That many benefits come with educational telecollaboration should surprise absolutely no one; many smarter thinkers and more graceful writers have extolled the numerous advantages for learners applying online learning tools to connect with peers in other settings. These well-defined advantages include opportunities for linguistic and expressive growth, increases in intercultural competence, and inspiring digital and global citizenship. But few have considered these latent perks to telecollaboration: an evolution of teaching methods from static to dynamic, an aperture to living language, and a compelling meaning attached to language learning.
Making Learning “Real”
Think of the pedagogically “old school” methods of teaching language. Once, teachers thought they had to teach the language, not how to learn a language. Let’s face it—if you’re a language teacher, even a native speaker, you’ve already been left behind. Because younger generations reshape language constantly with their alien phrases and internet neologisms, in just a few years we, the educators, become fossils, our language passè, obsolete by comparison.
The juxtaposition brings to mind prescriptive versus descriptive linguistics; do we exalt the way idioms and expressions have been used? Or can we passively spectate as language evolves before our chronicling eyes while instructing our pupils on how to keep up? If the latter, then we are immediately presented with a new, immeasurable value to telecollaboration.
We teach and learn languages in the classroom chiefly via rote drills, simulations, and exercises belonging to the ordered but staid process of pedagogy; however, humans learn languages through messy, incoherent, but natural conversations. Telecollaboration gives the opportunity to fit the magic of the latter into the structure and form of the former, like a firefly in a mason jar. Now, instead of thrusting our students into the overstimulated chaos of travel, we can let them savor just one of the extracts: conversation with someone new.
If we educators only teach to the text, we teach a dead language. Not “dead” per se, but certainly a former iteration of parlance that’s evolved, expressions that have shed their skin and are etymologically metamorphosed. But, if we catch that firefly right from the source, we can give our students the freshest vernacular available. And where does that neonatal little lingo incubate? Where else: the internet.
Telecollaboration simplifies and naturalizes conversations among young people not only because they happen on the internet, but also because they happen right by the internet. A video call with screen sharing capabilities echoes the classic, ”Oh, man, have you seen this yet?” But instead of leaning over a screen, telecollaborators can control one another’s field of vision by effectively navigating and parking an audio/visual component of the conversation wherever they choose. It’s the synthesis of content creation and editing; the communication method that has evolved from YouTube and TikTok has effectively revolutionized conversation as more premeditated and multisensory. This is a pretty incredible step forward for language learning! Internet-speak revolutionizes the way language evolves—it quickens the spread of idioms and universalizes expressions and signifiers for our milieu. So, what better window to a developing language can we give students than allow them to work in the very laboratory where language mutates?
Finding Meaning in Language Acquisition
If students have ever faced frustration with language learning, it’s because they already speak the lingua franca of the world and believe there’s zero reason to add other languages to their arsenal; this Anglocentric bias immediately disintegrates, though, when held against the flame caused by a modest spark of curiosity. How many success stories feature people learning languages because they went to live or work in a certain place, or fell in love, or made a friend with whom they did not share an idiom? These scenarios not only jumpstarted the language process—they acted like Miracle Grow to the fecundity of the linguistic mind. The common element here should be obvious: people.
It’s because we can connect with other human beings that we learn to love languages. If your students can only see as far as the transactional goal post of why they want to learn a new language, they may treat it as any other skill, and lose interest in it as its difficulty increases. However, telecommunication allows them to connect interpersonally, with the very real possibility of friendship, camaraderie, and community, turning a theory into practice for your students: you’ve just given them their why.
A Comprehensive Approach
With a structured telecollaboration program, giving students these gifts becomes very easy. I strongly recommend finding a Swiss-Army Knife platform. My telecollaboration multitool is Level Up Village, a company that connects schools across the world and offers them designed courses via asynchronous video exchanges. To really ensure that the aforementioned benefits can be transferred to your students, it’s important to pick a telecollaboration method that can transfer these benefits. In the Level Up Village courses, students must reply to each other’s video messages, so there’s an added emphasis on conversation and comprehension. The very nature that it’s designed for adolescents guarantees them speaking a very natural, living language, as well. Level Up Village makes learning “real” by matching a class of language learners with native speakers of a similar age and proficiency level, so there’s a lot of fertile ground there for kids to germinate their relationships. Since the pairing is class-to-class, as opposed to one-to-one, the experience yields a greater feeling of community.
Teaching a subject as mercurial and elusive as language can have one great challenge: as we try to nail it down, it’s constantly changing and evolving. But, through telecollaboration, we can skip the line to the publishers’, and walk our students right to the source. Think of it: learning authentic language as freshly generated as the internet content it emulates! There’s another incredible resource that’s yielded from telecollaboration for you to enjoy, dear educator.