While technology in the classroom is a controversial topic, there is no denying that to learn a foreign language students need to interact with a native speaker. There have been many studies on the positive learning impact online exchanges give students. Matthew J. Rooks of Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan published a study in 2008 that details the benefits of an Intercultural Email Exchange (IEE). IEE participants In Japan and Thailand reported “improved language abilities,” “new long-term channels for communicating in English”, a greater sense of cultural awareness, and many other great benefits. However, chief among the complaints were unresponsive exchange partners, delayed or spam-filtered emails, and lack of teacher participation.
The PenPal Schools program has responded to the shortcomings of email exchanges by creating a customized platform where students are matched with responsive PenPals, teachers can support student progress, and students have access to the best of modern communications technology. Our app removes the cumbersome process of navigating through spam filters and junk mail from the exchange equation. Students see great content alongside a live feed of their PenPal exchange, making the whole experience much more direct and tangible.
A 2007 study by Shu Ching Yang and Yi-Ju Chen tested the way technology affects student foreign language learning, focusing on text and video-based exchanges. Yang and Chen, of National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan, described the difficulties of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) instruction for young students: “In most Taiwanese high school English classes, the prevalent mode of instruction is based on large-groups, teacher-dominated grammar-translation methods, and exam-oriented textbook-based lectures.” Students have difficulty getting the interactions that are necessary to acquire a new language, thus hindering the ultimate goal of communicating “with people in a new language in real world situations.”
PenPal Schools gives students who would not otherwise experience an authentic cultural exchange a chance to communicate with fellow students from all the world over. Moreover, the curriculum give students a solid foundation from which to start a conversation. Yang and Chen (2007) say that “language and culture are inextricable and interdependent, and understanding target language culture improves understanding of the language.” Our curriculum gives students such an understanding.
At the end of our program, students will have not only improved their language ability, but also learned important reading comprehension, writing and communications skills that are crucial to the Common Core standards in the U.S.A. and other education standards across the globe. By removing the troubles associated with email but at the same time keeping the technology, we have modernized the PenPal exchange. Students will benefit from the cultural exchange, the dialogue, and teacher support without the cumbersome work of sorting through messy inboxes. All students can succeed with the proper support and our platform serves as the jumping-off point for educational success.