By Laura Waters
Over the last 2 months, I have been 'chatting' using Skype computer to computer calling. I have had 7 such sessions.
The purpose of using this technology is to give the EFL language learner practice in listening and speaking to a native speaker of English. The chats are schedules for 1/ 2 hour twice a week. The primary tool we use is the verbal, but often the learner will type a word that she feels I can't understand, or she's not sure how to pronounce, using the text chat feature.
I find that I need/use the text chat option of SKYPE to describe phonetically, (though not IPA) pronunciations - long 'e', I"ll type as eeee, for example. I've had good success with the connection- clear audio - only a couple of times have I had to terminate and place the call again - the line seems to clear up. Once, the text was slow to appear. I've not had a line dropped.
We don't use a web cam. I had a previous experience (social) with one and it really slowed down the response time. I use a headphone/mic headset - inexpensive brand - works well - we both have hi-speed service.
I would like to have a whiteboard and have heard from somewhere (TESL-L perhaps?) that some are using Yahoo. I checked recently MSN and see they have whiteboard and audio, though I haven't tried using it for any purpose.
I know she uses a bilingual dictionary while online. I just sent a couple of websites, asking her to explore/use on her own. I don't know how that has worked for the learner because we are on a hiatus - work/vacation schedules and will resume next month. I think we could use and visit them while on SKYPE, and I"ll try that. I have sent clip art and notes a day or two prior to the chat, to the learner's e-mail address in a WORD document to help with vocab.
I have also sent her WORD files of text and dialogues ahead of the next chat- I don't mean her to practice it, but to use as a visual while we practice - stress, intonation, rhythm etc. Then I have sent .wmv files after the chat with my voice recorded to be used as a model in the event she wants to practice/listen. I have sent WORD documents to her through SKYPE,during the chat, and that worked well - not too long to receive or open, but prefer to do it ahead of time, as during the chat the waiting/anticipation is kind of a distraction.
Hope this is helpful to some. I'd love to hear of others' experiences and ideas for use.