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March 26 , 2004

Russian Language Students Have Video Pen Pals in Tver

Mount Holyoke students studying Russian have found a new way to hone their speaking skills that does not involve putting on headphones in the language lab. These students have taken up videoconferencing with students in Russia who are learning English. Videoconferencing is a sort of face-to-face chat room—students gather in the videoconference room at Williston Library and converse with their Russian peers via a video link on large television screens. “It’s like having video pen pals,” said Susan Scotto, senior lecturer in Russian, who organized the program. “They all really enjoy it.”

Scotto explained that the video communication started last spring when a teacher from the Visa English Institute in Tver, a city on the Volga River northwest of Moscow, contacted her about setting up a videoconference for students. “What makes it really great is that when we went to Moscow last fall, we visited these people, so we know some of them,” Scotto said.

The students have videoconferenced three times so far. The first encounter helped the students get acquainted. Since then they have chosen discussion topics ahead of time that allow them to practice their language while exploring one another’s cultures. So far they have tackled food, movies, and housing. “Most Russians live in small apartments,” Scotto said, “so the discussion about housing involved lots of talk about numbers of rooms and square meters. It was interesting.”

“It’s kind of a cliché, but students on both sides fin
d it really exciting not only to practice their language with real natives, but also to get a sense of what other young people are interested in and how they live,” said Scotto. Kaitlyn Wild ’06, one of the videoconference participants, agrees that the sessions offer far more than language lessons. “I think that both sides of the discussion have preconceived notions about the other’s culture and it’s interesting to learn the facts,” Wild said. Wild will be traveling to Moscow next fall to study and hopes to visit Tver and meet some of the students she’s gotten to know via teleconferencing.

Scotto is pleased that students at all levels of proficiency participate in the sessions. Wild said there are lively moments when people make amusing mistakes, such as saying something is good when they mean just the opposite. “Everyone is a little nervous so we are all prone to giggling,” she said.




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