Children Can Practise Language Skills Through Social Network

SECONDARY SCHOOL teacher Anne Burke has come up with a novel way to get school children practising foreign language skills outside of the classroom with Lingua Swap, a social networking site combining elements of Facebook and Chatroulette.

Lingua Swap is a video chat site aimed at secondary school children looking to practise conversation skills in German, French, Spanish and English. The “swap” element involves online chat between pupils of two different languages; they spend the first 10 minutes speaking, say, Spanish, and switch to English for the next 10.

Frustrated with how little practice children get in preparation for oral and aural exams, which account for 50 per cent of the Leaving Cert examination, Burke came up with the idea of combining video chat and social networking to connect students from different countries.

“It’s crazy to think that you have students who have studied French or German for six years, leave school with an A or B but have no confidence in actually speaking the language. As toddlers we learn to speak before we learn to write.

“As a language teacher I notice that it’s difficult to recreate in the classroom that spontaneity of conversation you have with someone you don’t know. Lingua Swap means that students can have real conversations,” said Burke.

The information gap between strangers is what elicits conversation naturally, she said, and driven by social networking aspects, this is the linchpin of the site.

Ms Burke and two colleagues started work on the site in March and launched the beta version a couple of weeks ago: “It’s free to join right now and we hope to build critical mass and eventually introduce a pay model at under €30.”

With the site still in beta there are plans to add more features in the near future, including themed chats on subjects such as politics, the environment and culture.

The mixture of live chat, the ability to “friend” other members, message them and have random video chats brings to mind both Facebook and Chatroulette. However, the content of these sites, Chatroulette in particular, is not always child-friendly.

Lingua Swap ensures that only under-18s can join. Screenshots of all conversations on the site are taken every 10 seconds to enforce this policy and monitor for inappropriate behaviour.

The company is also working on a version for adults called Lingua Swap Plus.

Taken from the Irish Times: 18.11.11