Mixxer Updates

Hi Everyone,

We've made three major updates to Mixxer this summer.  The first is the creation of an Android app to accompany the site made by two of our students at Dickinson College.  (Sorry, not for iPhones)  You can download and install it here.  https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=edu.dickinson.newmixxer

Google Play

It's a nicer layout for the phone than the website, and you'll receive notifications when you receive new messages, friend requests, and exchange requests.  Like the website, it's completely free.

Mixxer App Video

Speaking of exchange requests, that's also new.  You'll now see on each person's profile page a link that says "Suggest days/times to meet with for a language exchange"

If you click it, you'll see a form where you can specify days and times when you'd like to meet for an exchange and include a message to the person.

exchange request screen shot


Finally, for teachers we've streamlined the process for organizing "Events".  Events are basically ways for instructors to post a registration sheet for a group native speakers to have a language exchange with you students at a certain day and time.  If you have a computer lab with Skype and headsets, it's a great way to immerse your students in authentic language.  If you're an interested teacher/instructor/professor, send me an email at bryantt@dickinson.edu and I'll help you set up the first one. 


Good luck with your exchanges.  Any problems or questions, you can reach me at bryantt@dickinson.edu



Todd Bryant

Language Technology Specialist and Mixxer Admin

Dickinson College

Carlisle, PA USA

Mixxer update, Thank You's and Badges





I've also set up some badges. They're visible via the Profile Search on each person's Profile Page. These are meant primarily to make it clear how the website should be used if people are serious about practicing a language.  Message other learners, add them as friends, write, and help others by correcting their writing.  This will also hopefully help more serious users find each other, and it's a way to say thank you again to those who are helping others.  Anyone who spends time correcting someone else's writing is good language partner, and it should be recognized.


The Messenger Badges The Friend Badges The Writer Badges  The Corrector Badges 



Has sent at least ten Messages




Has at least one Friend.




Has posted at least one Writing or Blog post. 




Has corrected or commented at least once.




Has sent more than 50 Messages




Has more than five Friends.




Has posted at least six Writings or Blog posts.




Has corrected or commented more than ten times.




Has sent more than 100 Messages




  Has more than ten Friends.  




  Has posted more than ten Writings or Blog posts.  




Has corrected or commented more than 25 times.


Good luck with your exchanges.

Todd Bryant

Mixxer Admin

Dickinson College





Language Apps Are Really Just Vocabulary Apps


(Image from Flickr user Bronx)

Hey look, a new app!

I came across an application that sounded interesting, Glossika.  It promised, as many now do, to use AI to learn a language. It also promised practice to communicate in real-life situations and to be able to “internalize” grammar structures from context.  When I tried it out; however, it was very similar to other “language” apps such as Duolingo, Babbel, and Memrise.  It’s a series of translation activities, learned by repetition, and organized by topic.


I should have known by the misleading “internalize” term when it came to grammar.  Much is made about the advantages children have when learning a language, and it is true that when it comes to sounds and accents, they have an advantage over adults.  Much less mentioned is the tremendous advantage adults have when it comes to grammar and other patterns.  We don’t have to listen to hundreds or even thousands of examples before we are able to recognize a grammatical rule and its exceptions.  Instead, we can simply read an explanation.


For example, Spanish verbs end in -ir,-ar, and -er.  Most verbs are regular.  For these they all follow the same pattern.  For -ar verbs for example.


Trabajar - to work

Yo (I) trabajo
Tú (you) trabajas
Él, ella, usted (He, she you formal) trabaja
Nosotros (We) trabajamos
Vosotros (You plural, Spain only) trabajáis
Ellos, ella, ustedes (They and you plural for Latin America) trabajan


The pattern is very similar for -er and ir verbs as well.  Imagine how long it would take to figure out the pattern based only on examples, especially if you learned some irregular, though very common, verbs first.  Instead, with a few minutes of studying you can conjugate most of the verbs in the Spanish language for the present tense. Unfortunately language apps never explicitly state these patterns so even simple and very common grammar functions, like the present tense, take a very long time to master.


