As a future ESL (English as a second language) teacher, I need to know what technology exists in order to help second language (L2) learners. I have been familiar with Skype for about ten years now and I consider it as a great potential tool.
For those who are unfamiliar with this program, in brief, Skype is free video chat software. With access to Wi-Fi, you can call anywhere in the world for free if you call another computer user. You can also call from your computer to a telephone but, in this case, you have to pay a little sum.
Skype is a technology that I will integrate in my teaching system because it opens so many doors. With Skype, I can procure after school help to students who have difficulties with homework and tasks. If school finishes at 3:30 p.m., I can give availability until 5 o’clock by keeping my Skype account open and by answering to student’s questions. Skype also gives me the opportunity to have videoconferences with guest speakers. Lets say I had my students read Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. To make things more interesting, I had Atwood accept to participate in a videoconference and answer to several questions on her novel and her life prepared by the students. It creates an out of the ordinary activity, which students might appreciate. Moreover, it can be a great tool to have students help each other out. Peer-tutoring is valorizing for the stronger student and it is beneficial for the weaker one. I can have special periods dedicated to peer-tutoring and students can ask for help outside of class. These are only few examples on how it can be used in any teaching environment.
More specifically in second language learning classes, Skype is a perfect tool to improve students’ oral skills and to open their mind on different cultures. For example, I can use the service Tonik to connect my students with native speakers. It allows them to have face-to-face interactions with speakers who have grown up in the language they are learning. At first, I could give them pre-determined questions and then, let them have free time to discuss about anything they want. Moreover, by coordinating with a teacher in the target language, I can have my students discuss with ePals. That way, throughout the year, they can develop a friendship, practice pronunciation and learn more about their ePal’s culture. In addition to these uses, like Suzi Bewell did with her French as a second language class, I can have my students prepare a show and have them perform in front of a class of students living in another country with the help of Skype. It can be surprising to realize at what point the audience appreciates the students’ efforts.
To sum up, I consider Skype to be a great tool not only in normal classes, but also in foreign language classes. It gives the opportunity to students to receive help from their peers and teacher, to talk to people who speak their target language as a native language, to learn about new cultures, to have fun practicing pronunciation and so on. It is something that should be integrated in every class.