Bilingual social networking site provides experience outside of classroom

By Kellye Coleman

The Internet has led to a shift in the way many individuals complete everyday tasks, such as shopping, reading and communicating, and a new online resource may impact the way people learn languages worldwide.

Bilingual Chat is a social networking site in which language learners have the opportunity to talk with native speakers through forums, instant messaging and video and voice chatting.

The free resource was established in April of this year, and several Elon faculty and students say they think the website has the potential to be an effective learning tool.

“My overall reaction from when I first saw it is that it seemed very much like Facebook, but just a lot more productive,” Shannalee Van Beek, an Elon senior, said.

The website has features similar to those found on Facebook, allowing individuals to send and receive friend requests, check a newsfeed and join groups.

Van Beek, an Arabic tutor on campus, has signed up for an account in hopes of using it to practice Arabic, Dutch and Spanish, saying that the site may offer learning opportunities that tend to be absent from the classroom experience.

“A lot of assignments we get are more translation-type things, and with that you have the luxury of time,” she said. “When you’re conversing with someone you’re kept on your toes, and you are falling back on the words that you do know.”

Shannalee Van Beek, Elon senior, discusses the importance of conversation skills and practice when learning a new language:

Jamie Sprenger, a 2008 Davidson graduate, created the website after struggling to find a way to practice Spanish and Portuguese. “I decided that since what I needed wasn’t available, I’d create it myself,” Sprenger said.

The site boasts the advantages of its services, including the opportunity to learn about international culture and travel and a break from vocabulary memorization.

Nicole Librandi, adjunct foreign language professor at Elon, says Bilingual Chat can serve as a nice supplement to classes or books. “It would be different from the classroom experience specifically because it would provide a real-life chance to use Italian,” she said.

According to Samuele Pardini, associate professor of Italian, there is a significant difference between language theory and experience, something he experienced when first learning English.

“What you learn in the classroom is of course necessary, and it’s foundational,” Pardini said. “But it’s like learning the rules of driving. You learn them, and that’s how you get your drivers license, but nobody respects those rules 100 percent.”

This applies to languages, with tenses used differently than what may be found in a textbook, accents changing from one location in a country to another and the speed at which native speakers communicate much faster than that of a fellow student, he said.

Both Librandi and Pardini said they would suggest the site to students, but understand some of the limitations.

“There is no way you can do this in the classroom,” Pardini said. “I teach Italian and there is a six-hour difference between Italy and the east coast. So, you have to be self-motivated.”

“I have already mentioned it to my students, some of whom were interested, but others were leery of it, worried about potential inappropriate partners,” Librandi said.

According to Sprenger, the site is monitored closely and accounts that are used inappropriately are deleted. “Members should not be wary of sharing information during registration because we do not ask for credit card info or any other personal details.”

The site launched in April 2011, and has grown rapidly, Sprenger said. “Users should keep checking back with the website as the membership is building up. New members from around the world are joining every day.”

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One thought on “Bilingual social networking site provides experience outside of classroom

  1. This is a really interesting story about a new tool I did not know about. You have a typo in the third paragraph – missing a space between words. You did a GREAT job framing the video clip well, in a nice setting and Van Beek was a good interview. Too bad the airplane flew over right when you were shooting it! It’s not too distracting to hear the plane, but it was all so perfectly set up otherwise that I feel for you!

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