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by Erica Fischer on Feb 18, 2014

Tips and Resources for Interacting with Native Language Speakers

video conference by jencu, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  jencu 

During the pre-Valentine’s day #langchat, participants were sharing the resource love by talking about some of the best ways to incorporate native language speaking interactions into the classroom. Not only were some of the best online apps discussed, but the virtues of old-fashioned pen-pals were extolled and some excellent tips were shared from teachers who have years of experience managing native language speaking activities.

Ways to Incorporate Native Language Interactions

Connecting with native language speakers is one of the most effective ways of getting students excited and personally connected to the target language. It’s one of the reasons why people have been using as a teaching tool for so long. Even though the technology has changed from simple pen and paper written interaction, the basic structure of incorporating these interactions is virtually unchanged from 100 years ago.

Traditional Pen Pals

Although it might seem archaic, traditional pen-pals are a great way to get students started communicating and writing in the target language. @nico1e said, “Pen pal classes can exchange physical letters first(gets excitement going) then email, video.”

Still, it can be a little tricky to set up and may require some effort on the part of the teacher.
@cforchini said, “Been blessed- started snail mail exchange 20 years ago with a school in Spain, still going strong, +15 trips, teacher is one of my bff’s.”

A couple of hints about doing it the old fashioned way: it’s important to be in contact with the teacher directly as well as forgetting about the old one-on-one rule. By staying in contact with the other teacher, you can manage your curriculum so that you are always working on similar vocabulary and themes. And doing a group batch of pen-pal letters is a much better choice to avoid the unfortunate disappearing pen-pal scenario. @nico1e said, “I’ve had WAY more success just doing bunches of letters, no matching students. No more tears! Absentee = no letter = sad.”

Asynchronous Video

An updated version of the pen-pal system, this communication method hinges on creating “video diaries” to share with a classmate who lives in another part of the world. This is a great method, since it’s not reliant on time to manage the meeting. Instead, one classroom can create a “video diary” and send it to the corresponding class on their own time, instead of having to synchronize disparate schedules.

Synchronous Video/Text Exchanges

The ultimate in native language exchange, this method actually connects students learning a language with native speakers in real time. There are many apps and software platforms that provide this kind of interactive experience. Although it is engaging for students, it can sometimes be difficult to combine schedules.

Many teachers were excited to share their favorite platforms for synchronous video and text exchanges, such as SkypeClassroom, Twitter and Google+ Hangouts. Although they each have their own special benefits, the goal of each is to provide real-time communication that can inform the language learning process.

Live Speakers

Another standard method of encouraging native interaction with language students is by having speakers interact with them in person. These can be members of the community, language learners with more advanced skills or leadership figures. @SraSpanglish said, “I’ve invited Hispanic community representatives to give feedback on presentations in Spanish.” Other great guests include bilingual business professionals, college students and colleagues who have overcome language barriers to succeed in a second language.

A great point was brought up, however. When including guest speakers in your classroom, make sure that both the students and the speaker are prepared to speak about a certain theme, topic or event to ensure that the interaction is focused and informative.

Service Learning

One of the most unique methods of the night was the concept of service-oriented native language interaction. While @Bport_ModLangs shared their program that allowed students to interact with native language learners in their community, teachers like @SraSpanglish and @senoraCMT talked about sending aid, letters and packages to native speakers in needy countries.

@senoraCMT suggested finding needy individuals through the help of NGOs or non-profit organizations in the target language-speaking countries. She said, “Find non profits doing charity work in the area you want students to connect with. Dump the dump in Guat, @BernieProject in Africa.” @crwmsteach said, “Another possibility is to check with local immigration and refugee services for volunteer opportunities.”

How Do I Connect with Classroom-Friendly Native Speakers?

This exchange brought up an important component of using native speakers for language learning: How do you find individuals and classes to do exchanges with?

In addition to the comments of contacting immigration offices, refugee centers and non-profits, a number of really great ways to find native speakers were shared. @ProfeCochran said, “I contacted the Chamber of Commerce. One bank sent a week’s worth of speakers! We are studying professions, too! Local businesses and Partners in Education are also helpful in providing face-to-face interactions.” @nico1e added, “Ask your local Rotary Club if they can set up with any of their connections from professional or student exchanges.”

Regardless of what method you choose to connect with native speakers, it’s likely it will take a little bit of elbow grease to make happen. Although software platforms like Edmodo and Google+ Hangouts make the actual exchange easier, you still have to find the people you want to talk with. But, the experienced #langchat teachers promised that all that hard work will eventually pay off. @CatherineKU72 said, “I cold-emailed five schools in Angers asking principals to connect our classes with interested teachers. Got 3 offers to video.”

What are the Best Technologies for Facilitating Language Interactions?

So, what are these amazing communication platforms that all the language teachers are talking about? Actually, most of them are things that you probably already use in your daily life or in your classroom instruction.


Skype is free and relatively easy to use across all types of browser platform. On the other hand, the free version only allows for video conferencing between two screens. Many teachers suggested using SkypeClassroom as an alternative, as it also has classroom connecting settings so that you can find the kind of classroom you want to communicate with. In addition, you can record the call and watch it later!

