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French-English Skype Group Sessions 2 & 3

French-English Skype Group

Students discussing this week's topic: The London Riots

The last two sessions could not have been more different. In Session 2, where students discussed the Arab Spring, we encountered many technical problems and the turnout was quite low, whereas session 3, which had the theme of the London Riots, had practically no technical hitches and a good turnout. As there were more LSE students than French students we had a combination of pairs and groups of 3. The disadvantage with groups of 3 is that they cannot use their webcams (only premium skype accounts allow for group video calling), however it is good practice for language learners as it is mimics a real life situation; at their level they should be able to have a 3 way conversation comfortably.

We have noticed that students are not making the most of the Screen Share function which is very handy when having a discussion. Visual stimulation tends to aid discussion especially if they are in groups of 3 and therefore not using the webcams.

We have given the students the following tips for next week:

With Screen Share you can:

  • Watch a video and talk to your partner/group at the same time
  • Pause a video at an interesting point and discuss it
  • Pause a video when there is a word/sentence you do not understand and ask your partner to explain it (you could use the ‘chat’ function for spelling)
  • Look through an article and pick out vocabulary and phrases in French/English to clarify or discuss
  • Look at photos together and describe/discuss them

Next week’s topic is Social Networking, a theme I think the students will be particularly interested in. We also plan to let one of the student groups try group video calling using the Language Centre premium account.


French-English Skype Group

Slightly less chaotic than last year’s Second Life Virtual Learning Group but only just! 12 English and 12 French students will be exchanging their languages for 5 weeks; and so begins the French-English Skype Group..

We’ve got some interesting topics lined up and this year we are including online content such as videos and podcasts as well as news articles for the students to discuss each week. The first session last week was a ‘getting to know each other’ session as well as getting to know the platform and its more advanced functions such as screen sharing. Screen sharing is a very easy function but a lot of people don’t know how to use it; it enables a user to show the person they are talking to their screen; for example they can show presentations, photos and videos and discuss them at the same time.

Tomorrow is the second session and the topic is the Arab Spring/Révolution Arabe and we have asked the students to prepare using the following resources:

French resources:

English Resources:

Africa at LSE Blog –
Arab spring: an interactive timeline of Middle East protests –

Video Content – Compare and comment on these two speeches:
Obama –
Cameron –

Virtual Learning Group Last Session

A selection of snapshots from the last session.

21st March was our last session of the Virtual Learning Group on Second Life. I think the regular participants got a lot out of the sessions. Contact with French native speakers. Confidence in speaking. Motivation to improve their French. Some students did drop out or only came occasionally; we have sent out a Feedback form and hope to find out their reasons.

We plan to run more of these sessions but not until the new academic year. We are still unsure whether to continue with Second Life or to try another platform such as Skype. A possibility is to combine the two, starting off with Skype and then going on to Second Life. It would be very interesting to be able to compare the two platforms with the same group of students.

Questions which arose from these sessions:

  • Did we really use Second Life to its full potential?
  • Do the benefits of such a dynamic platform outweigh the technical issues or vice versa?
  • Are 5 sessions enough to gain a real insight into the potential of Second Life for language learning?
  • Would another platform such as Skype serve the purpose just as well?
  • Would it be useful for students if we recorded the sessions using a programme such as Camsoft?

I look forward to repeating and developing this project next year.

Virtual Learning Group 4th Session

Two avatars discussing "The Evolution of Language"

Two avatars discussing "The Evolution of Language"

Despite major technical difficulties on the French side, it was another good session. The theme was “The Evolution of Language” and again, while monitoring the groups, I heard some very good discussions. Not all the English students turned up so the groups were made up of one English student and two French students. This seemed to work well despite several of the French students’ avatars regularly disappearing; they were having major problems with some of their computers which kept on crashing. We are not sure whether this was due to the Second Life upgrade; upgrades can be a real problem as all the computers in the Language Centre study area have to be updated, which is a lengthy process and can have a knock on effect producing technical problems on the platform.

Interesting comments from the discussion on “The Evolution of Language”

  • Technology, especially social networking, has changed the way we speak
  • We use a lot of Frenglish such as “Je te phone” and “Je suis aware”
  • We use many more abbreviations now when we write, due to texting
  • “Google” is now a verb!

Leading to some discussions about the use of technology in general:

  • Should cell phones be banned in work meetings?
  • Do we have less freedom now our mothers can text us to ask us where we are?

Virtual Learning Group 3rd Session

Group Photo

Group Photo: an interesting bunch of avatars

A highly successful session; some very interesting discussions on Cultural Stereotyping and the students are becoming more and more proficient at navigating within Second Life. They now have fewer technical queries and are able to move around, teleport and communicate with other avatars easily.

The exchange of languages continues to be fruitful with students engaging with the topics and gaining confidence in their target language. Myself and the other two facilitators now mostly stay inworld to monitor the groups instead of going to the students’ computers to help them out. The discussion within the groups generally flows aided by notecards containing suggestions for discussion and vocabulary hints.

