I was actually quite surprised by how much we were able to talk about in those 15 minutes!
My heart was racing as I watched the minutes pass on my computer's screen. It would only be five minutes until I would have my first Boomalang conversation. I looked around, hoping to find someone to help me through this experience (even though I knew I couldn't be rescued). As I saw my that my partner was now online, a renewed fear came over me. It was now only two minutes until my rendezvous with destiny!
How did I even end up here, having a conversation with a Spanish speaker? What would I even get out of this experience? Most importantly, I thought to myself, could this be implemented in the language classroom?
In this article, I will tackle:
How I first began using Boomalang
My many experiences with the program
How to prepare yourself/your students for conversations on Boomalang
How it all started
As many of you know, the language learning field is saturated with resources. With a world more interconnected and interdependent than ever, the language learning industry has boomed, with ample competition sprouting up in the past few years. Because of the interwoven world, one school in Ireland has begun to teach an international business class and a foreign language course in tandem!
When I first began learning foreign languages on my own, it was like stepping out into a land mine. With no clue on where to start, or where to go, my first attempts at learning Italian were spent mostly on grammatical lessons at home, with the occasional conversation with somebody in my community who spoke Italian.
As I did my research on different methods on learning foreign languages, I found that speaking as a primary way of learning would be a fantastic fit for me. Why? I love to socialize with people, and I find that if a word or a certain grammatical structure is put into use during the conversation, I remember that certain aspect of the language better than using another way of learning the material, such as through flashcards.
Not that there's anything wrong with flashcards; they just don’t fit my personal learning style. While that strategy might work for someone who may be more of a passive learner, I prefer a more active learning strategy. Your success in language learning depends on your ability to find activities and exercises that you find interesting and engaging.
Fortunately, I met Chris from Boomalang last year at the New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers (NYSAFLT) Annual Conference, in Buffalo, New York. I was actually presenting that day, with the presentation being titled, “Say Goodbye to Shy: From Cautious to Confident in the Classroom”. I emphasized the need to speak the target language in class more, instead of passively absorbing it.
It was clear that Chris and I shared very similar views on the subject of using a foreign language in the real world. After my presentation, he introduced himself, and Boomalang. I immediately sensed that this could be a great program to be implemented not only by teachers and professors, but also independent language learners like myself.
After a few months, I decided to try Boomalang out for myself, since I wanted to see what the program had to offer. I also wanted to test out my language skills in Spanish, since I had been passively absorbing it for the first half of my school year. There was a mix of sheer nerves and excitement, but one thing was for certain; I would break out of my comfort zone that day!
I booked my first conversation for 15 minutes, because I was fairly confident that I could have a conversation for that amount of time, but maybe not 30. One thing I tried to do was “pre-plan” my conversations- what my partner would say, what I would say back, etc. It is like a script for, at least, the beginning part of my exchange.
As soon as I began the beginning of my conversation, I immediately went into my “script”, and I began to feel comfortable and at ease with my partner. I even threw in some slang from my partner’s country, and from there we established a rapport with one another.
From there, I didn’t know where the conversation would go. I hoped that it would steer towards a topic that I was knowledgeable about, but that wasn’t a given. Fortunately, my exchange partner and I had a lot in common, and we began to talk about our shared love of basketball.
I was actually quite surprised by how much we were able to talk about in those 15 minutes! Starting with basketball, we then proceeded to talk about the schooling system in the United States, immigrant communities, and top it all off with discussing South American cultures!
There was a bit of irony with my first conversation. Although we talked about so many different things, it went by for me in a flash. The exchange was a huge confidence and motivational booster for me, since I was able to tap into passive vocabulary that I hadn’t used in a long time.
Unfortunately, I became very busy during the rest of my school year, and the weeks following. I missed my conversations so much! Once things started to slow down for me, I booked a full 30 minute conversation. I had moved up two and a half levels in my school’s Spanish system (another story for another day), so I felt empowered with even more vocabulary and grammar structures.
Once again, the half-hour session went by too quick for me! Since my partner was from Mexico, I was able to talk with her about the recent election in her country. We talked about our respective pets as well, and even about tennis! Going into the conversation, I didn’t think I knew much vocabulary on tennis, but my friend helped me when I was struggling. I came out with more tennis vocabulary than when I started, so I considered that a success in itself!
I have had an incredible experience with Boomalang! As of now, I still have some more credits left for conversations. I can’t wait to discuss all sorts of things in the exchanges that I will have! Another feature I can’t wait to use is the Boomalang French team. I have taken French since my 7th grade year, and it is a language that I don’t get to practice often. Until then, keep conversing in Spanish on Boomalang!
James Corl is a teenage polyglot who enjoys taking his language insights to others around the world. He gave a presentation of the NYSAFLT Annual Conference last year and also gave a guest lecture for a class of graduate students at Indiana University at Pennsylvania (IUP). He is currently seeking additional opportunities to guest lecture at universities. He has 5 guest lectures to choose from, covering a wide variety of subjects in the language classroom. As a junior in high school, James also enjoys playing basketball and tennis in his free time. If you are interested, please send him an email on his email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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