Alumni Success Story

Virtual Exchange Shifts Alumnus’ View on Language Learning

Florida International University's Virtual Tabadul

Wail, from Algeria, participated in Florida International University’s (FIU) Virtual Tabadul, where he discovered just how important culture and technology are to language learning. His virtual exchange experience has since led him to establish a school that centers its curriculum around technology and incorporates culture into lessons.

Wail, a recent graduate from Larbi Ben M’hidi University in Algeria, heard about FIU’s Virtual Tabadul from a professor and was one of the first students to participate from his university. Excited to join an international project focused on language learning, he opted into the program as a master’s student. “During my first four years [in] university, I didn’t participate in any international projects like this, so as soon as I heard about this program, I jumped into it.” 

The Tabadul program merges language learning with culture using virtual reality technology, which has shifted Wail’s ideas about teaching languages. Connecting virtually with his partner throughout the program highlighted just how beneficial and crucial technology can be for learning. This sparked a larger goal for Wail: to establish a school that values technology as an aid for learning and academic advancement. He saw a need for more schools to take advantage of technology and utilize it for learning, so he made it a goal to one day implement this after he graduated.

Wail found himself working towards this goal while completing his studies. Now, a recent graduate, he has made headway in the establishment of a private language learning school in Algeria. The school is set up so that technology is adopted in the classroom, with different tools available for learners’ use. Tools include screens, computers, speakers, tablets, headphones, and Google cardboards so that students can access real cultural spaces via virtual reality for English language learning and cultural exchange, just as Wail did with Virtual Tabadul. Wail is working to establish partnerships with American and British schools to provide opportunities for learners to build intercultural communications skills through direct interaction with other young people in different countries. 

I used to think that teaching languages needs to strictly include grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, but thanks to this program I realize that culture has a very significant place in the teaching of languages.

The Virtual Tabadul program also made it clear to Wail that language learners need to be exposed to the culture of the native speakers in order to fully understand and properly use the language. “I used to think that teaching languages needs to strictly include grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, but thanks to this program I realize that culture has a very significant place in the teaching of languages.” Since communication is so heavily influenced by culture, so is language, and Wail believes it is important for language learners to understand and for language teachers to consider this. 

This new perspective influenced his style of teaching, as he now intentionally incorporates culture into the English courses he teaches at Larbi Ben M’hidi University. He developed a number of lectures that emphasize culture as a way to help his students fully grasp the lesson. Recently, he delivered a grammar lecture about the passive voice in the English language by discussing the American lifestyle and providing examples from popular movies and films. Wail continues to believe that if his approach to teaching goes beyond the traditional methods and accounts for culture, his students will be set up well to use the language properly. 

Through his school, he plans on using virtual exchange and technology as a tool to create opportunities for language learning, like the Virtual Tabadul program, which led him to discover what he was willing to dedicate the next few years of his career doing. 

Virtual Tabadul is implemented by Florida International University and is supported by the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (JCSVEI). JCSVEI is a U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs program administered by the Aspen Institute.

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