Some anecdotes from the session:

  • One group decided to have their discussion in the swimming pool despite one of them wearing a full ball gown (her avatar appears in the photo above)
  • One avatar’s clothing did not generate for the entire session and another avatar appeared only as a particle cloud.
  • Some teleport boards continue to teleport us into the sea..
  • A French student, while discussing stereotypes, was overheard to say the following; “The British have the best tea in the world but the worst teeth.”

Next Monday is a bank holiday in France so the next session will be in two weeks time. We are thinking of taking the students to visit some other islands within Second Life, any suggestions are welcome!

Virtual Learning Group 2nd Session

Teleport Board Castor's Retreat

Students teleported to different locations in their groups

After updating all our computers to the latest version of Second Life (2.5) we were able to solve the sound issues we had in the first session.  We met on the LSE island Castor’s Retreat and sent the students off in pairs and small groups to different locations on the island via the Teleport Board (see photo above). As the students are part of the “Opening Learning Group” we can send them all notecards and notices in one click. We used this function to send them notecards with questions, vocabulary and suggestions for disscussion on the articles they had prepared in both French and English. For the first 30 minutes the discussion was in French, then half-way through the session we sent out a notice announcing the discussion should continue in English.

This session was smoother than the first because there were few technical issues and we attempted to give the session a clearer structure. The students are also now becoming more familiar with the platform. However, a few things did go wrong such as the teleport board transporting some avatars into the sea instead of the correct location and students flying off to explore the island instead of staying with their group. I look forward to Session 3 which will have a similar structure and this week’s articles will be on the theme of cultural stereotyping.

Virtual Learning Group 1st Session

Virtual Learning Group 1st Session

Virtual Learning Group 1st Session

Chaos. Excitement. Sound issues. French or English? Voice chat or text chat? Totally absorbed students. Can’t wait for Session two..

The 1st session of the Virtual Learning group was successful but not exactly smooth; chaotic would be a better description. The session had been well organised with a clear structure but some things are unpreditable. We had technical issues, specifically the sound. The sound worked for some but not for others. For several students the voice chat worked only in a private call not in a local call. Nevertheless, there was a lot of interaction, a lot of French and English was exchanged and there was never a dull moment. The students were very focused although a few were frustated by the sound issues but these were overcome; they either used the text chat (still very useful for language practise I think) or used private voice chat to talk to the French students in pairs.

This was a “getting to know each other” session and each student had previously sent in a powerpoint slide with a few photos to represent their life which were then put on notice boards. The students were put into groups of 4 and their main tasks were to introduce themselves to the group, using the photos on the boards, and then to chat to other members of the group about their photos and their lives. We had decided to use EdunationI as the plots are sound tight but I think perhaps this was a mistake and we will be using the LSE Island from now on. Université Blaise Pascal’s site is probably too small for so many avatars whereas the LSE Island is much larger and there is more freedom to move around. The idea was for the groups to stay in one area next to their group’s notice board and to use the seats provided (see photo above) but not all the students wanted to stay put or to sit down. This did create some confusion and it was not always clear who was talking to who. This problem I think can be solved by giving groups more space to move around in.

We are testing and investigating the sound issues this week and I really hope we can have the problems solved by next Monday for session two so that we can concentrate on the tasks and language exchange.

Virtual Language Learning

Castor's Retreat - LSE's island on Second Life

Tomorrow we begin the French/English Virtual learning group on Second Life. Last week, there was a last minute surge in interest and we now have 10 students signed up, which nearly matches the French group of 11 students.  All but one of the students has had a one hour training session on Second Life and only one of these had any previous experience of the platform. We have decided to hold the first session on Université Blaise Pascal’s site on EdunationI as the plots are sound tight. We thought it may have been confusing for the novice SL students to have mixed sound. If all goes well the following sessions will take place on LSE’s SL island Castor’s Retreat (see image above). It will be interesting to see how these SL novices fare on their first day and how much French and English will be exchanged.

Second Life and Language Learning

It is two weeks until the start of a new project I am involved in: The Virtual Tandem Learning French-English Group. It is a long title but the idea is simple: a group of French students from L’Université Blaise Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand, France and a group of English students from LSE will log onto Second Life for an hour every Monday and exchange their languages. Tandem Learning is a programme we have at the LSE Language Centre where we hold language exchange events. One reason we started this Virtual Tandem group is because we normally have problems finding enough native speakers for our students to practise with. The French students from L’Université Blaise Pascal are all advanced learners of English and the English students from LSE are advanced learners of French, studying the language either as part of their degree or as an extra-curricular course. It is a bit nerve wracking as we don’t yet have enough English students signed up; this could be because it is being held on Second Life and not everyone is familiar with this platform. It could also be because we are looking for native English speakers with a high level of French and the majority of our language students are not native English speakers.