Assessing Willingness to Communicate for Academically, Culturally, and Linguistically Different Language Learners: Can English Become a Virtual Lingua Franca via Electronic Text-Based Chat?

Assessing Willingness to Communicate for Academically, Culturally, and Linguistically Different Language Learners: Can English Become a Virtual Lingua Franca via Electronic Text-Based Chat?

Mark R. Freiermuth (Gunma Prefectural Women's University, Japan) and Hsin-chou Huang (National Taiwan Ocean University, Taiwan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5140-9.ch004
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Synchronous electronic communication has provided opportunities for language learners in different locales to have meaningful dialogue with one another and highlighted the importance of English even in the context of EFL settings. In this chapter, the authors designed an intercultural electronic chat task to see if students from different cultural backgrounds, with different English language abilities, with different L1s, and who have different academic interests would be willing to communicate using English. Sixteen Taiwanese university students, who were marine science majors (lower proficiency group), chatted electronically in small groups with 27 Japanese university students, who had been studying English for two years (higher proficiency group). Student commentary to a broad-based questionnaire revealed that all participants were willing to communicate in English and did so. Even the lower proficiency group found the task meaningful, pointing out that chat gave them the opportunity to participate fully in the discussion, learn from their peers, and gain confidence, all of which motivated them.
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Collaborative Tasks in CMC

The success of a telecollaboration project, such as the one at hand, depends on the wise design of tasks. To make intercultural tasks attractive to students, teachers need to design them in a way that will foster student engagement using real communication. According to Skehan (1996, p. 20),

tasks are activities which have meaning as their primary focus. Success in tasks is evaluated in terms of achievement of an outcome, and tasks generally bear some resemblance to real-life language use.

While engaged in such tasks, learners can receive comprehensible input and modified output, which are central to second language acquisition. The basic rationale for task-based language teaching is based on SLA research. As examples, (1) tasks should provide both input and output processing, (2) task activity and achievement can be motivational as tasks should engage learners in meaningful communication, (3) learning difficulties during task activities can be negotiated and fine-tuned for particular pedagogical purposes, and (4) learners can acquire grammar as a by-product of fulfilling tasks, as tasks can drive second language acquisition (Brown, 2001, p. 229).

In addition, O’Dowd and Ware (2009) reviewed 40 studies on intercultural exchanges and concluded that 12 general types of tasks utilized in the classroom are primarily composed of three categories: information exchange, comparison/analysis, and collaboration/product creation. Common tasks include: introductions, comparisons, analyzing parallel texts, questionnaires, critical reflection, and discussions (online and in-class).

These studies also contribute to the understanding of intercultural learning from CMC and cultural interaction perspectives as well. For example, using online programs has the positive potential of developing intercultural awareness; online programs facilitate negotiation of meaning and focus on intercultural issues; email exchange develops intercultural learning; and cultural questions reduce prejudice and stereotypes while increasing intercultural understanding. In our study, we define task as an EFL intercultural activity or goal that is carried out via the affordances of electronic text-based chatting. Via the tacit objectives of jointly resolving a map task, text-based chat was used here to foster communication and intercultural awareness with global peers across the ocean using the target language, English. More specifically, the task was designed for two groups of EFL students—a mixed (male and female) group of Marine Sciences students from a Taiwanese university and a group of female International Communication students who had been studying English intensively for two years in a Japanese university.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Asynchronous Communication: From the viewpoint of electronic communication, it generally refers to communication that is not simultaneously dialogic. A good example is e-mail.

Computer-Mediated Communication: Communication that uses some kind of computer device as the channel for successful interaction.

Motivation: From a language learning perspective, it refers to the amount of psychological effort learners are willing to put forth towards learning the language.

Intercultural Learning: As a language learning concept, it refers to learning that is dependent on the interaction between two (or more) different cultures or societies. Apart from the learning of the target language, the deeper aim includes promoting affiliation and understanding between the two cultures.

Text-Based Chat: Keyboard-generated electronic chat that is simultaneously dialogic. There is also voice-based chat, video and voice-based chat, as well as either of these in combination with keyboard-generated chat.

International Posture: This term refers to a psychological stance that foreign language learners take regarding the cultures associated with the language being learned. If they have a strong international posture, they may be more willing to communicate in the target language even if they have no means or opportunities to live in or even visit one of those places where the target language is being spoken.

Ideal-Self: This is a psychological construct often connected to motivation and learning. Specifically, ideal-self is an idealized version of oneself that an individual envisions, which is dependent on learning something to become that person, which in turn generally motivates that person to learn.

Web 2.0: Web 2.0 is the second iteration of the web, which incorporates users as producers of web content. There is also the notion that the web is a place of collaboration and where learning can take place through interaction with the web and with others using the web.

Synchronous Communication: From the viewpoint of electronic communication, it generally refers to communication that is simultaneously dialogic. A good example is Skype chatting.

Willingness to Communicate: A psychological concept associated with motivation. From a language learning perspective, simply put, it is the amount psychological effort language learners are willing to expend to communicate with others in the target language.

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