The virtual dual immersion program (PIVD) is a collaborative initiative between the Association of Universities Entrusted to the Society of Jesus in Latin America (AUSJAL) and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities in the United States (AJCU) that promotes the development of students’ communicative and intercultural competences (Marturet, 2021, https://iaju.org/news/virtual-dual-immersion-program-ausjal-ajcu). As part of this initiative, the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Teacher Education program at Universidad Alberto Hurtado (UAH; Santiago, Chile) has participated in a series of virtual exchanges, where students with different communicative needs, in different year levels and on both sides of the hemisphere (North and South America) have been able to develop different aspects of an Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC; Byram, 2020). Here, we briefly describe these experiences.
The experiences were carried out as part of the Integrated English Language formative strand, which coordinates all language courses in this TEFL program (9 intensive courses from year 1 to year 5). Each of these courses promotes the integrated learning of the four language skills, through the discussion of topics that are relevant to students’ development as citizens and that are related to their professional future as English teachers. English language learning, then, becomes a means through which students develop not only their critical thinking skills, but also their intercultural communicative competence. Having this in mind, more than 180 students and 7 teachers have been actively involved in the virtual dual immersion sessions, including their design, implementation and evaluation.
The experiences took place during the second semester of 2020 and the first semester of 2021. These were organized as a series of synchronous videoconferencing sessions between UAH and University of Birmingham, Loyola University New Orleans and the University of San Francisco. For each session, participants were grouped into small breakout rooms, ensuring an even distribution of Spanish and English speaking students. Before the sessions were actually conducted, possible discussion topics were agreed between both universities. Teachers also shared and negotiated aspects of their course objectives and content and discussed students’ English/Spanish communicative needs. Students and teachers also designed a set of guiding questions in order to facilitate online intercultural communication in both languages. The topics and questions revolved around issues such as the history of latinamerican/northamerican societies (e.g., the Chilean dictatorship and racism in the US), cultural diversity, national identities and current ideas about sex and gender. In each session, students interacted one half of the time in English and the other half in Spanish, promoting the development and practice of both receptive and productive skills of the target language.
The virtual dual immersion sessions were positively evaluated by students and teachers of the participant universities. Students perceived the experience as a good opportunity to develop communicative skills within a meaningful context while also learning about their own and others’ cultures. Listening to different accents and learning new idiomatic expressions were also mentioned as contributions to language learning. UAH teachers said that experiences like these were beneficial to future teachers of English, who should not only be proficient in the target language, but also sensitive to local and foreign cultures.
Byram, M. (2020). Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence: Revisited. (2nd ed.). Channel View Publications.