A website launched this summer is offering a new way for people to practice a foreign language while connecting with others all over the globe. After stumbling upon an article about the site on Twitter the other day, I decided to test out the program called Verbling for myself.
The concept is similar to Chatroulette–the popular webcam chat site known for its risque cyber run-ins—so I was hesitant to see what Verbling might have in store. But after two chats with Cesar and Mauricio, I was pleasantly surprised by the site's workings. (I should note here that neither had a working webcam so we couldn't actually see each other, we could only hear one another.)
During my conversation with Cesar I learned he's a engineer who lives in Madrid and that he's been studying Spanish for two months. With Mauricio, the talk got a bit more advanced as we traded thoughts on immigration and the drug wars in Mexico. Both chats left me excited to connect with the next speaker so I could practice more Spanish.
So here's how it works: First you sign up for the site with your name and email address, and you indicate what language you speak natively and what language you are learning (right now it only caters to English and Spanish speakers, but the founders say they will offer other languages in the future).
Then you are connected with a native speaker of the opposite language. You speak in each language for five minutes, with a timer on the side of the screen telling you when to switch. There are also conversation prompts in case you get stuck.
Connecting with strangers on the Internet involves some level of risk, especially if kids are involved, but if properly monitored this could be a valuable tool for those looking to sharpen their language skills.
Livemocha, another language learning website, offers a similar live feature on its site that connects users of different languages who review each other's audio recordings and offer suggestions for improvement.