Livemocha as a Teaching and Study Tool in University Italian Courses
Steve Sacco, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA
Dr. Steve Sacco, a French and Italian professor at San Diego State University, didn’t think he needed any more instructional tools. With 35 years of teaching experience under his belt, the language expert knows what it takes to teach students to speak a new language and was already familiar with the offerings of various language publishers and software. So he was intrigued in the fall of 2008 when one of his students told him about a new website called Livemocha that blended language courses and conversational practice with native speakers. Sacco “fell in love with Livemocha right away,” and said, “Livemocha gave me ideas that I never would have thought of myself, even after teaching all these years.” He soon began using Livemocha in his university Italian classes.
Sacco hoped Livemocha would help enhance his students’ Italian vocabulary, provide opportunities for practice and interaction with native Italian speakers, and create a connection between students and the Italian language, culture and people.
Sacco utilized three major components of Livemocha in his classroom:
1. Customized Flashcard sets
Using Livemocha’s flashcard tools, Sacco created flashcard sets containing the vocabulary from each chapter of his Italian textbook. Instead of simply asking students to memorize the vocabulary from the textbook using their own study methods, Sacco asked his students to use the Livemocha flashcard sets to review vocabulary. He also created contests with the flashcard quiz feature, challenging students to complete each quiz with 90% accuracy in less than 3 minutes.
2. Interaction with native speakers
Sacco’s students regularly practiced, chatted, and exchanged messages with native Italian speakers on Livemocha. “All of my students had pen pals on Livemocha…some had as many as 10 to 15 different Italian friends who they communicated with on a regular basis,” he explained. Sacco also assigned projects that required students to work with Italian native speakers. For example, he asked his second year Italian class to talk to Italians on Livemocha about whether or not Starbucks should expand into Italy and then craft a case study based on those conversations.
3. Livemocha Courses
Sacco began using Livemocha before the release of the Active Italian course, so he used Livemocha’s Basic Italian Courses as an extra credit vocabulary supplement to his course material. He offered extra credit to students who completed each level and found that he not only had students who completed the level most relevant to their college course, but also some who completed all four levels of Livemocha’s Basic Italian.
Sacco noticed the most progress in vocabulary acquisition and utilization of new vocabulary, both in conversation and in class activities. Based on their practice with native speakers and work with Livemocha’s flashcards and courses, Sacco said his students were all of a sudden learning much faster, reading more, and were able to communicate better in conversation and compositions because they had more vocabulary under their belt. “I think these students learned vocabulary two to three times faster than they would have otherwise. It meant that they could do so much more in class. For example, I could bring more newspaper articles in because they now had enough of a grasp of the vocabulary to be able to guess other words from context and understand the point of the article.”
Sacco was also pleased with the experience his students had interacting with Italians on Livemocha. “It made for an incredible cross-cultural experience. These Livemocha members from Italy are pointing out things that made for a rich experience and a rich discussion in class…you couldn’t have come up with enough Italian exchange students have the same kind of effect.”
Now, Sacco would like to see Italian language programs adopt Active Italian to replace traditional Italian textbooks. “The Active Courses are incredible,” he said. “Truly impressive.” He will ask students to purchase Active Italian instead of an Italian textbook at the beginning of the semester to set them up for a richer language learning experience. The change will also save them money. “Right now students pay $200 per semester for textbooks—imagine how much better it will be when they can pay $149 and get four full levels with Active Italian,” he said. “I’m going to use Active Italian as the basis of my courses and then just create ancillary activities to go along with the Livemocha experience.”