The Electronic Network for Language and Culture Exchange (ENLACE): The Development of a Synchronous Communications Venue for Tandem Learning
Award year: 2003-2004
A vast and largely untapped resource for foreign language learners has recently become available: native speakers of the target languages who have access to the Internet. Accessible technology now exists (including free software for personal computers) that permits an Internet user to establish synchronous video, voice and text communication with another Internet user anywhere in the world. This technology makes possible experiences that are essential to the development of useful proficiency in a foreign language, namely, interaction in the language with native speakers. Still missing, however, are means by which foreign-language learners can easily and quickly find appropriate language learning partners in cyberspace.
The Internet Café for Language Exchange (ICLEx) will provide the means by which intermediate to advanced foreign-language learners can use the Internet to establish synchronous communication with native speakers of the language they are learning and thereby engage in a form of reciprocal knowledge sharing in which each partner in turn acts as both student (of his or her foreign language) and informant/tutor (of his or her native language). This process is known as Tandem Language Learning.
ICLEx will provide three components to make the Internet a useful communication medium for foreign language learners. First, ICLEx will provide a one-to-one synchronous communication environment using the media of (a) text only, (b) text plus audio, and (c) text plus audio and video (selectable depending on the resources and preferences of the users). Second, each ICLEx user will be greeted and interviewed by the ICLEx Hobot ("host robot") who will use the obtained information to find an appropriate language learning partner -- either someone currently online or someone in the database of users with whom to schedule a session. Third, ICLEx will provide language learning resources that users can access while interacting with their partners. This will be provided in the form of bilingual dictionaries, grammar references and other online resources. In addition, Hobot will monitor interactions, reminding participants when to switch languages, and suggesting topics for conversation as well as recommendations for getting the most out of the language exchange experience (based on research on Tandem Language Learning).
ICLEx has the potential to revolutionize language teaching and learning by allowing foreign-language learners to draw on the expert knowledge of millions of native speakers worldwide by providing a worldwide venue for the reciprocal sharing of language knowledge.