooms become a blessing in disguise. Yahoo, MSN and ICQ have chat rooms divided by country. Suhani, a student, visited a chat room in Spain to test herself. Fellow chatters willingly helped her and corrected her mistakes. You can also make online pen pals from other countries as they can help in a number of ways -- speaking a new language, interacting or chatting -- although this may require you to download certain fonts.

Interpals, Penpal Net and Penpal International provide a free pen pal search according to country, age and other factors. My Language Exchange is another online community where surfers can find a partner and practice any language with native speakers.

If you already have friends from foreign countries, you can turn it into an opportunity to learn more of their language and culture. 19-year-old Simran, for example, already knew French, but it wasn't enough. "I then learnt some French slang through a friend", she says. Komal Ramakrishnan, a student well versed in Japanese, French and German, chatted with a friend from Portugal in French. They had debates on the origin of French, it's influence on English, and its importance as a medium of communication. "I learnt how French culture differs from Indian culture," he says, "and how Captain Haddock (my favourite character from Tintin) would say 'Ten thousand thundering typhoons!' in French."

Many still wonder if it is possible to learn a language completely, online. "No", says Komal. "Diction is an important part of language, and it can be learnt only through personal interaction." Thierry Coste, Director of Studies, Alliance Francaise de Bombay agrees. "Even if a student can work on his pronunciation on the computer, he will never be able to converse with the computer. However, if the student's goal is only to write, it is absolutely possible online."

Is language learning online better than, or even as good as, conventional learning? No, say many. "The main advantage of the traditional class is the interactive aspect, and the direct contact with other people who have the same difficulties," says Coste. "Besides, studying online can soon become boring and the student may give up easily. Human contact in a classroom helps avoid monotony. Another advantage students can find in the classroom is the 'gestures' aspect. Gestures have different meanings for different language. A teacher works as much with his body as with his words."

In spite of this, Komal says, "The Internet is a good place to learn the basics. For simple phrases and words, it can help a lot." Suhani adds, "It introduces you to a language and helps you decide whether you really want to learn it or not." What will it be then? Spanish? Lithuanian? Scandinavian? You know where to look.



Indian Languages: Newspapers, magazines, sites and newsgroups.

Google Language Tools: Search in specific languages or countries, translate text or a Web page, or use the Google Interface in the selected language.

Online Language Learning: Courses, with language by country listings, translation utility and currency converter.

The Language Hub: Links to bilingual and multilingual dictionaries, language pages, fonts and books.

Your Dictionary: Portal for language and language-related products and services, with more than 1800 dictionaries on over 250 languages.

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