The downside of language instruction delivered electronically, rather than face-to-face in a classroom, is the lack of social interaction. The purpose of language is, after all, to communicate with other humans.
Language classrooms, however, rarely provide learners with the opportunity to practice their new language with native speakers. Dialogue practice is often scripted practice between two or more learners at similar levels of fluency. This may not be the most effective or relevant way to learn and practice a new language. The internet now makes it possible for people to communicate from all over the world, providing previously impossible access to native speakers.
MyLanguageExchange is a social networking website that allows language learners to connect and help one another learn their respective languages. For example, a native English speaker who wanted to learn Italian can do activities in Italian, and receive feedback from native Italian speakers who are learning English, and receiving feedback from native English speakers.
MyLanguageExchange uses the Cormier method of language exchange in which small groups work together doing activities half the time in one of the native speakers’ language, and the other half in the other native speakers’ language.
Practice groups are not formed until learners are at intermediate fluency. Before this, they can form penpal relationships, communicating in emails and text chats.
Video conferencing is another way for native speakers of different languages to connect. Skype in the Classroom allows teachers from all of the world to connect their classes, to take their students on virtual field trips, and to talk in real time to guest speakers. Google Hangouts is another video conferencing tool that can be used to connect students or guest speakers from around the world. Students can work on collaborative projects, participate in book discussions, teach one another about where they live, and practice language with native speakers their own age.
Technology has made it possible for language learning to be more interesting, motivating, exciting, and relevant than ever before. With all these resources available, there is no need for traditional, boring activities such as copying and reciting verb conjugations or reciting scripted dialog. Language is a magical thing — a key to communicating and getting to know people and allowing them to know you. It’s a shame that old-fashioned techniques killed the joy of learning a new language. Let’s do better for the next generation.