The Linguist

The Linguist 57,2 – April/May 2018

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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16 The Linguist Vol/57 No/2 2018 FEATURES Is telecollaboration the future of language learning and teaching? Sabela Melchor-Couto explores the benefits for students "L anguage learning requires persistent efforts, an ability and courage to cope with the unknown, to tolerate ambiguity and, in a sense, to appear childish and make a fool of oneself when making mistakes." This is how Viljo Kohonen put it, 1 and as linguists we have surely experienced this ourselves: learning a foreign language is not an easy undertaking. It requires perseverance, confidence and patience. Language teachers know this well and will often go to great lengths to motivate their students, to enthuse them with a passion for the foreign language that will keep them coming back for more. Every possibility is explored: trips to countries where the language is spoken, welcoming students from abroad, pen pals, after-school clubs. Motivation is the key. Authenticity plays a crucial role in all of this. Our students may wonder about the logic of using the foreign language to communicate with their peers in class. In fact, as soon as their teacher turns their back, or they have finished the task at hand, they will, more often than not, switch to English. This is where technology may make an important contribution. Tools such as chat applications and videoconferencing software can provide students with much-needed opportunities for authentic interaction in the foreign language with students abroad. Such practices have come to be known as telecollaboration. What is telecollaboration? Telecollaboration is "the integration of online communication tools with the purpose of bringing together classes of learners in geographically distant locations in order to promote the development of content-related and social skills and intercultural communicative competence through collaborative tasks and projects." 2 This practice offers a vast range of options. Interactions can be synchronous (in real time, like videoconferences) or asynchronous (e.g. email or creating a wiki). Communication can be in writing or oral; one-to- one or class-to-class; within or outside class time; with minimal or maximal technical requirements (e.g. working on Google docs versus interacting in a virtual world). Traditionally, language teachers tend to have a preference towards what is known as "tandem interactions", where student pairs/groups learn each other's mother tongue and therefore play both an expert and learner role. A practical example would be to pair native English learners of Spanish with native Spanish students learning English. However, much is to be said in favour of 'lingua franca' interactions, where students from different nationalities are learning the same foreign language. An example would be groups of English and French students interacting in German. Telecollaboration experiences at secondary-school level have shown that students interacting in lingua franca constellations experience lower levels of anxiety 3 and benefit from comparable opportunities for negotiation of meaning to those in tandem set-ups. 4 In addition, lingua franca exchanges seem to be better suited for lower levels of ability, as the native accent and fast speaking pace found in tandem interactions can intimidate learners. Through telecollaboration, students develop their language skills as well as their intercultural and digital competences. It suddenly makes sense to communicate in the foreign language, as they may have no other option to make themselves understood. Students hear about the customs and traditions in the other culture, and differences in behaviour or social norms, first hand from what they regard as highly esteemed interlocutors: students their age who live in the language that they are learning. How to get started Perhaps the most widely known example of telecollaboration practices are those facilitated by the eTwinning platform, which offers a space for European schools to find a partner class and collaborate with each other. This initiative, funded by the European Commission, has been very successful across Europe since it came to life in 2005. Other EU-funded projects have been running alongside eTwinning with a slightly different approach. Training and coaching have proven instrumental for successful pedagogical innovation, 5 and these are the cornerstones of the TILA (Telecollaboration for Intercultural Virtual authenticity MOTIVATING WORK A language student works on a telecollaboration project at a UK secondary school (above); and language students in different countries chat online (main image)

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