Friday, November 13, 2015

Kuang Ming and Seijo's Skype Exchange

The purpose of learning a language is about not only how to get good grades on written tests but how to communicate with it in an authentic context. With the help of technology, now we can create such an environment for students to apply what they’ve learned from textbooks to communicating with their Japanese counterparts without leaving the country.

In addition to real-time technology like Skype, it also takes two dedicated teachers to pull this off. I was really, really lucky to meet Akiko at a seminar in Seoul last summer. We both are very determined and flexible so that we got to deal with many hurdles along the way, such as a one-hour time difference, a disproportionate number of students from both sides and rather conservative educational systems, to name just a few.

The topic for our first meeting was “A Typical Day in School”. The aim is to talk about something students are quite familiar with, like when did you get up, what did you eat for breakfast, what’s your favorite subject, etc. My students were quite timid in the first place, but they managed to carry on their conversations like we’ve rehearsed. About twenty minutes or so into this very first meeting, I could hear laughter all around the classroom.

Although I’ve tried hard to work on their English speaking skills with activities like self-introduction, picture story, show and tell and so on, they still got their tongue tied from time to time, struggling to look for the right words or phrases to convey their thoughts. Also, there were some awkward moments when they didn’t understand at all what their counterparts were saying. Well, this is exactly what I want them to learn, or at least to experience, that no textbooks or any English teachers can show them what it’s really like to use the language in such a real situation.

Maybe both Taiwanese and Japanese English learners can’t significantly improve their English whatsoever from this project because both sides have a lot to grow in terms of English communicative skills. However, my goal is that they get to look at English learning from a brand new perspective. Though we’re still part of this test-driven setting and there’s very little we can do about it, we can all imagine how these boring and mechanical drills in textbooks can be used for a meaningful communicative purpose like we experienced today.  

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