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How to Connect Your Foreign Language Students with the World

1. Find Native Speakers

In terms of finding a school or classroom with which your students can collaborate, there is no better place to look than the World Wide Web. “People need to get out there and establish an online presence,” says Toni Theisen, a French teacher at a high school level. If you are looking for a sister classroom, there are online communities all over the place that are just waiting to be notified of your request.

The ACTFL Online Community:

There are a variety of tools available on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages website, www.actfl.org, including a new networking hub that allows foreign language teachers to connect through discussion groups and blogs.

An acronym for the American Association of Teachers of Any Language (ATOL).

Through forums and conferences, the American Association of Teachers of French, for example, facilitates collaboration among colleagues in the field of French education. Other organizations with which to network include the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, the American Association of Teachers of German, and the Chinese Language Teachers Association, to name a few examples.

The National K-12 Foreign Language Resource Center is comprised of the following organizations:

To improve K-12 foreign language teaching across the country, this initiative at Iowa State University, whose mission is to connect like-minded teachers, is a good place to start.

Sites for World Language Teachers to Collaborate: http://www.worldlanguageteachers.org/

Theisen created both a Ning — a social-networking site for groups with common interests — and a Wiki — a collaborative Web site — to serve as forums for language teachers to express themselves, share resources, and generally have a good time together. Visit the World Languages Teachers 2.0 Ning and the World Languages 21st Century Collaboration and Conversation Wikispace to learn more about world languages education.


Here, Theisen met one of her classes’ foreign correspondents, and she learned that this is a powerful and quick way to connect with teachers all over the world. Try Twitter for Teachers if you want to learn how to tweet.

Pen Pals Without the Need for a Pen:

If you’re looking for an essential pen pal resource for a social networking site geared toward connecting students, look no further than ePals. This resource allows educators to search for classrooms around the world using a map tool, a list of ongoing collaborative projects, or online forums.

To establish a Sister-School Partnership, follow these steps:

If you’re looking for a larger, ongoing partnership with a school-wide scope, Sister Cities International is a good place to start. Membership in a sister-schools tool kit — a comprehensive collection of resources, projects, and guidance — is available to all members.

Among the organizations listed in the tool kit are Seeds of Learning, a non-profit that connects classrooms in the United States with schools in El Salvador and Nicaragua, as well as the Asia Society, which has a wealth of information on its website, including an article titled “How to Forge Partnerships with Schools in China.”

The Virtual Is Derived from the Physical:

Pen pal relationships are frequently formed as a result of personal connections. It was through a former student of Toni Theisen’s who was working as a teaching assistant at a school in La Réole, France, that the idea for a class wiki was conceived. If you don’t already have such a connection, you could try contacting English teachers in other countries; their schools might be just as excited to have native speakers to correspond with as you are to have them. Take a look at the ESL Teachers Board, a comprehensive resource that includes hundreds of English teachers from around the world as well as international English language schools.

Even if you don’t have access to technology:

Even though the Internet was not yet invented, Toni Theisen tried something similar long before the Internet was invented: Using phone books she had brought back from various cities in France, she instructed her students to flip through the pages and choose names at random from the list to write to. Students had the opportunity to put their French skills to the test while also brightening someone’s day; in some cases, they received heartfelt responses and were able to maintain relationships as a result of their efforts.

2. Once you’ve located them, make contact with them!

Whenever you’ve established a connection with a promising school, whether it’s in your neighborhood or on the other side of the world, you’re prepared to begin communicating with them. One of the cheapest and most straightforward methods is to make use of Skype, which is a free, online video-calling service. A Skype account can be obtained by visiting Skype.com, clicking on the free software download button, and entering a user name and password; the process is similar to that of creating an email account. All it takes is a quick double-click to start videoconferencing with the teacher or classroom you’re connecting with (as well as the time they’re available).

Joe Dale, a U.K.-based educator, writes on his blog, JoeDale.typepad.com, about the many advantages of using Skype in the foreign language classroom and provides additional tips and tricks.


Voxopop.com, which is essentially a message board with voices, is another Internet service that allows a group of people located anywhere on the planet to communicate with one another for free over the Internet (Voxopop has a “record a message” button on each message board). You can either start your own “talkgroup” or join an already-established group. Toni Theisen’s students enjoy it, and she uses it in her classroom. Look up Voxopop in this Web 2.0 Tools for Teachers manual from learning-technology consultant Nik Peachey for more information on how to use it.

Wiki Wonderland is a place where anyone can create anything.

A wiki space can be a simple and effective clearinghouse for student work — and it can also facilitate communication with students all over the world through the use of podcasts, slideshows, videos, and discussion forums, among other features. Toni Theisen’s technology wiki has a step-by-step tutorial on how to create your wiki space. You can find it here.

3. But don’t stop there! Keep going!

Check out the rest of Toni Theisen’s technology wiki for a plethora of additional resources, as well as detailed step-by-step instructions. On this page, you’ll find downloadable how-tos for using VoiceThread (and other tech tools) for online communication and class projects, as well as Voki (and other tech tools). Check out the technology links page on Jessica Haxhi’s K-8 world-languages-methodology wiki for more information.