Teletandem – Student Powered, Internet Enabled Language and Cultural Exchange

Last Friday, October 10, CNDLS, in partnership with the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, hosted a lecture to discuss innovative approaches to cross cultural Internet enabled collaboration in language learning titled “Teletandem: Aspects of Curriculum Implementation and Research Perspectives.” Teletandem is a practice of collaborative language learning between pairs of speakers of different languages, facilitated by Voice over IP (VoIP) technologies.

IMG_7150Students in ICC 227 engaging in Teletandem sessions – Photo by Peter Janssens, CNDLS

Presented by João Telles, Associate Professor of UNESP visiting from São Paulo State University, and Michael Ferreira, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Georgetown, the lecture covered the core aspects of Teletandem and prospects for the future. With the help of CNDLS, Ferreira and Telles have been working to implement Teletandem practices in Portuguese classes at Georgetown since 2008. Earlier this year Ferreira received a one-year grant from CNDLS on the Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning (ITEL) to expand the scope outward from Portuguese to other languages including Spanish, Arabic, French, Japanese, Russian, and Turkish.

“Tandem learning is very humanistic –very personal in a way.” – João Telles, Associate Professor of UNESP

As Telles describes, Teletandem has three core principles: reciprocity, autonomy and a focus on one language at a time. Students share their cultures and languages with each other reciprocally growing comprehension and understanding in a resonant and deeply personal way. Telles emphasized that Teletandem partners are more than mere “pawns” in academic life; they take an active role and shoulder responsibility for their own work and the direction of the lessons. Focusing on single languages at a time in an organic setting leads to deeper comprehension. Students report enhanced cultural information about the partner’s country, improved comprehension of the target language and more confidence to speak the foreign language.

The cultural dimensions of Teletandem are equally important as the language component. In the lecture, Telles described the interactions as “online intercultural contact” not just between different languages but different cultures and even different socioeconomic class levels. Comparing and contrasting the daily lives in each partners’ countries leads to new understanding and fosters a rich dialogue.

This method raises interesting questions and conceptions for expanding intercultural contact and interpersonal interaction, and subsequently making the process of language learning much more dynamic and complex.

Ferreira and Telles, along with the others working in the area of Teletandem, are just beginning to explore the possibilities, and already finding the methods to provide rich avenues not just for learning language but also for collecting data to enable new forms of research in the area of language learning.

CNDLS looks forward to further facilitating the evolution of this innovative program, and exploring the future of enhanced language learning and cultural exchange in a complex networked world.