Awhile back, I was rummaging through some personal belongings, and I stumbled across my old study abroad journal that I kept while studying in Madrid. Unsurprisingly, my reactions to its 15-year-old contents ranged from utter horror to belly laughs to nostalgia.
The rediscovery of my journal got me thinking. Since my semester in Spain 15 long years ago, the world's quite a bit different. These days many of us are more likely to reach for a keyboard rather than a pen and paper. I wonder whether the 2016 student version of me would keep a study abroad journal. I certainly hope so--a written journal can be a special keepsake (just as mine still is) and it brings with it many unique psychological and educational benefits.
But studying abroad, as we all know, is a tremendous opportunity for us to develop our language abilities. It's often the pivotal moment when newly minted majors and minors actually start to sound like serious students of their chosen language. This is because study abroad students often take ambitious pledges to speak only the target language, and, naturally, they enjoy the benefits of built-in immersion.
These days, with the explosion of digital learning tools at our fingertips, I think we're in a great place where we can combine the desire to preserve memories for posterity while enhancing our learning experience through fluency-building.
Extempore is the perfect platform to accomplish this, both for teachers and students. Teachers need only create a predetermined number of "assignments" (i.e. journal entries) with a due date in mind (the end of the week, one a day, etc.). Like any other Extempore speaking activity, students follow the specific instructions provided by the teacher and then share their thoughts and feelings to the best of their ability in the target language. Lastly, the teacher can choose whether the students will provide a video response or simply an audio response.
And the possible topics for journal entries are nearly endless. The talking points could be as large-scale (cultural comparisons) or small-scale (descriptions) as desired, as long as it gets the students thinking and talking. Here are a few possibilities:
- Your favorite weekend trip and why. What did you do there?
- The most interesting thing that happened to you today
- Similarities and differences between dining customs (U.S. vs. study abroad destination)
- Something that surprised you about the host culture
- Describe a humorous interaction you had with your host family
And of course, if the students are studying abroad for a significant period of time, they'll have a built-in speaking portfolio which will demonstrate the progress that they made throughout the study abroad trip. This, in turn, leads to wonderful opportunities for self-reflection.
A study abroad journal can be a cherished memento and the benefits of journal keeping are well documented. We certainly don't advocate the total replacement of pen-and-paper journaling. But we do think that a digital study abroad spoken journal could prove to be an indispensable stepping stone towards fluency in the target language.