Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Mutually Beneficial Foreign Language Learning: Creating Meaningful Interactions through Video-Synchronous Computer-Mediated Communication

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Mutually Beneficial Foreign Language Learning: Creating Meaningful Interactions through Video-Synchronous Computer-Mediated Communication

Article excerpt

Introduction

A wealth of research underscores the contribution to foreign/second language learners' proficiency made by interacting with a native speaker of the target language (e.g., Ellis, 1985; Rubin & Thompson, 1994; Scarcella & Oxford, 1992). However, providing students with opportunities to speak and listen, which help develop oral communication abilities (Blake, 2008; Towndrow & Vallance, 2004), can be especially dif fi - cult. Fortunately, recent advances in technology offer a number of promising approaches to helping foreign language learners to develop oral language skills (e.g., Taillefer & Munoz-Luna, 2014; Tian & Wang, 2010). In particular, videosynchronous computer-mediated communication software allows learners to interact with native speakers from a distance. While much research has been conducted on the applicability of such software to foreign language learning, there has not been consensus as to how to best implement such opportunities into foreign language teaching or how to study its effectiveness. This study partnered students learning Japanese in the United States with students learning English in Japan and sought to document the extent to which such learning experiences can provide meaningful interactions and thus improve the interpersonal language abilities of students in both countries.

Review of the Literature

According to the social constructivist theory of learning, individuals construct knowledge through direct interactions with their social and physical environments and through reflection on those experiences (Gergen, 1999). When applying this concept to the field of second language (L2) teaching and learning, instructors seek to create learning environments in which learners can gain knowledge of their target language and culture through direct, personal interactions (Canale & Swain, 1980). Ellis (1985), for example, argued that uninhibited practice and the performance of a range of speech acts by both native speakers and learners are imperative for rapid development of L2 ability. Scarcella and Oxford (1992) also indicated that speaking with others who have more linguistic resources than the learners, such as native speakers, is essential for L2 development. However, although there is consensus concerning the importance of interaction with native speakers, providing such opportunities is often difficult.

Fortunately, new technologies, particularly computer-mediated communication systems, have made applying social constructivist methodology to foreign language learning much more feasible (e.g., Entzinger, Morimura, & Suzuki, 2013; Taillefer & Munoz-Luna, 2014; Tian & Wang, 2010; Yang, Gamble, & Tang, 2012), and a number of studies have investigated the use of video-synchronous computer-mediated communication and/or voice-over instant messaging tools such as Skype to facilitate foreign language learning using a variety of materials and research methods.

However, one significant problem that arises is that providing opportunities for meaningful communication is hindered by the lack of consensus as to what actually constitutes a meaningful interaction. As indicated by Woo and Reeves (2006), social constructivism relies heavily not just on interactions, but also on meaningful interactions, and the careful consideration of the types of interactions that are being provided is important for increased learning. In other words, if an interaction is not meaningful, it will not benefit learning. Scarcella and Oxford (1992) also noted that opportunities for " language-promoting interaction" (p. 153) are required for developing speaking abilities. Ellis (1985) suggested that both the quantity and quality of input were vital and offered the following criteria: (1) a high quantity of input directed at the learner; (2) the learner perceiving a need to communicate in the L2; (3) independent control of the propositional content by the learner; (4) adherence to "here and now" principle (use of topics that concern the immediate environment and current information for the learner), at least initially; (5) the performance of a range of speech acts by both the native speaker/instructor and the learner; (6) exposure to a high quantity of directives (speech acts that impose some kind of action on the hearer) and extending utterances; and (7) opportunities for uninhibited practice. …

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