Online Learning Communities for Less Commonly Taught Languages

Our 2011 Summer Institute on Online Learning Communities for Less Commonly Taught Languages brought together faculty from participating institutions to build language-specific online cafés. Participants designed thematic café content rubrics, participated in training sessions on research-based pedagogical best practices for facilitating online learning communities, and practiced technical skills needed to host cafés, enabling each language team to fashion an online learning community to achieve its specific purposes.

As designed, the Chinese, Korean, and Russian Flagship Cafés will link Flagship students at domestic sites and study abroad sites. Each of these three online cafés targets culturally specific knowledge about family relationships, personal identity, relationships, language, education, society, and history. Each café will enable US Flagship students to compare their own answers to word-association questions (“What words do you associate with ‘Teacher’?’ ‘School’? ‘Education’?”) as well as their reactions to culturally specific situations depicted in multimedia (such as contrasting cell phone ads from the US and China) with answers from native-speaking, in-country counterparts. In addition, experienced Flagship students already undergoing their capstone study-abroad experience will be invited to act as mentors for first-year students preparing for their upcoming international study, further improving their language and networking skills.

The Samoan team, in addition to establishing an International Teacher Development Café for Samoan Educators facilitating the sharing of ideas, research, and materials among teachers of Samoan language across the Pacific in the U.S., Samoa, and New Zealand, also developed four online cafés, each of which links students at two institutions in discussions of Samoan culture and identity in Samoa and the Samoan diaspora. These links bridge the secondary-postsecondary divide (for example, Waipahu High School in Honolulu is joined with Brigham Young University Hawaiʻi, and Farrington High School in Honolulu is joined with Brigham Young University Provo) as well as connecting students in different nations (University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa is joined with Victoria University in New Zealand, and American Samoa Community College is joined with Auckland University).

The Japan/Hawaiʻi Online Café focuses on an innovative strategy combining peer education and teacher training: Graduate students in a course on teaching Japanese as a foreign language serve as informants to students of conversational Japanese who are learning to represent their own culture in Japanese using appropriate pragmatic strategies. While the graduate students receive guidance on how to support the learners, the learners acquire valuable sociopragmatic skills in Japanese. Topics include Telling your Own Experience, Showing Visitors Around Hawaiʻi, Talking about Future Plans, and Comparing Life in Hawaiʻi, the Mainland, and Japan.

The Vietnam-USA Language Café links advanced students of Vietnamese in the US who are preparing for study abroad to native-speaking counterparts from the hosting institution in Vietnam. Using word association, sentence completion, and viewer reaction to video clips, the Café prompts users to observe intercultural differences embedded in participants’ responses and to reflect on the cultural values that underlie the differences. The topic domains in the Café include The Ideal Mate, Food, and Family.