Academic journal article Language, Learning & Technology

Internet Audio Communication for Second Language Learning: A Comparative Review of Six Programs

Academic journal article Language, Learning & Technology

Internet Audio Communication for Second Language Learning: A Comparative Review of Six Programs

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

A vast and largely untapped resource for second language learners has recently become available: native speakers of languages being learned who have access to the Internet. To explore the potential of this new resource for second language learning, we reviewed six free programs for Windows and Macintosh computers that permit synchronous audio (and some video) communication via the Internet. It was found that although the audio (and video) quality varied both among and within the programs reviewed, the communicative contexts created by these programs can provide second language learners with an inexpensive means for useful audio interaction with native speakers of their second language. We provide recommendations for program choice according to user needs and preferences, with an emphasis on tandem language learning, a context in which participants take turns being both second language learner and tutor of their native language.

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It should be quite obvious to anyone living in a technologically developed country today that the widespread availability of personal computers and the Internet have brought about dramatic changes in the way that we communicate. The use of electronic mail is the most obvious way in which our communicative behavior has changed over the last two decades. Instant messaging systems are also gaining widespread use with the integration of the Internet into various wireless devices such as portable telephones.

However, none of these computer-mediated communication media has yet had a major impact on second language (L2) teaching and learning. There are certainly many instructors and students who make use of foreign-language materials on the Internet; and there are numerous foreign-language courses that make use of the World Wide Web. But there remains a vast and largely untapped Internet resource for L2 teachers and learners that has recently become available, namely, audio access to native speakers of the L2.

Native speakers who use the Internet comprise a particularly valuable resource for L2 learners since a major barrier to the development of L2 listening and speaking proficiency is the lack of opportunity to converse with native speakers of the target language. A high school student of French in Iowa is not likely to have much, if any, opportunity to use French outside the French classroom. However, there are millions of native French speakers throughout the world, many of whom have Internet access and would welcome the opportunity to interact with English-speaking French learners in exchange for the opportunity to converse in English with a native speaker.

There have been several projects that have used the Internet to link second language learners with native speakers, but for the most part these efforts have been limited to text communication (Belz, 2002; Blake, 2000; Gonzalez-Bueno, 1998; Negretti, 1999; Ortega, 1997; Toyoda & Harrison, 2002). One project that made use of synchronous audio and video to link second language learners with native speakers (Wong & Fauverge, 1999) was apparently successful in motivating students and providing a rich context for conversing in the second language. In Europe, researchers, teachers, and students have been involved in eTandem Europa (www.slf.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/etandem) in which telephone and Internet audio have been used to allow pairs of learners with different native languages to interact and learn each others' languages (see the Language Learning in Tandem Bibliography available at www.slf.ruht-uni-bochum.de learning/tandbib.html, Brammerts, 2002; Apfelbaum, 1993; Glasmann & Calvert, 2001; Helmling, 2002; Rosanelli, 1992).

Until quite recently, synchronous audio and video communication required special software and hardware along with the use of costly ISDN telephone lines. "Business quality" video conferencing that provides full-screen video at 30 frames per second still requires special hardware such as that provided by Tandberg and PolyCom. …

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