Language teaching goes online with new site

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The Independent Online

A social networking site set up "to help every person on earth to achieve fluency in a new language" is targeting the UK and has enlisted publisher Collins to encourage more subscribers.

Livemocha was set up in the US nearly four years ago and now has more than eight million users in 195 countries. Yet in the UK, just 100,000 log on to the service.

The site is the largest social network dedicated to language learning and was named in Time magazine's top 50 websites of last year. It offers tutorials and exercises in 38 languages.

The social nature of the site means users can draw on people in their mother tongue to offer corrections and advice on learning the language.

Of those who sign up, more than 80 per cent want to learn English, and the company is looking to the UK, as well as other English-speaking countries, to sign up to help its users.

As part of the expansion drive, Livemocha has looked to a tie-up with Collins. The two companies have created Collins Livemocha Active, offering internet-based courses with print support in French, Spanish, Italian and German. The product is sold through high street stores and includes an activation code for an online subscription.

Michael Schutzler, chief executive of Livemocha, said: "To date, our entire exposure to the world has been word of mouth on the internet, classic social networking. We've now co-devised a set of books to increase our exposure."

Livemocha originally tied up with the reference publisher last year, and Catherine Whitaker, director at Collins Language Learning Publishing, said her company supports the social network with its content. "This month, we've taken it into the retail environment – they thought their profile would be enhanced by being visible in store," she said.

It is also a good deal for Collins. Ms Whitaker said: "It was an opportunity for us to join the social network language community. We were unlikely to set it up ourselves, and Livemocha has a huge community in place."

Livemocha was founded in 2007 by Krishnan Seshadrinathan and Shirish Nadkarni, a former senior executive at MSN who oversaw the group's acquisition of Hotmail. Within the first six months, it had one million users, and has since raised $14m in venture capital backing.

The lessons use a range of tools including flashcards, quizzes and audio and video recordings to encourage learning. Those helping to correct mistakes receive site "medals" and it suggests "friends" that match users' levels of language.

Mr Schutzler, a former senior vice-president at job site, was brought in as chief executive of Livemocha last year. He announced in September that the site was aggressively going after established language-learning companies such as Rosetta Stone. "Livemocha's new retail offering takes language learning into the digital age. Gone are the days when learning to speak another language meant huddling around your CD player and mindlessly reciting recorded phrases," Mr Schutzler said.

Rosetta Stone chief executive Tom Adams has tried to write the site off, saying it was "basically freeware. And as I like to say, it's free for a reason".