Does social media bring us a vision of a new esperanto?
October 18th, 2007

Livemocha describes itself as the first online language-learning community where languages can be learned naturally, i.e. socially. The network is structured around language and learning interests. It includes step-by-step courses which lead you through a series of learning goals. The really worthwhile aspect of this site however is being able to network with a global community of learners in order to practice your language skills.

I recently signed up for this community to test it out. I listed my language interests as Chinese, Japanese, and Portugese. I then enrolled in a beginner’s Chinese course. The lessons themselves are fairly simple. Practice sessions, like those in most university language labs, allow you to listen and record conversations from a script. You can also build a network of other community members whose native and spoken languages intersect with those you are trying to learn. Ideally, you match yourself with those seeking to practice your native or spoken languages.

It occurs to me that this is both an unusually educationally oriented social network and also a vital example of how networked our global cultures have the potential of becoming. Language is arguably the most fundamental building block of any culture. Perhaps it is the first step to a global culture with shared knowledge. To exchange business vocabulary and know-how, much less the subtler aspects of literature and politics in a short-hand of global languages would bring us further towards that global culture–I’m not talking about esperanto, but an organically risen language from its practice and application across cultural and geographical divides. What issues arise then? Global knowledge management and a more integrated taxonomy for global search? Perhaps Livemocha only offers a few more travel opportunities, only a better way of explaining our way into a Chinese board room–but its possibilities involve us all–as a mob of Pandoras.

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