Another key skill not addressed from these apps is the ability to understand and communicate using what little vocabulary we have and making use of the context to derive meaning.  Without this skill, it would be years before could have even the simplest conversation.  There’s simply too many possibilities to count on memorizing phrases as a path to fluency.


Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s boring.  To hear these short phrases repeated ad nauseum only to then move on to the next set is excruciating.  This isn’t to say that some memorization is required, but to so as the only way to acquire a language is both tedious and ineffective.


One of the great joys in learning a language is that any activity that involves reading, listening, speaking, or writing is helpful to learn a language.  Find a topic you enjoy to write about, read a book, watch a movie, or find a language partner.  Not only are these enjoyable, but you’ll learn to communicate with even a limited amount of vocabulary as your skill and knowledge grow.


These apps can be useful to add a few new words, but they’re only a small piece. Language is about communication, stories, and ideas.  This means as with most things, learning is best done by doing.

I’m a Visual Learner


Me, too!  Come to think of it, have you ever heard someone say they were anything except a visual learner?  I have not, and it turns out for good reason.  While we all can agree that everyone learns differently, there isn’t any scientific evidence that we can be grouped into “styles” that focus on one of the five senses. (1)   This isn’t to say we shouldn’t try to use images, video, sounds, and music in our teaching and learning, rather we should consider the content and goal of the lesson.  

For example, research has shown that we are better able to remember vocabulary when we associate a new word with an image. (2)  With some words, it may not always be possible to create vocabulary lists with each word corresponding to an image that clearly defines the word.  However, as learners, it is helpful to associate even abstract words with an image, although they may be just our own.  Educators have also found music useful to introduce culture into their lessons and to keep students engaged and motivated. (3)  Language learning is a time intensive activity.  Any opportunity we can find that encourages learners to listen in the target language outside of class is extremely valuable.   Finally, many teachers may have heard of the Total Physical Response, or TPR method of teaching.  Most teachers have done some form of TPR when introducing the imperative or command tense for example, “sit down”, “open the book”, etc.  Students demonstrate their understanding of the commands by responding physically following the command.

All of this is to say the most effective approach, and in my opinion also the most enjoyable, is to engage the language in all of its forms.  As we communicate with others, listen to the radio, read books or online texts, and watch our favorite movies, we’ll be experiencing the language in a variety of ways, and more importantly, learning about different cultures while practicing reading, writing, listening, and speaking in the target language.

Todd BryantDickinson CollegeMixxer Admin


1. https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-09-17/consider-yourself-visual-or-auditory-learner-turns-out-there-s-not-much-science?mc_cid=3539c2887e&mc_eid=ac4503e81f

2. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-4781.1996.tb01159.x/full
3. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED355796

Image from Flickr, US Embassy Bolivia https://www.flickr.com/photos/usembassybolivia/ 

Why Netflix May Be the Next Internet Revolution for Language Learning



The internet has been a big deal for language learners since the beginning.  I remember in the mid 90’s being able to read newspapers from around the world for the first time.  It’s easy to forget, or if one is younger, not consider how revolutionary that was at a time when even finding national newspapers required a trip to the local library, assuming you were lucky enough to have one.  As bandwidth increased, we were soon listening to music and watching videos from around the world.  For teachers, this meant an emphasis on “authentic language materials”.  No longer were we bound to the painfully bad dialogues that came on CDs or cassettes with the textbook.

Then came “Web 2.0”.  Photo-sharing sites like Flickr and social networking sites like MySpace and later Facebook became the largest sites on the web.  Whereas before the world wide web was a content resource for most of us, now it became a platform for communicating and sharing.  Our students could blog, leave comments, and best of all smiley, have a language exchange with another learner across the world.


I think we’re now seeing what will be the next wave for those interested in foreign languages, the ability to be able to choose your content agnostically, meaning you’ll first decide what you’d like to read, watch or hear, and then you’ll select the language.  Some of this is still a little ways off from being practical with things like Google Translate for web pages and Skype’s realtime translation for conversations. With Netflix, however, this is already becoming mainstream.


