Week 1 – Reviewing Language Learning Websites and Blogs

When I’m studying for a test in any language, I almost always go on line to revise my grammar. It’s a great place to find verb conjugations, tests and, of course, on line dictionaries. However, I haven’t really used the internet as an actual learning resource before for any of my languages.  Out of the three languages that I am studying, German is my beginner’s language, and therefore it needs the most work. For this reason, all of the blogs and resources I investigated this week were aimed towards students beginning to study German.

  1. Duolingo

I have heard excellent things about Duolingo. It is available as an App, which is excellent for people with smartphones like myself. If I’m at a train station or in a café waiting for a friend and have a few minutes to spare, I can tap into the Duolingo App and learn a few new words of vocabulary while I wait. It’s also free, which makes it even more valuable for students! Learners can log in via Facebook or set up their own accounts, and there are separate sections for both Beginners and Advanced students. Learners study by following mini-lessons.  They listen to the pronunciation of new words and test themselves as each lesson progresses. As each lesson is completed, the student builds up points and moves further through a “Language Tree”.  Even after a couple of lessons, I had revised some basic vocabulary, which was very useful. There is a tab at the top of the page called “Vocabulary” where the student can see all the words he or she has learned so far. It’s a great resource and I can see it becoming very useful.  There is a similar tab called “Immersion”, where it is possible to read and translate articles from the language being studied. I’m not sure if my German is ready for that yet, so I’ll progress with the lessons for a little while longer.  At the bottom of each page, basics such as umlauts, verb conjugation, the noun genders and other tips are displayed, of which the umlauts and noun genders are very helpful to new students of German.

The appearance of the website is excellent. It is well-laid out and very colourful. The student is guided in her learning by a cartoon owl, which is both sweet and undoubtedly symbolic of the knowledge that each student will one day have! Each new phrase and word is read aloud to the student, and the student sometimes has to translate each phrase, either aloud or by typing the phrase out. I think the points-winning system for every completed level is an excellent incentive to keep learning.  The only problem I had with the website was the reading aloud of each new phrase. While it is very useful, it is not convenient if the student does not have headphones or is (like I was at the time) in a library.  Otherwise, I would give Duolingo 5/5, and I’ll definitely continue to use it for my German throughout the year. I don’t know how well it caters for students of an advanced level in a language, but I intend on investigating as soon as I can. I also might even try to learn another one of the languages offered, such as Portuguese or Italian.

 

  1. Deutsche Welle

Deutsche Welle is a website which does exactly as the name describes – it sees the world in German.  Here, students can find articles about international and German news, podcasts in German, videos, reports, live-streaming of German TV, worksheets and more. It’s an excellent resource which I have used for a previously.  In the past year, I have found out a huge amount about German culture, current affairs and politics from this website, and therefore it has been invaluable. It’s not difficult to navigate after the first attempt, although there is so much to choose from that one can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the choice of options.  For example, with twenty minutes to spare, a student could read an article, listen to a podcast or watch a webisode of one of their web shows, such as ‘Ticket nach Berlin’ or ‘Jojo sucht das Glück’.  Each of these web shows depicts a student of German, so the German used, while challenging, is not too difficult to follow.  I always enjoy reading the articles on the Top-Thema part of the website, as the newer or more complicated German words are highlighted and form a glossary at the end of the article. In the rest of the website, the articles are much more difficult and would be more suited to advanced speakers of German.

The layout of the website is, as I have mentioned, well-done, although it is a little confusing at first. I feel that a student would want to have at least a few words of German before trying to navigate or use any of the resources that Deutsche Welle offers.  While they are excellent, they are not for the student who has only one or two words.  It’s a really interesting and valuable website and deserves persistence. I plan on following the web shows ‘Ticket nach Berlin’ (where learners of German travel around Germany on a type of scavenger hunt while making their way to Berlin) and ‘Jojo sucht das Glück’, but I think it will be a while yet before I try to watch any of their live-streaming shows. I would give this website 4/5 because it is not suited to someone who is a complete novice at German!

 

  1. BBC Languages German

This website has a lot of good points to it.  It seems to be firmly aimed at the tourist or complete beginner, as there are lots of fact sheets about Germany and the German language. The guide to the alphabet is particularly useful, and anyone who has ever struggled with an umlaut will appreciate it! There are also lots of lists of essential phrases for different practical situations.  The ‘Talk German’ section did not seem to be particularly useful to me. There are several videos but they didn’t load successfully for me. Perhaps, like many BBC things, they are available only to British users. This is a shame but there is solace to be found in the link to the BBC Bitesize German page. The Bitesize section caters to GCSE students and it is an excellent resource.  It is perfectly suited to beginners students as there are audio files, writing exercises, readings and speaking exercises for both foundation and higher levels of German.  There are also lots of grammar resources.  This is the best part of the entire website, in my opinion, as the rest of it is a bit of a let down.

It is slightly complicated to navigated, some of the files don’t work and most of it is comprised of links to other websites. That said, they are excellent websites – Deutsche Welle, ARD, ZDF, etc. – and could doubtless be very useful. All in all, since it is not as useful as I had hoped, I shall award this 3.5/5 – three stars for the BBC Bitesize page and half a star for the links of phrases.

 

  1. Memrise

Memrise is another language learning website which seems to be aimed mainly towards beginners.  It offers basic vocabulary and grammar lessons for free. Users set up accounts and are sent emails to remind them to study their German by ‘watering’ the knowledge that they have previously ‘planted’.  I think this is rather sweet and combined with the colourful background, the first impressions of the website are very good. The USP of this website is the way that users learn off their vocabulary.  As each new word or phrase is introduced, learners must pick a meme which will help them to remember this new piece of vocabulary.  Typically, many of these involve cats! Students can also add their own memes to help them to learn.  There is a lot of repetition which can get a little tiresome after a while.  However, I have to admit that it is definitely good for learning off new vocabulary.  There are also a wide range of courses (all free) from which users can choose how many words they want to use.  Each new phrase is also read aloud for the student, so if the student is in the library, he or she would need to have headphones. I don’t think it is available as an app, so for that reason learners are confined to using Memrise on computers.  However, this is not a huge disadvantage.  Memrise is also limited to vocabulary and grammar, and there are no articles, podcasts or webshows available.  Therefore, I would give Memrise 4/5, because of the creative use of memes, the good use of repetition and testing of knowledge, and the ease of use.  Sadly, the unavailability of other resources is not good, but I think I will use Memrise in the future to revise and possibly to learn other languages too.

 

I really feel like I’ve learned something from this task, mainly that I’m not limited to my books and the library when it comes to studying German (or indeed any language).  I’ll definitely continue to use these websites in the the future, and will find out if they work well with my advanced languages of French and Spanish too. I might even try out Italian or Russian!

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