29 August 2012

Verbling: my latest recommendation

I have been talking to native Spanish speakers, online for over a week. In return for their forebearance I have been returning the compliment, in fluent English, in five minute doses. Let me introduce you to Verbling. First of all it’s free. You need a PC and ideally, a headset. A webcam would be good too but not essential.

To use it you log in to the website www.verbling.com and sign up for an account. Decide which language you want to learn (only Spanish or English for now but more to come soon) and you are ready to go. The first time I tried, I couldn’t get sound to work so I used the helpline. Jake got me sorted: I had to go into Control Panel > sounds to switch the default speakers to my USB headset (how embarrassing!).

Once connected you alternate languages every 5 minutes. There is an onscreen timer and a message appears onscreen reminding you both when it is time to change. There tends to be a 2 second lag on the audio connection, anyone used to Skype will have no problem with this. So far I have had three long conversations with fellow students in Nicaragua, Madrid and Mexico. I tend to use Verbling in the evening and it is easy to forget the time difference between UK and South America, it was 1.00am here when I finished talking with my new friend from Nicaragua.

One important tip: Verbling doesn’t work with IE9 but it does work with Chrome and probably several other browsers.

I still feel like the new kid on the block, getting used to the interface, and the different accents, and I marvel that my Castellan Spanish is so well understood, and each time is easier than the time before.

Here is a screen shot of the interface. When you are ready to chat click on the "get partner" icon and off you go…


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Bill Ferguson
Bill Ferguson

Spanish Teaching Resources

Getting good quality teaching and resources

The information I am going to share is an honest account of what I have tried over the past year and my opinions are just that, opinions. I will share my likes and dislikes, what works for me and what doesn't. This is a personal experience, I am not an expert but if you share my ambition of learning to communicate in a third, foreign language, then maybe we can help each other along the way.

According to Friedrich Nietzsche: "One who speaks a foreign language just a little takes more pleasure in it than one who speaks it well. Enjoyment belongs to those who know things halfway."

I think he is right. Its hard to define halfway but I think the fun starts when you know enough of a language to be able to make yourself understood, given sufficient time to think. At this stage you are not merely tolerated but treated as an honoured guest in a foreign country. People see you bravely struggling to speak and understand, and give you credit for trying. They are nearly always kind and supportive.

Go beyond this to fluency and its like a toddler growing up, you are no longer cute and vulnerable. You are competing for resources, in the adolescence of language acquisition unless you have a definite role you are treated with suspicion. Maybe that is the stage to consider moving on to another new language ...

Getting good quality teaching and resources is vital to success: encouraged by an influential book by Harry Ferber I now view language acquisition as a military campaign, I need to use my resources efficiently to overcome all resistance, I need to capture vocabulary and not let it escape. I need to wear down the opposition by attacking daily and not allowing it time to regroup. I need to learn the predictable tricks that the new language will play on me and be ready for them (this means learning grammar). Like any military campaign good quality intelligence is vital.

Learning a Third Language

My current ambition is to be able to communicate comfortably in English, French and Spanish. I began to study Spanish in 2008. I have been a student of French, on and off, for about 30 years and up to last year ....read more

Strategic Planning

When I started to think about taking on a third language I realised I had two main worries: firstly I didn't want to lose my second language ...read more

Fear of Losing French

As I see it there is a simple choice ....read more