Digital Sojourn: The final frontier of Language Learning?

Spock as a child in school on Vulcan (Star Trek, 2009)


O.K., so this is not the image of Spock everyone remembers. And with the recent passing of one of the world’s most iconic Sci-Fi legends, perhaps I should have tried to fit Leonard Nimoy’s classic, “Live long and prosper,” image in here somewhere (Perhaps I will still find a way). But, it just so happens that I was looking at this image from the J. J. Abrams version of the Star Trek inspired Vulcan educational system last week and wondering what our earthly final frontier of language learning might actually be. I believe I have come up with an answer–digital sojourn.

One of the big names in intercultural studies is Michael Byram. He described the difference between someone who is just beginning their study of intercultural communication and someone who has attained intercultural communicative competence. The former he describes as a tourist, the later as a sojourner. The tourist is just passing though, and perhaps looking for an interesting intercultural souvenir to take home; however, they look forward to returning to their familiar surroundings with everything just the way they left it. The sojourner, on the other hand, is fundamentally changed by their travels, affects change in others they meet along the way, and returns home to affect change upon their own culture (Byram, 1997).

With the digital age upon us, it seems we now have opportunity to update our pedagogy with regards to helping students develop their intercultural competence. With intercultural communication tied so closely to language learning, and intercultural communicative competence parallel to competence with use of English as a Lingua Franca, we have an obligation as teachers to pursue its development in our students.

Spock is famous for stating, “Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them.” As language teachers, we are often reminded of this when the argument comes up surrounding technology in the classroom. The technological landscape before us may seem at times to cause us to serve under it. I think it is safe to say that we would like to find ways to make it serve us.

I see the final frontier of language learning as that of digital sojourn. By digital sojourn I mean the use of technology to support language learner’s efforts to spend extended amounts of time “traveling” among a particular culture and its people. It is impractical for all of our students to spend years physically traveling in a foreign culture, however, with technology they can digitally sojourn.

There are many ways we as teachers can support digital sojourn inside and outside of our classroom, and with mobile technology becoming more and more prevalent the possibilities continue to grow. Before we are ready to travel the galaxy seeking new intercultural encounters, we should use those resources currently at our disposal to develop our intercultural skills here on earth. After all, we still have 48 years to go until “First Contact”.  \V/

Image by Dave Daring @ DeviantArt