For my conversation course this past semester (the one where I was not using a textbook), I decided to try a new service called Talkabroad. With this service, students purchase 30 minute conversations with native speakers, done through Skype. The professor has his/her own area where they can find all the uploaded conversations to listen to.
Here’s a short clip from the company that pretty much summarizes my own reason for trying their service.
My experience has actually been excellent. My students were required to buy five conversations (they are $15 for each, or $10 if you buy 5). Because we did not have a book for the course, I felt that the $50 dollars was cheaper than the book option. The course was divided into five sections, so we would study vocabulary and expressions related to one topic (for example politics, as it was election time, or immigration) and then students would have to do their 30 minute conversation with the native speaker and include some questions about the topic. Sometimes there were certain required questions, although most of the time I gave the students freedom to talk about their interests.
These are the things I enjoyed about Talkabroad:
- The conversation partners were very nice and caring individuals and although it was a job for them, they were very patient and kind. They rarely sounded bored, or uninterested in the students and if they would notice that a student was stuck, they were always helpful to ease the situation.
- The few times we have some technical glitches, these were solved immediately, and I did not have to be involved. In some cases, extra conversations were offered free.
- For any problem that could arise, I knew I could just e-mail Todd Nichols, the University representative, and he always responded right away.
Students also felt that they learned with TalkAbroad. In an informal survey I conducted at the end of the semester, most of them indicated that they either learned a lot or very much from the service, although they also commented that it was hard and the first conversations were a bit intimidating to them.
And in my final evaluations, although one student said that it was the thing that he disliked the most about the course, and another mentioned that s/he did not like it because it was hard work, another student wrote “Talk abroad was always fun and I think a GREAT way to learn.”
Here’s a short snippet from one of the conversations my students had this semester.
As you can hear, it is very basic and simple but one thing I felt was beneficial was the fact that most students had five different partners, so they always had to spend the first 5 to 10 minutes talking about places of origin, likes and dislikes, etc. which gave them a lot of confidence as most conversations with new people always start the same.
I also think TalkAbroad could be a great tool for those students who need to take the OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview) (required in most states to become a certified Spanish teacher). The OPI is usually a telephone conversation (it can also be in person) which lasts exactly 30 minutes. Although the OPI interviewers are trained educators (unlike the TalkAbroad partners), the 30 minute conversations in TalkAbroad can help our students develop fluency and learn to control their nerves when talking to a stranger.
All in all, I highly recommend this service for university students, as it is easy to implement and it can really help our students improve in their speaking skills.
Let me know if you have any questions about TalkAbroad!