Online meetings between students of different languages to practise the one they are each learning are increasingly common, and schools are starting to include them in projects in which technology is used for exchanges with other schools. The pandemic has increased the rate of take-up and this resource has become well-established as an additional language-learning tool.
This is why it is crucial to establish the exact needs of students undertaking this kind of learning.
The research, which is based on the observation of tandem-based virtual exchanges to practise English and Spanish, shows that, despite the recommendations given, participants do not use the two languages in the same way. Instead of splitting their time fairly evenly between the two languages, the transcriptions showed that English accounted for a larger proportion of the time (61%) than Spanish (39%).
"In these exchanges, we usually advise students to practise each language for a similar amount of time, and this advice is followed," said Laia Canals, the researcher behind the study and a member of the TechSLA Lab at the UOC's Faculty of Arts and Humanities, "but it seems that the way in which they correct each other or provide examples of how the language they are more familiar with works is different. In this case, more corrections were made when speaking in English whereas, when speaking Spanish, Spanish learners were given more of a chance to correct their language-related issues or mistakes."
Benefiting all languages
The study has important implications, because these differences should be taken into account to design more balanced tasks from which both parties (both students of English and Spanish) can benefit.
"These results could be extrapolated to exchanges between schools that use the eTwinning platform [a European Commission initiative that fosters collaboration between schools in different parts of Europe] and other initiatives involving online exchanges between groups or pairs of students located in different countries or regions," said Canals, "but they could also be useful for other face-to-face exchanges between competent speakers of two different languages meeting up to work on their language skills."
One of the main differences found between those times when Spanish was being spoken and when the conversation was being held in English was that English was corrected more often, whereas students practising Spanish were given more opportunities to find different words or expressions to communicate.
"This may be because of differences in the learning styles of different countries, but also because English was more likely to be used as the default language for corrections."
A field of study for further investigation
The study involved 32 participants – 16 intermediate Spanish students at Canada's Dalhousie University and 16 advanced English students at the UOC – who took part in tandem exchanges (i.e., between native speakers of each language) via Skype. The exchanges were recorded for subsequent analysis.
Although these results can be used to improve activities like these, they are only the beginning of a field of study that must keep growing. "The pandemic has shown that many technology-based language learning techniques are here to stay," said Canals. "That's why I think we should continue to research ways of effectively integrating learning tasks or activities in these contexts. We need empirical evidence-based studies to see whether the technology and online environments are being used effectively, integrating genuine and meaningful learning tasks or activities with a clear purpose".
This UOC research supports Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 (Quality Education).
The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century, by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health.
The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and open knowledge serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information: research.uoc.edu #UOC25years
The role of the language of interaction and translanguaging on attention to interactional feedback in virtual exchanges
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