MICHELLE XU/THE HOYA Students can practice their foreign language skills with language partners in other countries via Skype through the Teletandem program.
Students can practice their foreign language skills with language partners in other countries via Skype through the Teletandem program.

The Teletandem program, which matches Georgetown students with language partners in other countries via Skype, expanded to include Spanish, Arabic, French, Japanese, Russian and Turkish this semester after receiving a one-year grant from the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship.

The program was founded in 2008 and was previously only offered in Portuguese. Teletandum is unrelated to the Language Exchange Program, which connects students from different language backgrounds in person at Georgetown.

Michael Ferreira, a professor in the Portuguese department who helped introduce the program to Georgetown, said that the goal of Teletandem is to help students achieve foreign language fluency while participating in cultural exchange.

“One of the things we noticed was that Georgetown students were too busy with their extracurricular activities to work into their schedule these interactions that are so vital in achieving oral proficiency,” Ferreira said. “What we’re doing is essentially making these interactions possible for students.”

Currently, the Arabic department offers a one-credit course with the Teletandem program, with 15 students enrolled. Students meet weekly for one hour to Skype with their language partners, who are students learning English at the University of Jordan and Jordan’s Al-Balqa` Applied University. Students converse with their partners in English for half the class and Arabic for the remainder of the class.

Terrence Potter, an Arabic professor who is coordinating the Arabic Teletandem program, stressed the importance of conversation in learning a foreign language.

“The skill you want to focus on is having conversations, which involves negotiating meaning, being receptive to your partner and all these things we normally have in a conversation which we take for granted,” Potter said. “But when you’re doing a foreign language, you have to come to an understanding of how you’re going to do those things.”

Joao Telles, the chief coordinator of the Teletandem program, has been running the program in his native Brazil and coordinating international interactions for over a decade.

“I am very impressed with the way things are going,” Telles said. “There are many languages in Georgetown that we want to integrate Teletandem into, so it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. We are running a lot of research to see how we can improve for the future.”

Ferreira predicts that programs like Teletandem will soon be integrated into most language classrooms.

“In the future, it would be interesting to see [Teletandem courses] become a general requirement for people in the languages,”Ferreira said. “It doesn’t overwhelm you really. All you do is sit and talk to someone for an hour, which is a lot more engaging than sitting in a lecture.”

Rabia Mirza (COL ’16), a student in the Arabic Teletandem program, said that she finds the program to be helpful to her study of Arabic.

“I definitely find the program helpful, as I’m not currently enrolled in any intensive Arabic class,” Mirza wrote in an email. “My professor once told me that if you don’t use a language you’re learning for more than two weeks, you forget it. The Skype course prevents me from forgetting it altogether.”

However, Mirza says that the program is impeded by logistical issues that are not present in the in-person language exchange program on Georgetown’s campus.

“There seems to be more conversational depth with an in-person language partner,” Mirza wrote. “In my experience, I was never assigned a conversation topic, which was more fun, unique, and beneficial in terms of learning Arabic.”

Yuka Akiyama, a coordinator of the Japanese Teletandem program, also acknowledged several difficulties in setting up the Skype sessions between her 19 students in Georgetown and the students in Japan.

“Time difference is a killer in our setup. We have a 13-hour time difference, and that makes it very difficult to schedule a session,” she wrote in an email. “In addition, we also face technical issues such as weak Internet connection and the malfunction of computers.”

Despite this, Mirza said that she is learning about culture and society in her partner’s country.

“I remember having personal conversations with my language partner about her family, relationships and controversial opinions,” Mirza wrote. “Through this, I not only learned cultural elements but also nuanced language that would benefit me more on a day-to-day basis rather than the political and formal terms that are constantly thrown at us.”

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