Language Exchanges

As the semester gets under way, we’ve already had quite a few language exchanges via Skype.  Some of the languages have partner classes with whom the students communicate throughout the semester.  Others schedule events in the Mixxer and thereby invite native speakers of our students’ target language for an exchange via Skype during class time.  There are also usually a handful of classes each semester that assign students to find a language partner on their own in the Mixxer and conduct an interview.  Usually this interview is then combined with other research to create some sort of project or presentation.

Of course, language exchanges don’t necessarily have to be limited to Skype.  Another possibility is for the students to keep a journal using either a blog or twitter and connect with native speakers in written form.  There are sites that encourage these kinds of exchanges as well.  Lang-8 is a popular site that lets native speaker suggest corrections in the comment section.  The Mixxer gives each user their own wiki where learners can write and then request corrections from native speakers.  Another possibility is to have the students in the class form their own community and correct each other.  We could host such a community on the Dickinson Blog or students could form their own using Ning, Twitter, or Blogger.


Dictionaries are certainly one of the most heavily used online tools.  Most simply head to old-fashioned or something similar.  There may, however, be better options.

  • In the Arthur Vining Davis classroom (room 209 in Bosler), Babylon is probably you’re best option.  Use the scroller on the mouse to click on any word, and the English definition along with any conjugation will pop-up.  Alternatively, you can click on the bubbly blue B in the task bar and enter a word.
  • The WordChamp web reader is a great option for students reading online.  Choose the language of the web page, enter the url in the text box, and press the read button.  The web reader will then scan the page and look up each word in a dictionary.  Touch any word with the mouse and the definition will appear.  If you create an account on their site, you can save words and test yourself later.
  • Google may be the world’s best dictionary if used properly.  First, there is the official function.  Go to the localized version of Google for the language (ex. and enter define:komisch.  It will return a German definition with the option to see an English translation by clicking the link “Englisch” at the bottom of the page.  The real power of Google, however, comes with its less formal use.  We can search Google pages located in Germany for a certain phrase by including the phrase in quotes followed by site:de.  This is useful for students when they’re unsure of their word choice or an idiomatic phrase.  Correct phrases will appear thousands of times in reputable sources.  Poorly translated idiomatic phrases and incorrect usage will have a very few number of hits on much less recognized sites.  For example, if we go to and enter “so schwer wie Eisen” (as hard as iron), we’ll see we only have 5000 hits.  The examples from German sites only occur when the writer is actually comparing metals or compounds that are in fact “as hard as iron”.  On the other hand Hals über Kopf” (literally ‘throat over head’, it means ‘in a big rush’) returns 130,000 in a context you would expect.  The same method could be use to check to see if accusative or dative is used with a certain preposition, common word order, etc.

Europeana Launched

Europeana aims to gather and digitized the collections of some of Europe’s largest libraries, archives, and museums.  Their website is still in beta; however, the collection is already quite extensive.

It’s well worth the time to do some quick searches to see what resources are available. The images are not of the same quality that you would find in our Artstor subscription (, though the collection itself is larger and includes audio and video as well.

Other sources you may be interested in:

  • Flickr (Photo sharing site.  Most images in creative commons.  High quality photos, everyday life)
  • ccMixter (Repository for music, most of which is generously licensed under a Creative Commons. Great for Podcast intro music etc.)
  • Creative Commons Search (Search several popular web resources for creative commons resources)
  • Blip TV (similar to YouTube, but much smaller and higher quality video)