Classroom Tandem - Outlining a Model for Language Learning and Instruction*

By Karjalainen, Katri; Pörn, Michaela et al. | International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, October 2013 | Go to article overview

Classroom Tandem - Outlining a Model for Language Learning and Instruction*


Karjalainen, Katri, Pörn, Michaela, Rusk, Fredrik, Björkskog, Linda, International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education


Abstract

The aim of this paper is to outline classroom tandem by comparing it with informal tandem learning contexts and other language instruction methods. Classroom tandem is used for second language instruction in mixed language groups in the subjects of Finnish and Swedish as L2. Tandem learning entails that two persons with different mother tongues learn each other's native languages in reciprocal cooperation. The students function, in turns, as a second language learner and as a model in the native language. We aim to give an overview description of the interaction in classroom tandem practice. The empirical data consists of longitudinal video recordings of meetings of one tandem dyad within a co-located Swedish-medium and Finnish-medium school. Focus in the analysis is on the language aspects the informants orient to and topicalize in their interaction. The language aspects vary depending on what classroom activities they are engaged in, text-based or oral activities.

Keywords: Classroom tandem, Second language, Language education, Interaction, Language topicalization.

Introduction

Finland is an officially bilingual country, where both the Swedish and the Finnish language groups are guaranteed a constitutional right to education in their respective mother tongue. According to the law the education has to be organized separately, i.e. in monolingual schools. Despite this fact, during the last years there has been an intensive debate on the possibilities of creating bilingual schools in Finland. The debate concerns mainly what a bilingual school could mean in a Finnish context, but the concept has not yet been unambiguously defined. There are different understandings about the target group of a bilingual school: is it for monolingual or bilingual (Swedish- Finnish) pupils? It is also discussed whether the bilingual solutions should be included in the Finnish (majority language) or the Swedish (minority language) school system (see e.g. Karjalainen & Pilke, 2012; Tainio & Harju-Luukkainen, 2013). Parallel with this debate, the teaching of the second national language has been criticized for being form and grammar focused. More communicative language teaching has been demanded (Tuokko, 2009; Toropainen, 2010). Already established forms of bilingual teaching, for example immersion and other forms of bilingual cooperation, have also been included in the discussion (see e.g. Karjalainen & Pilke, 2012). One potential type of a bilingual cooperation between Swedish and Finnish schools is tandem.

Tandem learning entails that two persons with different mother tongues interact and learn each other's native languages in reciprocal cooperation. The aim of the interaction in tandem is that the participants use their target languages in interaction with a native speaker and thus get opportunities to improve their language competence. In classroom contexts, tandem is used for second language instruction in mixed language groups. Tandem learning is based on a social-interactional perspective on language learning, according to which learning and language learning are social and interactive phenomena that are situated in the social interaction between individuals (Lave, 1993; Lave & Wenger, 1991). In other words, there is a connection between language learning and social interaction; language use provides opportunities for language learning (see e.g. Kääntä, 2010; Firth & Wagner, 2007).

There are several facts that make tandem as a method for classroom teaching and subject of systematic research a current theme in the 2010's. Firstly, the national curriculum that has been valid since 2005 emphasizes the importance of communicative methods in language teaching and points out the importance of the ability to interact in the target language, as well as explicit and formal knowledge of language (Utbildningsstyrelsen, 2003). As the curriculum is to be renewed by 2016, even more stress on interaction, both as an aim and as a means for learning, is to be expected. …

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