Connecting your Learners to Partners in other Countries
– A Practical Introduction
La Universidad de León
Are there many cultural differences
in our global village?
All behaviour takes its
meaning from its
particular cultural context
Therefore students need
to understand how the
products and practices of
the target culture are
viewed through that
culture‟s own perspective
Are we deep down all the same?
“There is much apparent
uniformity in human social
life. But these similarities
mask an underlying diversity;
in a given situation one
cannot assume that the
behaviour of two individuals
– physical acts with the same
form – have the same
meaning for the two
1997:126).“ Spanish interpretation – Foreign interpretation
What is intercultural competence?
Byram, M. 1997. Teaching and Assessing
Intercultural Communicative Competence.
Multilingual Matters. (pp. 49-54)
The attitudes include curiosity and openness as well as
readiness to see other cultures and the speaker‟s own
without being judgmental.
The required knowledge is ”of social groups and their
products and practices in one‟s own and in one‟s
interlocutor‟s country, and of the general processes of
societal and individual interaction”
The skills include skills of interpreting and relating,
discovery and interaction as well as critical cultural
Do Textbooks help?
The content of EFL textbooks
“…assumes a materialistic set of values
in which international travel, not being
bored, positively being entertained,
having leisure, and above all spending
money casually in the pursuit of these
ends, are the norm”. (Brown, 1990:13)
How can New Technologies help?
In online intercultural exchange, language learners
in different locations use on-line communication
tools (such as e-mail, blogs and
videoconferencing) in order to engage in
collaborative project work, debate and intercultural
exchange with each other.
Why? On-line interaction with native speakers –
when it is organised within a structured
format - has great potential for the development
of intercultural communicative skills, language
proficiency and learner independence.
Pedro [a secondary school teacher of English as a
Foreign Language in Valdepeñas, Spain]:
“My students began to write to their American e-pals
like one month and a half ago. They have two or three
epals for each student and they write like twice or three
times a week both in English and Spanish.
They also share their blog with their American and
Canadian e-pals, who also publish and comment on the
posts in both languages. I feel excited about that and I
think they really enjoy it.”
The class blog: http://2bloginlasolana.blogspot.com/
Another teacher writes
“EFL teachers from seven countries (Kuwait, Brazil,
Argentina, the United States, Sudan, Hungary, and
Romania) have brought our classes together online
to correspond and to develop joint projects. You can
see some of the first efforts by our students in their
introductory slideshows, VoiceThreads,
animated movies and videos at our Student Showcase:
What are the origins of
Students carried out
research into areas of
Students published work
in school newspapers
exchange of newspapers
between students in
other French schools
“Most teachers who have used the Internet have started
out with some kind of simple key pal (computer pen
pal) exchanges. And most teachers who have used these
exchanges have felt something lacking. Simply put,
there is no more reason to except a significant
educational outcome from simply creating a pen pal
connection than there is from simply bringing two
students into a room and asking them to talk.”
Mark Warschauer & P. Fawn Whittaker (1997)
Issues when Designing an Online
1) How to combine the L1 and L2?
2) Which online communication tools to use?
3) What should the students do/discuss
4) Should there be an explicit focus on form?
5) What should be the role of the teacher?
6) How should the exchange activity be
1) How to combine the L1 and L2?
The Tandem Approach: “…this entails that each partner
should communicate as closely as possible to half in
his/her mother tongue and half in his/her target language.
This grants both learners the opportunity to practise
speaking and writing in their target language and listening
to and reading text written by their native speaking
It was great to receive your letter. I was so happy to see that you responded to
my questions. Thank you. Your responses were very informative and
definitely showed me that family life in Spain was not all I'd expected it to be
(I was surprised, for example, that your family is not religious. I assumed that
most families in Spain are, and I'm sure you have many assumptions about life
in America as well).
