French 111, 112, 211, College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University
I will incorporate bi-weekly conversations (7 conversations per student) into the curriculum for my German 202 course. Students will be required to participate in 7 TalkAbroad conversations during the semester, for 7% of their total course grade. I see working these regular conversations with native speakers into my Intermediate German curriculum as fulfilling several needs, including: 1) Giving students a unique opportunity to practice speaking and listening with native speakers; 2) Enriching other parts of the course curriculum, when students bring cultural information, anecdotes, and reports from student conversations into class discussions and writing assignments; and 3) Helping prepare students planning to spend the next fall semester in Munich.
The project will contribute to the greater educational community at Guilford in a timely way: Guilford is beginning its second Quality Enhancement Plan next year, and our focus is on Public Presentations. Increasing students’ speaking confidence through regular TalkAbroad conversations will help prepare them for an increased focus on oral presentations in many of their classes, not just German.
FREN111, FREN112 AND FREN211 follow the general format of undergraduate language learning, using the communicative method. Each class meets three times a week for 55-minute sessions and covers one-third of the Contacts textbook (Valette, Cengage). Class time is devoted to eliciting, providing input, drilling and practicing structures and content that students are expected to prepare prior to class. Language production occurs, therefore, mostly in the setting of in-class drills and exercises. The thrice-a-week format of our language classes is not as beneficial to language learners as daily meetings, but work in the class is supplemented with daily written and oral assignments from the student manual and textbook, as well as teacher-created assignments. Incorporating TalkAbroad into the language curriculum will enhance the students’ experience with and exposure to the spoken language.
Students of FREN111 and FREN112 are required to meet with a French TA (a student studying French at an advanced level) on a weekly/biweekly basis to practice speaking French using prepared drills. The current FREN211 curriculum includes a weekly assignment, “Papoter et journal”, whereby pairs of students spend at least 10 minutes a week outside of class speaking in French, on a topic of their choice and, through using a journal, report back about their conversations. The journal is collected four times during the semester to confirm students are fulfilling the requirement. While these strategies are useful in helping students develop their oral skills and their self-confidence, they do not allow for exposure to native accents in interactive conversation or for a level of correction that may occur in the presence of a native speaker. TalkAbroad will provide inclusion of this beneficial component of language learning.
The textbook used in all three levels, Contacts, includes audio exercises that are assigned as daily homework. Completion of the listening exercises follows the honor system, as it is not currently possible for the professor to confirm that students are truly working through them by listening in on recorded completed exercises/conversations. While listening to pre-recorded conversations or statements in French is beneficial for the students, it precludes the possibility of listening to a native speaker in a collaborative setting, where the two parties react and respond to each other in real-time.
The integration of TalkAbroad conferences will enhance students’ oral proficiency and listening skills, expand the number of native speakers students converse and interact with (prior to or in lieu of study abroad), and develop their indispensable question-creation skills. Students will overcome their affective filter and grow through direct interaction with other cultures, one of the goals of a liberal arts education. French will be distinct because of TalkAbroad implementation, increasing student interest in the language.
We will enrich the current curriculum by implementing group and individual conversations as follows:
- One 30-minute group conversation with a native partner at the FREN111 level as a final oral project.
- Two 30-minute group conversations at the FREN112 level, one in the middle and one at the end of the semester. The first group conversation will include 8-9 students, while the second group conversation will be for 4-5 students.
- Four 30-minute individual conversations at the FREN211 level, occurring approximately every three weeks, as supplements to material covered in class and instead of the “Papoter et journal” assignment, thus providing continuous evaluation of students’ four language skills (a total of 72 conversations). A conversation in the middle of the semester will replace the current curriculum’s oral midterm in the professor’s office.
