E-mail Dialogue Journals and the Search for Extra-Classroom Language Practice

Meghan Murphy-Lee, University of Kansas

While the ultimate objective of many L2 courses of study is an increase in communicative competence, the second language instructor has historically faced a dilemma: how to motivate L2 learners to use out-of-classroom time towards that goal. While several technologies have been tried, the currently widespread use of email may lead to a genuine solution. A growing number of second language instructors are turning routine paper-and-pencil dialogue journals into electronic exchanges via email, while researchers such as Gonzales-Bueno et al (1998, 2000) and Samsonov and Shih (2000) are among those who study the use and effectiveness of email to improve language accuracy and increase motivation in language learning.

The research presented in this paper was conducted during the 2000-2001 academic year. Second year students of Russian were required to email their instructors once a week in the target language. The instructors began this conversation with a general message to all students which contained personal questions and information to initiate an exchange between instructor and student. The student's response thus began a dialogue which lasted the duration of the academic year. Among the reasons that the experience was considered valuable were that it allowed the students to practice their language skills in a medium with which most were quite comfortable, and it improved the rapport between instructor and student since these electronic conversations were often of a personal nature. In the search for an effective means of providing students with much needed language practice outside the classroom, the electronic dialogue journal is a way for students to communicate in the target language using technology with which most students are already familiar. One of the most valuable results of this project is the realization that it is possible to implement such a project in the Russian L2 classroom. Even the use of Cyrillic fonts is no longer an obstacle, especially for those on campuses with web-based electronic mail systems.

At the end of the academic year, the instructors noticed an overall improvement in the quality of the discourse. In addition to the instructors' reactions, many of the students felt that this activity improved their proficiency and enjoyed communicating with their instructors on a more personal level. As a result, the electronic dialogue journal will be part of the second year course during the 2001-2002 academic year. With the e-mail messages collected in this study, empirical research will be conducted in order determine whether there is a statistically significant improvement in the students' writing proficiency over the academic year.