Following a successful pilot project last spring, the French Studies Program now includes opportunities for students to participate in online face-to-face interactions with international native speakers of French through the platform TalkAbroad. In both AFRE 221 (Intermediate French 1) and AFRE 222 (Intermediate French 2), students work in pairs, select a native speaker from across the francophone world who they would like to converse with, and schedule a 30-minute session. For the interview they use a group-prepared questionnaire that they have developed in advance, incorporating grammatical structures and cultural themes that they have been studying and utilizing discursive elements that are an important part of negotiating interactions with native speakers of another language. The conversations are recorded allowing instructors to follow-up with individual feedback and to identify and address areas that need review with the class as a whole.
So far students have chosen speakers from Morocco, Tunisia, and Quebec, and their reaction to the exchanges has been highly positive. They appreciate the opportunity to use French in actual day-to-day communications (as one noted “it’s a very natural conversation compared to a textbook conversation”) and to learn about diverse francophone cultures first-hand (“I found it very unique because we were talking with someone who lives completely differently from us,’’ said another.) Lecturer Véronique Martin notes “the exchange allows me to move French outside the classroom and our students to more actively participate in and individualize their learning experiences. It makes intercultural learning a lot more real and tangible than videos and in-class materials alone.”
Besides providing students with what is for many their first authentic immersion experience, these conversations prepare them for the more intensive class-to-class exchanges between UAlbany and the University de Haute Alsace (France) that have been an integral part of AFRE350 (French Conversation) since 2008 and AFRE270 (Beginning French for Business) since 2015, as well as for the transition to more advanced courses and study abroad. The success of these intermediate level exchanges has also led to a new pilot project planned for the spring that will extend authentic conversation with native speakers in a manner that is appropriate for students in our Beginning French 2 (AFRE 102) courses. Our experiences with TalkAbroad is also on the agenda of our next University in the High Schools Workshop for French teachers together with a discussion of ways that they might take advantage of this rare opportunity for authentic linguistic and cultural exchange in a secondary school setting.
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