Preparation and follow-up assignments will be organized in and out of class for all levels. At the two lower levels, the assigned conversations will be guided by the instructor, presented beforehand in class, and graded as homework assignments. Topics for discussion will be chosen by the instructors and will reflect the content of chapters already studied. At the FREN211 level, the first conversations may be guided, but as the semester progresses students will choose a topic of conversation and share it with the professor and with the conversation partner (pending approval from the professor). At the 211 level, students will report to classmates and to the professor. In addition to increased oral production and practice in public speaking, this will provide a learning opportunity for effective summarization. In the absence of a pool of native French speakers, TalkAbroad will make students at all levels more comfortable listening to and understanding spoken French, expose them to at least one (and perhaps multiple) native accents and, most importantly, increase their confidence in the ability to converse in French.
A total of 17 students used the interactive tool. Thirteen reported that they had never spoken to a native speaker of French for more than 10 minutes prior to TalkAbroad, while 10 students said they had never visited a French-speaking country. Preliminary analysis of five separate questionnaires filled over the course of the semester (one pre-, and four following each of the individual conversations) suggests that students’ perceived confidence in speaking and listening skills increased with time. Additionally, it suggests that students acknowledge learning specific items of language and of culture after each conversation (the percentage of students disagreeing with this statement decreased steadily as the semester went on).
We observed that students initially reported high levels of anxiety associated with conducting the conversations. This level decreased over the course of the semester, but was still noticeable after the final conversation. In response to this observation, and considering student feedback, department suggestions and procedures in place at Tulane University, we will implement a major change to the way the conversations are organized in the fall of 2016. Each student will still conduct four 30-minute conversations. However, instead of individual conversations, during the fall of 2016, each student will have the option of partnering with a classmate to conduct the first two TalkAbroad conversations. The final two conversations will be individual.
It is our plan to continue using TalkAbroad in the fall of 2016, in part to provide students with the opportunity to practice their French oral skills with native speakers and to expand their cultural competence. The continued use of TalkAbroad will also provide more data points for pedagogical research purposes.
Sample Student Responses
“Overall, I found the TalkAbroad experience to be very beneficial and would encourage it to be used in future courses. […] after each discussion I became more and more comfortable not only talking to the stranger but using my French. It gave me a lot more confidence in my French speaking to know I could communicate with a real French speaker outside of the classroom. […] Also, I loved learning more about the culture (my TalkAbroad partner was from Morocco). […] I thought this was much better than speaking with a professor because it mimicked a real life scenario better and it was interesting to learn about someone’s life from half way around the world”.
“Using TalkAbroad was greatly beneficial while learning a foreign language to me. I loved having the ability to have a casual conversation with someone from a different culture, and further learning about their culture in a way that I wouldn’t have through a textbook. It was useful to practice my oral speaking abilities on TalkAbroad because I was able to test myself on how my own speaking skills are in a conversation, and learn first-hand different accents, “slang” words and phrases, and vocabulary from each TalkAbroad partner. I would definitely encourage the future use of TalkAbroad because students are able to easily engage in a fun and interesting conversation with students from around the world while further developing their own speaking abilities”.
“TalkAbroad overall was a very interesting and useful experience. Although the first couple of conversations caused some anxiety and stress, once the conversation started it became very free flowing. […] I also gained more confidence through TalkAbroad because I knew if I could hold a half hour conversation with a native speaker I could definitely participate and speak more French in class. In the future, I think the use of TalkAbroad would be wise since it requires more thinking on your toes and helps teach good communication skills whether you will continue with the language or not”.
“It was an experience that I enjoyed, and will definitely never forget. TalkAbroad was not only a new and unique experience; it really helped my French conversational skills. After TalkAbroad, I am much more comfortable with my French speaking and comprehending. As the conversations progressed, my conversation improved immensely. I feel very lucky to be given this opportunity to interact with a person from a different country and learn new things about their culture. It was fun finding out the similarities and differences between our two entirely different lives. I would definitely encourage the future use of TalkAbroad because it is such an exciting opportunity and a one of a kind learning experience”.
Dr. Ana Conboy, Guilford College