Your English is very good. There are only a few suggestions that I have to
correct it. Some of your sentences are too long, and would make more sense
if you separated them into two or three sentences instead. For example,
"My parents are not divorced in Spain there are very few cases of divorced"
could be rewritten as "My parents are not divorced. In Spain there are very
few cases of divorce." Your letter was great and made sense despite these
things. Good work.
Las fiestas en the ciudad de Nueva York son muy locas y emocionantes. Voy
a las discotecas con mis amigas los jueves, los viernes, o los sabados. Vamos a
los bars tambien. Nosotros volvemos a nos salons de dormitorio a las cuatro
de la manana. Queremos bailar a las discotecas. Necesita tener veintiuno anos
por beber el alcohol pero la mayoria de estudiantes en las universidades tenen
los "fake IDs" y ellos beben el alcohol. …
No sabo mucho de Espana. Sabo que hay un museo de Guggenheim en
Bilbao y sabo que hay muchos castillos bonitos. Que sabes de los Estados
Unidos? Como es la fiesta en Espana? Elena
The Cultura Approach:
“To have students write in the forums in their "native"
language was also a deliberate choice. We wanted to make
sure that students were able to express their thoughts in all
their complexity as fully and as naturally as possible…what
students may "lose", by not writing in the target language,
is largely offset by the gains they make by getting access to
a rich, dynamic and totally authentic language.”
Other possible Approaches?
Students alternate writing in BOTH LANGUAGES in the online interaction. In
English-language forums both groups communicate in English and in Spanish-
language forums they do so in Spanish.
Students read responses in both languages
Students always use target language in classroom discussion and analysis
Pedagogic demands of the institution
Better use of class time for students
Practises both writing and reading in target language
2) Which Online
Communication Tools to use?
In your opinion, what might be the different outcomes of
using these different tools? As a teacher, which would you
Asynchronous v. Synchronous tools?
E.G. E-mail & Message boards v. Messenger & Chat
Oral v. Text-based tools?
E.G. Skype, Wimba &Videoconferencing v. All above
„Web 2.0 v. „Traditional‟ tools?
E.G. Blogs, podcasts & wikis V. All above
One experience of Videconferencing
My local secondary school (11-18 year-old children) was given
vidoconferencing equipment by a local business, which also helped
them find a partner school in France, close to the business's French
HQ. The school experimented with videoconferencing for several months
but finally abandoned it. The head of foreign languages told me that
the main reasons were:
1. Difficulties in finding mutually convenient times when the two
schools could link up.
2. Lack of time to plan for a session so that it ran smoothly and
became really fruitful.
3. Embarrassment of teenagers confronting one another: reluctance to
talk and lots of giggling about the hairstyles and clothing of their
4. No measurable progress in the students' language skills as a
direct result of the videoconferencing sessions.
Another Teacher replies:
I think that it all comes down to peoples' preferences and context, whether
they like video, audio or text conferencing or combinations of the above.
Often we forget that. I personally prefer to use text or audio conferencing but
context has a part to play. If I have just met someone in SL I will fist interact
through text thus keeping a distance until I get to know them. I have found
that others agree with me too.
The anonymity and privacy offered in full through text and partly through
audio are characteristics much valued by users and teenagers especially.
Video, on the other hand, offers no privacy.
In studies I have carried out I found that teenage students much value their
privacy and enjoy text conferecning and hiding behind avatars which they
Blogs: If you were a foreign student, which one of
these blogs would you value more? Why?
Factors to consider when choosing
the right Tool(s)
Students current online practices and
preferences in their social and working lives
„Fit‟ of the technology into both socio-
Spanish student feedback
comparing oral and written
“I prefer the written one
because you don‟t get so
nervous and you have more time
to think about what you want to
say. Also I did not like to speak
in the computer lab with my
classmates listening to what I
“It‟s easier to understand them
in the written forum because it‟s
very difficult to speak with
someone that you don‟t see.”
