Teaching, Typing, Talking Two Case Studies

Conference paper


The aim of this paper is to give an account of two experiments in Tandem Learning via computer conferencing during 1996 by the Modern Languages Teaching Centre at the University of Sheffield.

After a successful e-mail tandem project1 between an adult learner of German and a German native speaker, the question arose whether computer conferencing could support language learning and whether such a success in language learning could also be made using a simple tool like Talk on the Unix system or IRC on the Internet. Beauvois [2], who carried out a project in computer conferencing for classroom discussion in the foreign language, claims that real-time networks have the potential to make an impact on language learning. I was curious to find out what students would make of computer conferencing outside the classroom. For that reason two case studies involving IRC and Talk were set up and explored.

The concept of Tandem Learning has a long educational history, its origins lying in a number of mutual teaching initiatives first employed in England in the early 19th Century. In the recent past, it has taken vigorous root in a number of German universities and colleges, where it has been seized on with particular suitability for language learning. This development has been given further impetus by the advent of easily accessible international E-mail links.

In language learning, a tandem partnership brings together a pair of native-speakers of two different languages, each of whom wishes to learn the mother tongue and the culture of the other. Its guiding principle is that of mutual assistance. As well as language practice, a tandem pairing also offers the possibility of a genuine intercultural exchange. In this respect, computer conferencing offers an ideal opportunity for Tandem Learning between two learners who are located in different countries and exposed to different cultures.

This paper aims to give an account of the practical requirements for the implementation of computer conferencing and to assess its relative merits versus e-mail. Finally, I will draw conclusions, from my own experience, about good practice.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MLT CentreUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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