What’s even better than authentic materials?
Authentic people, of course.
One conversation with a native speaker is more valuable than any combination of activities, games and simulated conversations.
And in terms of authentic language practice and cultural connection, your students won’t find a better experience than interacting with someone who actually speaks the language.
But what if you live in an isolated area that doesn’t have a diverse linguistic population?
What if you just don’t have the connections or the resources?
How can you bring the target language to life through native speakers with a minimum of stress and expense?
The answer is easier than you think.
In this post, we’ll look at a variety of ways you can connect your students with native speakers, including in-person, virtual, individual, whole-class and written encounters.
But first, let’s explore how you can prepare for a connection in a way that ensures mutual respect and benefit on everyone’s part.
How to Prepare for a Native Speaker Connection
Here are some tips for preparation before your students engage in life-changing encounters with native speakers.
- If your students are interacting with another school, establish some guidelines so that both schools get their fair share of language practice. For example, switch to the other school’s target language halfway through the conversation. If you’re writing letters or blogging, have each class write in its target language.
- Set appropriate goals before each exchange. If any exchange offers too much challenge or too little, students may lose interest.
- Make sure you spend time getting to know a partner teacher before having your classes interact to ensure that your goals are the same and that your classes will be a good match.
- Make it clear from the outset that students will need to be patient with native speakers in other countries. School calendars can differ dramatically. A long response time doesn’t mean they don’t like you!
- Choose a topic for each (written or spoken) conversation and pre-teach vocabulary, with special attention to pronunciation, before interacting. This will give students more confidence. If you’re stuck for topic ideas, a FluentU video can get you unstuck.
10 Tips for Authentic Teaching with Native Speaker Meetings
Wondering where to find native speakers and how to connect with them? Here are 10 ideas.
1. Start with your own personal connections.
What about your own friends or family? Colleagues? College friends? Brainstorm a list of connections.
Perhaps your old roommate now lives in Tokyo and has made many friends who are native speakers of Japanese. Or maybe you still correspond with your Spanish host family from your junior year abroad. Go through your own list of acquaintances, and you may be surprised at how many native speakers are in your own circle. Don’t underestimate their ability to enrich your classroom, even if they live far away.
2. Explore your community.
Ask your students if they have any family members that are native speakers. A teacher I know found great success in plumbing the unexpected resource of French-Canadian grandparents living in her town near the Canadian/American border.
Few things make a student feel more engaged with the language and culture than having his/her own parent or grandparent show up as an honored “guest speaker.” You might also consider visiting language “meetup groups” in your area as a way of connecting with native speakers in your community. Try asking local universities if they have any exchange students who might enjoy coming for a visit. Take students on a tour of a local museum with special attention to the history of the target language and culture in your area. Connections close to home will bring deeper meaning and relevance to any language exchange.
3. Tap the full potential of social media.
Sure, you use Facebook to post photos of your last vacation. Maybe you even use Twitter or Google Hangouts to collaborate and get new ideas for your lesson plans. But did you know that you can also leverage these platforms to facilitate meaningful opportunities to engage in the target language?
- Join a language group on Facebook to build connections with native speakers who might be able to connect with your class, or at least know other teachers who might.
- Join a language community in Google Hangouts. This could provide many great connections.
- It’s tough to beat the immediacy of Skype for meaningful interactions. Once you’ve found a promising partner, add them on Skype and begin planning opportunities for your students. Refer to this handy guide to making these exchanges more meaningful.
4. Arrange a home stay.
If you’re lucky enough to have sustained a deep, long-term friendship with a teacher in a target-language country, it would be well worth the effort to plan a home stay exchange. If your classes already know each other, it’s only natural that they should visit each other to learn even more about their new friends and their language. Recruit some families that would be interested in hosting a student for a week or so, and then plan to stay with families in the other class’s country, too. Your students will remember the experience for a lifetime, and will immerse themselves in the most authentic language experience possible.
Edublogs and Blogger are both user-friendly and lend themselves well to class blogs.
You can even take the opportunity to create a classroom website for your class with ed2go’s Creating a Classroom Website course. This is a 6-week online class that teaches you to create your own classroom blog, create and share WebQuests online, organize assignments on your website and more.
You could begin connecting with another class by posting a topic or a prompt, inviting students of both classes to respond in their second language. In this way, both groups will gain authentic experience writing in their target language. They’ll also learn valuable cultural information about things like popular music, food, sports and movies. Blogging offers students the chance to talk about things they have in common and to explore mutual interests in a much more exciting way than through teacher lectures and presentations.
6. Consider an old-fashioned pen pal exchange.
The seductive convenience of the internet has made “snail mail” exchanges seem obsolete. But it’s still thrilling to receive a handwritten letter from a faraway place. The authenticity of an object your students can hold in their hands is unbeatable. Students will enjoy looking at their pen pals’ handwriting and comparing notepaper to their own.
Create an account on Epals to find another teacher and class with which to correspond. To maximize this opportunity, have all students write in their target language. They’ll find it reassuring to see that people learning their language often make mistakes and encounter challenges, too.
7. Use the power of video.
If pictures are worth a thousand words, imagine what a powerful message a video can convey! Connect with another class, or continue your connection with them, by having each class create a video diary. The topic could be a typical school day, or a tour of your school or your community.
If each class posts their video on a shared blog or website, this can offer valuable opportunities for discussion and language practice.
8. Take advantage of current events in news as “teachable moments.”
After the terrorist attacks in France in 2015, an American teacher had her students create cards in French expressing their support and solidarity. The event proved to be a bonding event for both classes. Stay informed of current events and take time to talk to your students about them, too. Such events, while sometimes tragic in themselves, can often build a bridge to deep and meaningful discussion of topics relevant to our world.
9. Introduce smartphone apps.
Technology has now opened up more opportunities than ever before with apps that conveniently connect your students with native speakers.
- Check out HiNative, a forum that allows users to pose language questions directly to native speakers.
- Similar apps include HelloTalk and Busuu, both of which feature native speakers making corrections and offering assistance.
- Speaky is an app that uses a unique algorithm to match learners with native speakers.
10. Join a collaborative project.
Have your class team up with another class on a project that emphasizes essential ideas that both groups are learning. Look for project ideas on Connect All Schools or Projects by Jen, or post a project idea of your own. As students get to know each other through work on the shared project, it will give them a unique opportunity to interact meaningfully and learn task-specific vocabulary.
Excited yet? Connecting with native speakers is sure to breathe new life into your lesson planning and add a strong shot of motivation to any language class.
So take some of these ideas and run with them.
The world awaits you.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach languages with real-world videos.