Cool Ways to Use Skype:

  • @SraSpanglish said, “One of the most exciting Skypes we had: kids took their phones, wandered around their school in Argentina!.”
  • @tournesol74 said, “Also asked French friends and family to help via phone or Skype. Students have specific role play task — ordring pizza, asking for directions.”


ePals is a very classroom-friendly setup and allows you to have complete control over the types of exchanges that students are having. @MmeGoodenough said, “I chose ePals because of the filtering- I have to approve emails before the penpal sees them.” @madamebaker shared an important tip for using ePals, however. She said, “Try to connect with several teachers or schools. That way, hopefully, you will find a good match.”

Cool Ways to Use ePals

  • @profesorM said, “I use ePals for culture. My students write Spanish, [the other classroom] writes in English. Everyone wins.”


Twitter is a completely live texting application that can be tailored to find trending topics and speakers in a target language. Not only is it a great way to find classrooms to connect with, but the 140-character limit means that students don’t have to stress about long, drawn-out conversations. @nico1e said, “If you tweet in a foreign language, it’s also a nice break from typical stress of writing “long sentences.” Teach les SMS/textos.” It is not allowed by all school district filters, though, and may require more teacher management than some apps with a higher level of internal security.

Cool Ways to Use Twitter

  • @frenchteacher11 said, “I like the idea of tweeting another class with a specific hashtag.”
  • @frenchteacher11 said, “We tweeted some Quebecois Olympic athletes with some responses -very exciting !”

Other Great Collaboration Technologies

Google+ Hangouts – @Thecrazyprofe said, “Don’t forget Google Hangouts. You can have more than 2 people, and I think the connection is better.”

Edmodo – @AHSblaz said, “We use Edmodo and it is very secure and private.”

Instagram – @nico1e said, “You could search language #hashtags on Instagram and then students work to understand location of photo and caption!”

GoogleDocs – @CatherineKU72 said, “If writing on a GoogleDoc, you can add voice comments to practice even more.”

FlipGrid – @mundaysa said, “I’ve discovered FlipGrid and some natives are helping me.”

VoiceThread – @AHSblaz said, “Voicethread is interactive. Many can post with voice or text and links. Check it out!”

How Can I Make Sure My Kids are Learning During Interactions?

One of the biggest discussions of the night was about how to share time with classroom partnerships when they are focused on using English instead of your target language. @axamcarnes said, “All of my contacts in South America are in bilingual schools. They want to practice their English, so it defeats purpose.” @cforchini agreed, saying, “The reality is that the exchange ends up one sided.”

Some teachers had good suggestions for making sure that the language exchange was equal.

  • @SraSpanglish said, “We split half and half–our turn for L2 then their turn for their L2”
  • @profesorM said, “Conundrum- they want to practice Eng, we want to practice Italian… How to resolve? Your class writes Italian, they write English.”
  • @SenoraDiamond55 said, “Each side has diff goals, so allocate X min for each to be language experts? A bit of give and take, but fair.”

There were several other very good pieces of advice when working with classrooms that function in the target language, specifically about keeping students engaged and focused on appropriate goals. @SraSpanglish said, “One of the main things is make sure everyone’s busy. Another thing to do is make sure the interaction goals are level appropriate–I’ve been overambitious before.”

Tips for Doing Online Classroom Interactions

  • @msfrenchteach said, “Ensure that your goals match (or are very similar) to your cooperating teacher.”
  • @msfrenchteach said, “Social Media is great for connections w/natives, but needs accountability (if want meaningful collab.)”
  • @crwmsteach said, “Be patient; school calendars are diff; a slow response does NOT mean they don’t like you.”
  • @alisonkis said, “Preteach vocabulary, discuss accent in class and understand why before conversing with native speakers.”
  • @CecileLaine said, “Don’t invite native just to chat. Connect to a topic, prework, reduce anxiety, teach negotiation.”
  • @nico1e said, “It’s also reassuring [for native guests] to realize that mistakes are normal. They also have “AHA!” moments seeing “I have fourteen years”.”
  • @CecileLaine said, “I invite speakers to speak about a specific topic, so we prep the topic beforehand. That helps students a lot!”

Thank You

Thanks so much to @msfrenchteach for taking charge of our conversation about native language interactions. So many great ideas, examples and resources were shared, it was pretty hard to keep up! If you’d like to read the whole discussion, check out the full transcript here.

Also, we’d like to thank you for being a vital part of #langchat! Every week, we are pleasantly surprised each week to find out what wonderful suggestions and comments you have to share with us. If you have something specific you’d like to discuss, or just simply want to share your feelings about the topic at hand, please get involved on our forum page. We love to know how to better connect you with the wonderful #langchat PLN!

Additional Resources

La Clase de Señorita Bienert
Mes conversations avec les olympiens canadiens
Cecile Laine Twitter
Digital Tools for Teaching Speaking and Listening Skills
Talk to Me: Genius Hour Experiment, Part 7
Instagram mvhsfrancais
Winning Agua es Vida PSA
After the Skype Session
Interpersonal Playbook
La France vue par les Français
APB Speakers International
Clichés sous-titré
Connecting Students to Target Language Speakers
Creating Global Connections for World Language Teaching

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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