Netflix has plans to become the first truly global TV station.  They’ve expanded to 190 countries and are trying to do so as rapidly as possible to compete with local competitors in each market.  At first Netflix was a purchaser of content, but this meant reaching license agreements for each owner within each market, a major hurdle in their expansion.  Increasingly, they’ve focused instead on creating their own content such as “House of Cards”, “Stranger Things”, “Orange is the New Black”, and many others.  It only makes sense for them to make this content available in as many languages as possible.  This also means there is likely to be an increase in competition.  Although streaming services from Amazon and Hulu are still largely English only, already niche streaming services are appearing including Pantaya for Spanish language movies.


If you have Netflix  and are learning a new language, it’s an incredible resource.  When you start any of these shows, you’ll notice an icon in the bottom right that allows you to choose the language of both the audio and subtitles.  If you’re a beginner, maybe you’ll want to keep one in your native language or even toggle the subtitles on and off.  More advanced learners may want to have both audio and subtitles in the language you are learning.  One word of caution, the translations of the audio and subtitles are clearly done separately, so if you miss a word in the audio, you may not see the exact same word or phrase in the subtitles even if they’re both in the same language.


Hope this helps.  If you have other online video resources you’ve used to practice your listening, leave them in the comments below.

Free Language Courses MOOCs for Winter 2017-2018



(image from Wikimedia.org)



This list is in response to a question for free language courses on the Mixxer site Facebook page.  When people ask about free courses, they're usually referring to MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses).  MOOCs are pretty amazing.  They are like traditional online courses in that they have quality content that is structured by a qualified instructor (often some of the best-known professors in the field).  In addition to the content, there are usually quizzes each week allowing you to do some self-assessment.  Finally, you are able to connect with other students interested in the same material.  If you get stuck, hopefully there's a way to get help via other members of the course.



That being said, MOOCs lack some qualities of a traditional course that are important, especially in the languages.  First and foremost, there is virtually no contact with the instructors.  They usually post videos that you can listen to, but you are unlikely to communicate with the instructor directly at all.  While there is hopefully some means of contact with other students, you will not have the frequent opportunity to practice communicating in the target that you would in a quality traditional course.  Second, while taking the course is free, receiving any kind of certification is not.  Even if you are willing to pay a fee, very few MOOCs lead to any kind of degree that would be recognized by an employer or an academic institution.



My suggestion is to treat MOOCs for that they, an excellent content resource for your learning.  If you're an active Mixxer user, hopefully you also have a language partner as well.  In addition to giving you an opportunity to practice communicating in the target language, your partner can also hopefully help with questions and other challenges you encounter in the course.  In regards to assessment and accreditation, language learners are also fortunate that there are well-recognized exams that can be taken to measure proficiency.  For English there is the TOEFL.  In the U.S., ACTFL provides exams in a number of foreign languages.  Elsewhere, there are organizations that provide an exam for a single such as the Cervantes Institue for Spanish, Goethe Institute for German, France's Ministry of Education for French, Confucius Institute for Chinese, the Japan Foundation for Japanese,  etc.  While these are not free, they're much cheaper than a degree and provide a way to certify your language skills that is broadly recognized.



Hopefully I haven't killed your enthusiasm.  If you're still game, the major players in MOOCs that I have had some experience with include:




Some other famous providers that I have not tried include:



With most of these courses, they will strongly encourage you to pay for the certification when you sign up.  Sometimes it's even hard to find the free version.  Choose the option to audit the course or be an auditor if you're looking for the free version.


These are the language courses I was able to find.  Keep in mind as well, though, any course in the target language will be helpful to language learning if you're interested in the topic.  It may seem daunting at first, but if you can read the content and follow the videos (even if slowly), you should give it a try.  I also listed the course start date when there is one, but since you're mostly interested in the content, I wouldn't let it deter you if the course is old.





Arabic - sorry, I couldn't find any MOOCs, however





















Not quite a MOOC - content structured as a course, but is only content.  There are no quizzes or tools to interact with other students