Talk to Me -- in German!
A wonderful innovation in the study of foreign languages is the use of the Internet to connect learners to native speakers. In some cases the learners write text that is commented on by the native speakers, while in other cases the two can talk with each other, such as in the Skype foreign language forums. These services provide a wonderful way for people to learn the truly important parts of a language: how to communicate with someone else from a different place and with a different background. Too often language skill acquisition is about formalisms and structure, rather than about communication.
An even more innovative way of learning language may be the ideas that Luis von Ahn is exploring in yet another one of his creative games. He is developing tools that allow native speakers of one language to help translate texts from another language that they do not know. The idea is that the tools will show the native speaker how to translate individual words, and the speaker will then fashion the result into idiomatically correct language in his or her native tongue. It is too early to know how well this will work, or if it does work whether the native speaker will actually be learning the other tongue or just volunteering his time in a useful way. In either case, the idea is fresh and interesting and I look forward to seeing how it works in practice.