Greetings from beautiful Hirosaki in Aomori prefecture. I am excited to relieve Ted O’Neill as the editor of the Wired column. I thank him for this wonderful opportunity and for his continued service to The Language Teacher and to JALT. I know I have big shoes to fill and I’m anxious to jump right in! First, please allow me to briefly introduce myself. I have been teaching English and American cultural studies at Hirosaki Gakuin University for three years. Prior to that, I served in the U.S. Navy as a Russian translator for 21 years and spent the final 6 years teaching Russian. I have been interested in CALL and technology in language learning since my own days as a foreign language student, and that interest intensified when I became a teacher. As an active member of the JALT CALL SIG, I am always looking for ways to share my experiences with fellow language professionals, as well as enriching my own bag of tech tools by learning what others are doing. I look forward to helping you all get your classrooms Wired.
Mixing it up
For my first column, I would like to share a website which I find extremely helpful not only for my students, but also for my own language maintenance: The Mixxer <www.language-exchanges.org>. The Mixxer is a free website for language exchange and practice with native or fluent speakers of dozens of languages. While there are a number of websites designed for foreign language study, sites like The Mixxer provide users an opportunity to write something in a foreign language and have native speakers or more proficient non-native speakers correct or comment on the text with suggestions for improvement. On these websites, native Japanese speakers can write something in English and have it checked or corrected by others. They can also help others learn Japanese by commenting on other users’ posts written in Japanese. These interactions can help Japanese EFL students develop relationships with English speakers learning Japanese as they take turns corresponding in each language. Once they feel comfortable with each other, both parties can choose to access Skype via The Mixxer to continue their interaction in a synchronous environment using text, audio or video chat. The ability to easily move from asynchronous writing exchange to synchronous audio or video interaction makes The Mixxer preferable to similar websites, such as Livemocha and Lang-8.
Using The Mixxer in class
In my general English classes, I demonstrate how to create an account and find language partners on The Mixxer early in the semester. Then, I assign my students to use The Mixxer to post their written homework assignment for comment and suggest that they find an English-speaker who is studying Japanese and provide feedback to that person’s Japanese writing. The Mixxer makes this quite easy. To ensure that all students receive feedback, I personally make comments to each student’s English post even if others have also commented. The final step for my students is to incorporate the feedback they have received on their original post and submit a corrected final draft to me for grading and comment. This final step is vital because it forces students to consider the feedback they have been given and to notice where their English needs improvement. Once students have completed this process twice, most of them understand how they can use the site for their own English practice. I only require students to use The Mixxer twice during a semester, and students have commented in their end-of-course surveys that they enjoyed using this website for language learning. Some have even continued using it on their own.
The Mixxer has a Japanese version of their site for those students who are not proficient enough or comfortable enough to engage the web totally in English. The Language Interface box on the left side of the homepage has buttons to change the site’s language. The Mixxer has also recently added tools to make the site more attractive to educators. Teachers can create a class group and invite native speakers to join the class, giving the teacher more control over who is interacting with the students.
I hope that you find this tool helpful in language learning and teaching. I’ve had great success finding Russian speakers with whom to practice writing and speaking, and there are thousands of language learners speaking dozens of languages waiting for you and your students to join in the mix. Questions about using The Mixxer can be directed to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
My goal for the future of the Wired column is to use it as a forum for sharing successful examples of technology in the language classroom. If you have a tool, website, or piece of hardware you’d like to share, please contact me at <email@example.com> and we’ll work to help you share your experience with your fellow TLT readers. Until next time, stay wired!