This website is designed for both teachers and students of foreign and second languages. The program can be downloaded to operate in virtually any language, so students who are not native speakers of English will find using the program much easier. The target language is not used exclusively, unless both teachers and students are only looking to practice one language. It is essentially a chat program that offers audio, video, and written text chat capabilities, and allows students or teachers to search for native speakers of the target language who in return are looking to advance their skills in the students or teachers native language. The skills areas addressed using this program are speaking, writing, listening, and reading, as Skype (the chat program used as the communication medium) enables its users to engage in all four activities at once, in addition to video chat. The learning outcomes are (if used consistently) very good. A teacher can assign students to listen to native speakers of the target language (he or she may choose whichever region and dialect is preferred) hence focusing mainly on improving listening and speaking skills while simultaneously utilizing abilities in reading and writing. This website contains links only to Skype as an outside resource. The technical requirements are computer with internet access, microphone, speakers, and an optional webcam; this program can be run with Windows, MAC, Linux, or Pocket PC, so it is very accessible.
Type of Material:
Conversation partner matching
Identify Major Learning Goals:
Conversation skills development in target language
Target Student Population:
Learners of languages
A search engine which allows a student or teacher to search for a language partner or even an entire class is commendable. The student can very quickly find someone by searching for the exact language they wish to practice. Also, the immediate availability of exposure to a native speaker from whom one can receive individual attention is invaluable in any language classroom. Speaking can be practiced, which is often the most difficult thing to teach in a traditional classroom setting.
The search engine is limited to a search by language, so if you are looking to study a particular countrys dialect (where they differ greatly with languages such as Arabic, Spanish, French etc ) it is quite difficult to find an ideal partner right away. In addition, the website does not have access to a great deal of language partners; e.g., many hits for Spanish, but almost none for Russian or Turkish. Not all languages are readily available. The searches ought to require more detailed information in the profiles in order to make searching more efficient and descriptive in the information displays that come up when one searches. Now, information varies greatly from person to person both in usefulness and clarity. For example, classroom times are from Monday-Friday 10am-4pm. There is no specification on time zone. Time differences are a big problem as well, when dealing with language partners in different time zones. Perhaps if time zones were specified, a teacher would more quickly be able to tell if live chat was possible during class or not. Also, many users have not signed on in over a year or several months.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
This program is extremely useful as a teaching-learning tool because of the variety of skills for which it provides practice. Since it permits access to a native speaker (something difficult to come by in language classrooms all too often),
the students are exposed to natural spoken and written language and can use this exposure as both a model for and a means of improvement in their target language usage. The anonymity provides for a less frustrating learning environment where students feel more comfortable practicing the language. In situations where two languages are being practiced, students can switch back and forth between target and native language to ease mental pressure during each encounter with the language partner.
This program would be difficult to use in group work. Conference calls are a feature on the Skype program, however, so this would help in the event that one class has an uneven student ratio. This way, everyone can have a language partner, even if some need to share. Conference calls could be geared toward more advanced learners who would not feel as intimidated by speaking to more than one native at a time.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
This program is very easy to use. The search functions are all clearly labeled and easy to find on the Mixxer site, and the Skype program is easy to use as well. The buttons are colorfully distinguished from one another, illustrations clearly explain each function, and there is great technical support provided, including searchable troubleshooting pages, FAQ, and direct email support for individual questions not found in the troubleshooting section.
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