BLC Travel Grant Report

In August 2012, I attended The Japan Association for Language Education & Technology (J-LET) annual conference in Kobe. I am grateful to the BLC for the generous financial travel support.

At the conference I co-presented with Mark Kaiser a paper on “Developing Intercultural Communicative Competence Through Film Clips.” He introduced the BLC’s ongoing film clips project and provided a theoretical background to the use of film to teach language and culture, drawing on examples from elementary Russian classes. I then described my experiences using film clips in 4th -year Japanese courses, providing examples of how I use the images and dialog in scenes to teach Japanese culture, the creation of meaning in a filmic text, and exercises to develop students’ symbolic competence. This presentation was a great opportunity to share my ideas with educators in Japan. Many members of our audience showed interest in using film clips in their classes (mostly English), but there was some skepticism about whether it is possible to guide students to acquire an advanced level of cultural competence and an understanding of a different way of seeing the world through film clips. I pointed out that film is only one mechanism by which students acquire that competence, but that only through exposure to a variety of authentic texts and classroom discussion of them is such an understanding possible. I indicated that finding the right texts and creating materials for a close reading/viewing of those texts requires a great deal of preparation time, but that it is well worth the effort, and students find it effective for language learning and at the same time, fun.

I also had an opportunity to see some high tech educational software developed by technology companies. They seem to be designed mostly for self-study either in a language lab or at home. One piece of software shows a film clip, and the student is able to block the audio track for one character and practice saying that character’s lines in the dialog. Perhaps this software could be used as follow up material after classroom teaching (if the $25,000 price for the software and hardware becomes more affordable). Students would benefit if educators and technologists could form a project team and develop affordable and effective classroom and self-study materials based on sound pedagogical theory.

Much of the software I saw at the conference looked very professional on screen, but I was left wondering whether it would be effective in teaching language.  Much of what I saw seemed to lack a clear pedagogical foundation, but was enticing for its “eye candy” appeal. I left the conference wondering what the proper balance between technology and human teaching should be, both for oral and written communication. We need to think carefully about what technology can and cannot do. On the one hand, we need to be flexible and open to new approaches and new materials, but at the same time reflect on the effectiveness of new technology. Our students are avid users of technology—I’ve even had students say that they were in love with a young cyber female singer. I remember one student told me that he acquired a basic knowledge of Japanese from an anime fan forum before taking Japanese 1. Students are being exposed to the languages we teach through a wide variety of sources that motivate them to learn the language, and we as language instructors need to adapt to changing student interests.