Why invest in class work on an Internet forum?

1. To provide interculturality training in the context of a language class is to offer the learners opportunities to enter a space in which they accomplish tasks by interacting with representatives of other cultures by means of the language they are learning, the linguistic skills they possess in other languages, an intercultural awareness which makes them receptive to interaction, and intercultural skills which make it possible. It is an ongoing process during which the pupils:

  • acquire new language and intercultural skills by performing tasks and interacting with others
  • are capable of interacting better and better because of the new language and intercultural skills they acquire.

The more varied the tasks, the more interesting, motivating and productive the interaction is for the learners.

For the purpose of this intercultural teaching one may envisage a range of teaching media and practices which it is important to incorporate in timetables and curricula (school trips, exchanges, contacts with representatives of other languages and cultures, joint implementation of interdisciplinary projects, videos, chat-rooms etc.).

However, communal class work on an Internet forum offers advantages which should encourage learners and teachers alike to attempt such an experiment.

1.1 Interactivity in language lessons

The core of foreign language learning lies in interactions, that is to say situations which bring two or more interlocutors into contact and so require the use of language. These interactions, stimulated in a language class by the teacher and often suggested in textbooks, are artificial because they involve users who could communicate better and more easily in their common mother tongue. They are all the more false as the pupils are using a language that is foreign to them, and with which they are not very familiar, to express their own cultural context , while their interlocutor is a representative of the same culture. Even if it is possible to acquire linguistic skills to a quite satisfactory standard in this way, the acquisition of intercultural competence solely in a language class proves impossible.

Interculturality necessitates real interaction between actual social players, that is to say social players who represent different cultures and can communicate only by means of common linguistic skills in one or more languages and through intercultural skills.

The teaching of foreign languages in the countries of the former communist bloc offers a good example. Languages were learnt almost exclusively in the classroom: there were hardly any contacts and no exchanges with native speakers. It was impossible to receive a foreign TV or radio station and the Internet did not yet exist. Contacts with the foreign language and culture were usually confined to conversations with other learners and teachers and to reading textbooks and literary texts. The image which learners had of the target language country was often idealised, fed by their own imagination and the projection of their own expectations.

In the former communist bloc, learners experienced enormous unease over anything from the “West”, together with open-mindedness and a desire to know (this is one of the principal elements of intercultural awareness), and on the other hand a tendency to imitate without reference to their own cultural context and even very often to reject it (which is an obstacle to the acquisition of intercultural skill). And all this went on against a background of absence of genuine interaction with real players. In the circumstances, the acquisition of intercultural competence was practically impossible.

Communication based only on language skills, however advanced these are, is not possible. Such communication creates misunderstanding and unease on both sides and increases the feeling of foreignness. One can discover other people and acquire intercultural skills only through experience, real contacts and genuine interaction.

1.2 Finding opportunities for genuine interaction

How, in the school context, can one find opportunities for real interaction in which learners are transformed into real players?

Intercultural practice has not always been helped by the constraints of educational systems. It has been limited to occasional school exchanges and chance meetings with native speakers. Over the years, account has increasingly had to be taken of out-of-school contacts by learners whose pluricultural experience outside school (trips, pluricultural families, professional contacts on the part of parents or others) have become more and more frequent.

The Internet has made easy, fast and ultimately inexpensive contacts possible with surfers all over the world.

1.3 Teaching/learning through tasks

The common language becomes a tool which makes it possible to perform a variety of tasks involving players from a range of social and cultural backgrounds. It enables all kinds of interdisciplinary projects to be carried out, based primarily on common interests, the cognitive and play aspects of their implementation and less on language learning. The learners, as genuine social players, thus perform tasks that are not just language tasks. They can themselves construct games, conduct opinion polls, give their views on specific subjects, and devise projects on interesting topics. The teacher’s role then is to invent a series of opportunities for the learner to perform concrete tasks, interacting in a way that requires and justifies the use of the language he is learning. Intercultural learning takes place through interactions with representatives of other cultures, not through fictitious interactions with representatives of the same culture who speak the foreign language artificially.

Use of the Internet enables the requirements of the language lesson and those of teaching/learning intercultural skills to be reconciled. At the same time the language class takes on a less “scholastic”, less artificial, aspect, which stimulates learners’ interest and level of satisfaction.

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