The social networking arena has become such that you can either be an excellent niche or you can be Facebook. Since we’ve already heard a lot bit about the latter, perhaps a bit too much, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to focus on some players that don’t seek to be billion dollar companies yet chase important markets. One of these markets, of course, is language learning. And Palabea.net, despite its interesting name, impresses.
The service, of course, caters the market for language learners. Millions around the world, in schools, universities, through private training, with help from friends and colleagues’, are learning new languages, so the service aims to bring them together through a lot of e-learning, community building, and of course, social networking.
The signup and the profile-building process of the service emulates any other social network. Signup, put up a picture, and specify the usual details enough for anyone to stalk you down. A key part of the service is for users to specify which language they speak and which language they’re looking to learn (i.e. I Speak:, I Learn:). This information is visible on almost every page of the service where there’s a reference to a user profile, and very rightly so for the purpose of the service.
As you navigate your way through the service, you find out that it does a lot more than it looks to — and feels fairly practical when compared to traditional language-learning methods. The E-Learning section provides a plethora of useful resources with video lectures, directory of online teachers, podcasts, and virtual classrooms. There are even lesson plans, helpful documents submitted by users, to guide you as you learn how to master your desired language.
Of course, it wouldn’t be social learning without a community section. This section of the site gives provides a directory of other users learning languages, with the ability to filter through it as you want it (the “Online” filter proved very useful to me, I was able to chat with one of the other members learning French right there and then with the Ajaxified IM-like window which has its own level of coolness.)
The social network is great for users looking to actively learn a language. Of course, it isn’t supposed to replace your private teacher or school, but be a helpful addition to it — a great use of the service being for teachers with large classrooms, who can now get their whole class to join, participate and interact, and perhaps maybe, just maybe, give lectures from their pajamas?
A problem with the language-learning space is that because it’s fairly new, it can get daunting sometimes to not feel alienated on Palbea when you’ve just been hunting through 100,000 people with the same name for your classmate on Facebook. For a similar service but with a relatively larger and growing userbase, Livemocha is not a bad alternative to look at.