3. What tasks to do with your partner
“Cultural Presentations” - Exchange with your partners
information about their personal biographies, local
schools or towns or aspects of their home cultures.
“Treasure hunts” – teachers give students a
questionnaire about a topic (“How Christmas is
celebrated in the USA”) and they have to interview
their partners in order to complete the questionnaire.
Collaborative games and simulations – students write to
each other to create chain stories or to carry out
simulations (e.g. one student is „agony aunt‟ and their
partner invents a problem.)
Dear partner/ ..................................,
I will introduce myself to you in this letter.
I am ................. twelve/thirteen years old.
.........................a twelve-year-old girl.
My surname is ............................... and my first name is........................
People call me ............................................
I have ..............two brothers .......................three sisters.
I don't have any brothers or sisters; I am an only child.
I live ................... with my father/stepfather
.....................……with my mother/stepmother
............................ with my parents
............................ in a boarding school (or another place where you live when you cannot live with your parents).
My parents are divorced.
I like ................... football /......................./.......................
I love .................. music.
I am fond of singing /......................./.......................
I am in the .......... sixth form of .......................... (name of school/Germany), I‟m in class 6...
I think I am easy-going / moody / nice / terrible / difficult / boring / spontaneous / calm / cool / quiet /
I like people who............................................................................................
I don't like people who..................................................................................
I am looking forward to hearing from you.
Bye for now. (I must go now/ that‟s all for now/ Bye/)
(Based on Schlieger, 2001: 19)
Practical Example: Cultura
Answers to the questionnaires
4) Should there be an explicit
Focus on Form?
• In Tandem learning:
• Error-correction by their partners
• Working backward from their partners‟
mistakes in the L1
• Refer to structures and vocab used earlier
in the L2 by their partner (“noticing”)
Problems with focussing on form
Students don‟t know how to correct their partners‟
mistakes- How many English natives could
explain the difference between „practice‟ and
„practise‟ to a non-native Spanish speaker?
[A Spanish student after her exchange with an
American partner] “It‟s ok but I think there is a
bad point. That is that they are not teachers. They
can make mistakes too. In the correction she sent
me of „firstly‟ she didn‟t realise you can say this in
Some more Problems…
Difficulties correcting your partner
“I thought, I would seem arrogant if I tried to correct
their grammar and their spelling in a casual
conversation about the topics. When you‟re speaking
to somebody, you don‟t expect them to correct you and
it could actually insult them”. [Dana from the USA
speaking about her Spanish partner]
Schwienhorst (2000): even though students were
explicitly encouraged to correct their partners‟
grammar errors, very little evidence of error correction
appeared in the transcripts. Perception by students
that tandem was primarily a communicative activity?
5) What should be the Role of the
[A teacher writes to partner teacher] “Do you think there is
any need to monitor the discussions or just exchange e-mail
addresses and let the students handle the rest? (E-mail to author,
[Another teacher writes to partner teacher] “On-line
exchanges should be integrated into the regular classes in the way
which the teacher finds most effective. When students are left to
themselves they lose interest in the process fairly soon. As any
other teaching/learning process, this should be well-planned,
organized and controlled – then it brings results.”
Should students`e-mails be read
and shared in class?
Q: Do you find it useful and interesting when we talk
about the exchange in class?
A: I think it might be necessary, just to keep it going.
But on the other hand it seems uncomfortable to me
that I would actually like to discuss (up to a certain
degree) rather “private”, or non-superficial subjects, but
my e-mails have to be forwarded to at least two people.
And the content might be topic of our next meeting...
What Approach will you take?
Who decides on the content of the tasks and
How often will the online interaction be
discussed in class?
Do students need guidance in writing and
Should the teachers intervene/participate in the
6) How should the exchange activity
What do we want to assess?
Development in the L2?
Intercultural Competence (skills, attitudes, cultural
How should it be assessed?
Proof of participation
Products of interaction (essays, blogs, websites)
Reflection on learning (portfolios, diaries)
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