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Last Updated: Friday, 8 July, 2005, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
Site offers world languages help
Simon Murdoch
Simon Murdoch's site suggests topics of conversation
A UK website is to offer "real-time" language practice for students around the world from later this summer.

Friendsabroad.com will allow millions of learners to have live conversations online, with the aim of improving conversation and vocabulary.

Founder Simon Murdoch said: "We want people to talk to each other, allowing them to learn and make friends."

The site is currently free but will start charging when the live conversations become available.

Two billion people

Dr Murdoch said he wanted 10 million people to take part eventually in what he calls "virtual immersion" in languages.

He estimates that two billion people around the world want to learn or improve their English.

He told the BBC News website: "To have a conversation in two languages, we need at least one person to have reasonable skills in both.

"That way, they will be able to have a fruitful dialogue, with both sides learning.

"We will provide a series of subjects, such as current affairs, for them to discuss.

"It will be a good way of picking up vocabulary used by normal people, which often does not happen in formalised learning."

The Friendsabroad.com site is available in languages including French, Spanish, Mandarin and Spanish.

Native speakers will be able to tell learners where they are going wrong, also correcting their grammar, spelling and style when communicating via email or chatrooms.

Dr Murdoch said: "I know they're not qualified teachers. We see this as a supplement to more formal language learning.

"What a lot of people do is watch foreign-language films and read books. It shows you don't have to spend a fortune.

"The development of broadband internet makes it easier for us to do so much more.

"Users will be able to have face-to-face contact via webcams, but we don't recommend that until they know each other quite well."

Customers should be aged over 16, while the site is aimed at people already studying languages up to degree level.

Users will grade themselves according to ability, from one "star" for beginners to five for relative experts.

Dr Murdoch said: "People learn languages in the first place so they can communicate and make friends abroad. Hopefully we are just helping that."

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