Harrison, M., Kitao, K. (2005). Keypal friendships and their influences on ESL learner development. In Nozawa, K. & Levy, M. (Eds). CALL-EJ 7(1).
For teachers of English in countries where English is not used in everyday life, one major challenge has been creating opportunities for students to use English in meaningful ways for communication. In recent years, the development of computer-mediated communication (CMC) has provided ways of overcoming that challenge. For students like those in Japan where the authors teach, this can be a very important experience, since many students of English have rarely if ever had the opportunity to communicate in English outside of the classroom. In this paper, the authors will report on two pilot studies. The purpose of the studies was to examine aspects of keypal email exchange projects currently in development in English language classes at two Japanese universities: One purpose of these studies was to look at pedagogical aspects of the project, including implementation, and perceived and long-term benefits of such projects. Another was to look at interpersonal aspects, including the degree of development of the relationships formed and their influences on learner development and attitude. Results of this study indicate that about 3 out of 4 participants in each study planned to continue the relationship after the project ended and, although some of the students found the project difficult, most felt it had helped them with their English reading, writing, and vocabulary skills. Students also reported that the keypal friendship had influenced their views on foreign culture, their own communicative abilities, and comfort levels communicating with English speakers. This current research is but the first stage in a series of studies intended to examine Japanese university students’ friendships formed with speakers of English via email and how these relationships affect their attitudes about their own English abilities and attitudes towards English in general. The researchers believe that such relationships can greatly enhance the learner’s experience by personalizing and demonstrating the importance of English for intercultural communication.