Wilson, Hope (The Ohio State University)

The Internet has transformed the ways that language learners can engage with target languages and target cultures. The boundless connectivity of the web means that foreign language learners are no longer restricted by geography from independently accessing languacultural (Agar, 1994) resources. This opens access to all individuals who want to learn foreign languages, but most notably those students who, for reasons of physical or financial hardship, are unable to physically travel to geographic locations where the target language is spoken.

Yet online interaction is distinct from face-to-face interaction in many ways. Online interactions are comparatively decontextualized, with cues such as prosody and facial expressions absent; interactions can be brief and sporadic; social information about interactants is limited. The barriers to establishing intersubjectivity between interlocutors are formidable. And if intercultural competence depends on empathy and recognition of others’ humanity (Byram, 1997; Deardorff, 2006) then how can intercultural understanding occur in an online environment? Furthermore, if sociolinguistic acquisition depends on being exposed to a variety of contexts, then can sociolinguistic forms be acquired online?

Authors such as Ware & Kramsch (2005) and O’Dowd & Ritter (2006) have argued that it is particularly important to provide robust support and guidance for students as they navigate the online environment in order to help them avoid regression in cultural attitudes and support the acquisition of sociolinguistic forms. The study discussed here explores a project-learning program designed to productively guide students through online exploration. Students in an intensive summer Russian language and culture program participate in a four-week online workshop training them in theories of culture, particularly post-modern theories of culture, in which they analyze their own cultural identities and performances. Following this workshop, the students carry out an online exploration of a Russian-language speech community, taking an ethnographic stance towards their data as they analyze and reflect on the speech community’s practices. They are asked to pay particular attention to sociolinguistic variables and their relationship to cultural performance. Longitudinal data are used to measure the students’ intercultural and sociolinguistic development to examine whether this intervention is effective for supporting their growth in languacultural awareness.

References

Agar, M. (1994). Language shock: understanding the culture of conversation. New York: William Morrow & Co.

Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Clevedon;

Philadelphia; Toronto; Sydney; Johannesburg: Multilingual Matters.

Deardorff, D. K. (2006). Identification and assessment of intercultural competence as a student outcome of internationalization. Journal of Studies in International Education, 10(3), 241–266. https://doi.org/10.1177/1028315306287002

O’Dowd, R., & Ritter, M. (2006). Understanding and working with “failed communication” in

telecollaborative exchanges. CALICO Journal, 23(3), 623–642.

Ware, P. D., & Kramsch, C. (2005). Toward an intercultural stance: teaching German and English through telecollaboration. The Modern Language Journal, 89(2), 190–205. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4781.2005.00274.x