Lit Review: Videoconferencing as access to spoken French.

Kinginger, C. (1999). Videoconferencing as access to spoken French. Canadian Modern Language Review, 55(4), 468-489.

Also published as: Kinginger, C. (1998). Videoconferencing as access to spoken French. Modern Language Journal, 82(4), 502-513.

Author: Celeste Kinginger
Title of Article: Videoconferencing as access to spoken French
Publication year: 1999
Database source: JSTOR
Name of journal: Canadian Modern Language Review
My Codes:

Main Point: This study is of a classroom interaction between language learners in the U.S. and France via a videoconference. The language used in the videoconference was mostly beyond the learners’ ability, taking them outsite the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). By watching a tape of the interaction, the students were able to learn more and return to their ZPD. This is a really interesting lesson. I can think of a couple international language interactions we’ve had that have been full of laughter and nervousness as described in this article. Taping the interaction is a great idea of a way to increase the benefit from the time spent with the native speakers. Of course permission should be acquired before taping kids!

It’s interesting that there is a mismatch between the instruction of written language – students are taught to speak the written “correct” language – and the actual spoken language in the country. This would partially explain why the interaction was so difficult for the students. Something to consider when planning an interaction based on language! The article set up this problem with a discussion of the issues and problems with teaching written “purified” French and spoken French in it’s many forms.

Author/Audience: The author is writing for instructors of French, so some of the article is in French.

Theoretical Framework: Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

Definitions …”site-independent learning can also be understood as two-way interaction across distance, for mutual benefit. In this model, telecommunications technology is a tool for providing access to members of a speech community whose language is the object of study.” p.1 in the PDF (doesn’t match the journal page numbers). Site independent learning is used as a term to explain the use of videoconferencing for a collaborative project / learning experience.

This qualitative study examined selected interactions in a videoconference.

The actual learning experiences in this article are much better described than the Shaklee study. Students reviewed Hollywood remakes of French films, children’s literature, and television series. Both classes made web pages to publish their work. The students were assigned an email partner. The videoconferences consisted of two 60 minute sessions. The two teachers had worked collaboratively extensively for two years before the actual collaboration. Some interesting lessons here: notice the extensive “wrap around” experiences that accompany the videoconference. The use of asynchronous communication (email) extends the videoconference and helps work around the time zones. Notice also how this project started – they knew each other already!

Subjects: It’s not totally clear on the age/level of the students, but I believe both classes were university level – the American students were in the 5th semester or above at a regional state university, and the French students had “completed their BaccalaurĂ©at” (PDF p. 4).
The videoconference was over ISD lines at 256K and cost $332 for an hour. It sounds like they also had an echo to deal with as well as the delay. The instructors already knew that “pause length is a significant factor in the success or failure of intercultural communication.” PDF p. 4 with reference to Scollon. Interesting that this is an issue already with face to face intercultural communication. It’s exaggerated then in videoconferencing. We all have experienced how that pause after a question is so critical. Wait time! To work around this, they planned a structured interaction with prepared questions.

This study looks at the second of the two videoconferences, and only the French portion. The other half was in English because the French class was learning English. I think this model is critical for native speaker language exchanges. There has to be a give and take so that both classes get to try out the language they are learning.

The American students had prepared their questions and read them off of note cards. They had 11 questions in 30 minutes. The students already knew each other because of their email partners. So in some of the Q&A interactions, the students were paired one on one for the interaction while the others watched. This is an interesting way to organize it too. It would alleviate some of the confusion that comes when a language learner asks a question of a class of native speakers and they all answer at once, making it hard for the language learner to understand the answer.

The actual transcript of the interaction is included, and in the second one, one can see that the language learner was really struggling. The author suggests that this was due to the anxiety and stressful situation, and they may not have had enough experience with spoken French. As I’m reading this, I’m wondering if any of this happens with French classes that participate in the art museum programs offered in French.

After the class, the students watched the tape. And the student who was asked more questions in French and struggled to answer, took the tape home and emailed the other student four times in debriefing the interaction. This is another great way to help students get past the frustration of the real-time pressure of the spoken language and still learn from the experience.

The author suggests (PDF p. 9) that another reason the students struggled so much was that they “live in what may be termed an ‘acquisition poor’ environment for acquiring competence in spoken French.” Most of the students didn’t have access to native speakers. This highlights another reason to use videoconferencing to access native speakers (as hard as that is to do!). However it seems clear that the instructors involved should at least read this article to assist in the planning of the videoconference.

p. 10 “It may be legitimate to suggest that the videoconference took place in a language to which the learners had ever before been exposed, of the existence of which they had been mainly unaware.” This is a serious situation; one to be considered before planning an interaction with native speakers.

While the American French students were able to participate minimally during the videoconference, they now had a tape of the interaction. They watched them again and again in class until everyone understood the features of spoken French used in the interaction.

While the students had trouble, they all appreciated the experience. They reported learning so much from it, and wished it could have happened more often in their class. Now that we have IP connections, the cost of this type of interaction is gone. There is still the difficulty of finding a partner class and negotiating the time schedules.

Three problems were illustrated in this project: the language classroom anxiety induced by the stress of the videoconferencing, the unclear status of spoken language in American French instruction, and the need to make a place for language awareness in the curriculum.

The spoken language is especially a problem with French.

Telecommunications will force the profession to address the issues of spoken French.

Instructors should consider the students’ ZPD when planning a similar videoconference.

Instruction in languages may need to include a more rich explanation of foreign languages, accounting for “social and situational variation.” (PDF p. 11).

Cross References:
The Becta lit review says: Videoconferencing “provides enhanced opportunities for language students to interact
with native speakers” (Kinginger 1998). p. 2

The Alberta lit review says: videoconferencing “has been expensive – the cost of videoconferencing over telephone lines is equivalent to the cost of six long distance calls (per site) for the duration of the event.” p. 5

There are some important lessons in this study on preparation and planning for a videoconference. The value of the recorded interaction is emphasized. The study also shows how to make the best of a videoconference that doesn’t quite turn out the way you might have thought it would.

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