Where is the Foreign?: An Inquiry into Person, Place, and the Possibility of Dialogue in an Online French Language Class
KeywordsForeign language instruction
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AbstractThis study brings a qualitative, case study approach to bear upon an ongoing internet-mediated foreign language-learning project between students of French at an American university and their tutors at a partner institution in France, in order to ask a basic question of the telecollaborative language classroom (Belz & Thorne, 2006; O'Dowd, 2007). "Where is the foreign?" represents an attempt to expose the ontological conditions that might enable online students of language in the U.S. to "learn to comprehend speakers of the target language as members of foreign societies and to grasp themselves as Americans"--a central, reflexive component of translingual and transcultural competence as elaborated by the Modern Language Association (2007).Throughout the dissertation, I employ the dialogic principles of philosophers and literary theorists Mikhail Bakhtin and Martin Buber, grounded in a frame analytic approach to online and multimodal discourse, in order to understand whether digital communications technologies affording immediacy and co-presence also afford the boundary-setting, outsideness of perspective, and wholeness of person characteristic of dialogue. Analysis is organized in three case studies that take up, in turn, questions of distance and place, embodiment and person, and interface and reflexivity as they relate to the central concept of foreignness. In each of these areas, I find, students' learning experiences, as represented in their own classroom and retrospective discourse, raise the possibility that simulation (Baudrillard, 1994) plays a significant role in defining the reality of the foreign: foreign places signify difference, but with little ability to contextualize interaction; foreign bodies are audible and visible as images, but difficult to address in their totality; and the cultural mediations of the interface become nearly invisible in the face and gaze of the other.In the conclusion, I suggest that the rise of internet-mediated intercultural language learning projects may be accompanied by unexpected transformations in relations between students and teachers in the face-to-face language classroom, and recommend critical pedagogical interventions that expose the connections between student experiences of body, place, and technology, in realms both online and off, with the goal of creating optimal conditions for language learners' "operation between languages" (MLA, 2007).