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Introduction

As the world becomes more and more interconnected, computers have began to be considered as convenient and useful tools for promoting intercultural communication as learners endeavor to acquire proficiency in the second language. In fact, computer-assisted language learning, CALL, provides the type of social interaction that is agreeable to Vygotsky’s views of learning. In keeping with the move away from purely cognitivist approaches to more social interactionist paradigms, in this paper I will test whether a Skype, a type of internet-based video conferencing, is facilitative of intercultural communication and whether it can lead to increase positive affect toward English and greater communicative competence.  This study will also fill a gap in the literature: while there have been many published studies documenting the effectiveness of CALL in promoting SLA, just a few of them have focused on televideo interaction and its effectiveness in promoting intercultural communication.

1.1  Background of the Study

This study will be about how Skype facilitates increased positive affect toward English and greater communicative competence. Skype enables the second language learners to acquire language and cultural skills through tandem learning. Tandem learning is defined as a process where individuals interact in an endeavor to learn each others’ languages and cultures through bilingual conversations. In recent years, this process of learning has been facilitated by the enhancement of virtual environments, especially the evolution of object-oriented domains. Object-oriented domains are designed to accommodate multiple users, a scenario which is exploited for effective learning of the second language (Yamada, & Akahori, 2007). Multi-user and object-oriented domains, MOOs, has been utilizing tools, such as virtual worlds and tandem learning websites, as they promote the acquisition of the second languages and other people’s cultures (Canale, & Swain, 1980).

Computer assisted language learning, CALL, can be defined as a process where groups of individuals with complementally language and communication skills learn the languages of each other by participating in mutually beneficial interactions. In this case, a Korean learner of English may be connected with an American learner of Korean, so that the two individuals can learn from one another (Vassallo, & Telles, 2006). Such learning is facilitated by alternating the roles of the Korean learner with those of his/her American colleague as they engage in the conversations. The conversation may be face-to-face, via e-mail, via chat systems, like Skype, or through audio- and video-conferencing. High level of assimilation has been witnessed where one of the parties happens to be an expert in the two languages, i.e. he/she is bilingual. Nevertheless, remarkable learning is still possible even in situations where the concerned parties happen to be unilingual (Bryant, & Campbell, 2007).

1.2  Problem Statement

Individuals around the world have been interested in learning second languages for quite sometimes. However, the traditional method of learning has proved ineffective due to increasing work and life commitments. Technological advancement has, nevertheless, facilitated computer mediated communication, a facility which is continuously being adopted in SLA. There have been some remarkable achievements, although much remains to be done. One of the main challenges that hinder the effective of SLA is misconceptions regarding the CMC. As such, there is need to undertake research studies on the effectiveness of technology in bridging cultural and language barriers to individuals’ interactions.

1.3  Significance of the Study

The aim of the proposed study is to explore the manner, in which virtual environments facilitate the acquisition of second languages. In an endeavor to achieve the intended goal, the study will commence with a literature review, tracing the historical development of tandem learning, especially where multiple users participates in an object-oriented domains, before concluding with a case study on Skype (Kramsch, & Thorne, 2002). Consequently, an analysis of the results will be provided, including the implications for future researchers and foreign language instructors. A part of the proposal will outline some of the recent research works on virtual language learning. It will focus on tandem learning while describing its current applicability and results. Consequently, the paper proposes a methodology that is to be utilized while undertaking the suggested study. Eventually, it elaborates the perceived benefits of the study before concluding with the list of references (Furstenberg et al, 2001).

1.4  Theoretical Framework

The goal of the tandem learning is to facilitate a mutual promotion of communication in each others’ languages. Fundamentally, tandem learning refers to a situation whereby native speakers of two different languages, upon meeting in a social setting, attempt to improve their socialization by enhancing each other’s communication and apprehension of phrases in the native language. Effective tandem learning facilitates student exchange programs making it possible for, for instance, the Korean students to benefit from European or American lectures (Kramsch, 1993). Students, participating in the exchange program, learn the foreign language with the assistance of their colleagues in the host countries, and/or the host families. For example, as students, native speakers of different languages, communicate, the two groups begin learning some new words of each others’ language. Should one of the group fail to comprehend something, his/her friends in the other group step in to explain the concepts that they have learnt in a few words, i.e. if an American student fails to comprehend something, a Korean student may step in to elaborate the concept using a few English terms. Such assisted learning is mutual, especially when none in the two groups is bilingual. In the end, individuals may learn to communicate with each other using native languages fluently (The New London Group, 1996). With the evolution of technology, it has become possible to utilize computers as tools for mediating tandem learning. As such, individuals in distant locations can overcome the geographical barriers and learn each others’ languages the same way they would do it if they have met physically (de Freitas, & Neumann, 2009).

Skype is an Internet video and telephone calling service that is facilitated by the Luxembourg based Skype Limited company. Skype Limited has been recently acquired by Microsoft Corporation. Since the calling services are software based, communication between individuals is facilitated by the connection between computers. Subscribers communicate freely, and, additionally, the software facilitates regular access to telephones. A subscriber clicks on “SkypeOut” button before dialing a regular telephone number. Such telephone calls are lowly charged as compared to the ordinary calls. “SkypeIn” option allows callers to contact Skype subscribers from their regular phones by dialing local Skype numbers (Warschauer, 1996). In this regard, Skype has been a facilitator of free tandem learning between people across the world. Participants begin by downloading the Skype software and creating personal accounts. Consequently, they sign-up and provide their details. This step is followed by choosing the group of interest where a new member can be in a position to learn and teach a language. Ultimately, the new member may leave some texts in the discussion forum or conduct a search aimed at contacting other members, who may have chosen to join the same group. In this case, members are able to establish friendly relationships where mutual, tandem learning takes place (Block, & Cameron, 2000). Basically, friends in the virtual environment consider tandem learning as a real and free language exchange facility where individuals meet online for the purpose of improving their second language skills (Deutschmann, 2009).

There are several other tools that the tandem learners utilize, including LiveMocha, World of Warcraft, and Second Life. LiveMocha is a site that facilitates social networking among individuals who have access to the Internet. On the contrary, World of Warcraft is a role-playing game where multiple players participate. Second Life presents a 3-D online virtual environment where members/participants can meet and interact (Benbunan-Fich, & Hiltz, 2003). 

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