Digital Pen Pals Make It Fun to Learn Chinese On Social Media

Primary school students in Melbourne have been using social media to help learn Mandarin while improving their ICT skills as part of a novel research pilot initiated by The University of Melbourne.

The pilot research project “Using Social Media to Teach Asian Languages in Primary Schools” is believed to be the first of its type in the world.

Using the fun i-Fish software program developed at the University, researchers matched up state primary school students, aged 10-12, in Melbourne with children at two sister schools in Huaibei, China.

Teams of two children, one each in China and Melbourne, then worked together over the Edmodo social media platform to complete joint language-learning tasks developed for the project.

Can school children reaching across 8,000 kms of geographical and cultural barriers build friendships via social media that motivate them to learn Chinese?

Project researcher Dr Suelette Dreyfus, of the Department of Computing and Information Systems believes it is possible.

“Research interviews with the children revealed that the foreign language learning experience done across international social media was positive,” she said.

ipad-907577_1280“The children typed in live online chats in Mandarin to their matched partners in China, as well as producing and uploading audio recordings in the target language. Children estimated they chatted with their digital pen pals up to 11 times or up to 2.5 hrs per week, including outside school hours. They also had to learn ICT-familiarisation skills in order to successfully complete the tasks, “ Dr Dreyfus said.

The small experimental project included 14 children across two classes at Clifton Hill Primary School, with an equal number of matched partners in China. The researchers will release the teaching modules developed for the pilot by early 2016 to the public for free online in the hope that teachers across Australia and China will use them.

“This project shows how you can draw two disciplines together – foreign language learning for children and ICTs – to produce something both practical and also really interesting as a research topic,” Dr Dreyfus said.