Larry Ferlazzo

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The Sacramento Bee

Sacramento Bee, The (CA)

April 10, 2008

English learners take to Internet

Burbank students correspond about their lives, cultures.

Author: Kim Minugh

Section: CITY
Page: G1

Article Text:

Their countries are different, and so are their accents. Their governments vary greatly, and so, too, do their cultures.

But there is one common thread among these hundreds of teenagers exchanging posts on a blog: a desire to learn English.

Almost three dozen students at Luther Burbank High School are communicating via the Internet with 200 other students across the globe who, like them, are learning English as a second language.

On a blog created by their teacher, Larry Ferlazzo, and instructors from six other countries, the students are corresponding about their lives and cultures.

So far, the students participating in the "sister class" project have posted pictures of cable cars in San Francisco, "voice threads" about Romanian architecture and videos of street tours in Budapest, Hungary -- complete with heart-racing techno music in the background. The students then post messages -- written and recorded -- commenting on one another's posts.

Soon, teachers will ask all the students to post about certain themes, or answer questions like "What is your government l! ike?" and "How do people in your country advocate for social change?" For now, however, students are mostly getting to know one another and one another's countries.

"It's pretty easy. We can talk to them as if they're our own kind," 17-year-old Xeng Her said through a Hmong translator. "It's nice to have friends who are not like us."

Ferlazzo, who teaches history and English to non-native students, said the project has many benefits for his students, chief among them being the practice they get in all aspects of language. They read other students' written posts and listen to voice threads. They write their own posts and record their own threads, forcing them to work on pronunciation.

The project also exposes his students to technology. Many have grown up in countries where technology was not a part of their daily lives.

The blog also offers an engaging and entertaining method of imparting those important skills.

"It's an authentic audience. It'! s one thing to make a product that's read by a teacher. It's a! n artifi cial audience," Ferlazzo said. "It's a whole different picture when you're communicating to hundreds of other students around the world that really want to know what the United States are like."

In that regard, Ferlazzo said, the students also become teachers, representatives and ambassadors of sorts.

"It makes us feel like we're bringing a little more value to the world," he said. "That makes us all take things a little more seriously."

Ted Appel, principal of Burbank High, said other teachers have been intrigued by Ferlazzo's efforts with the blog and are looking into doing similar activities with their students -- including those who are native English speakers.

"It's just an interesting, dynamic way to have students develop their English language skills and knowledge of their community," he said. "Kids are motivated to do it, and it has a real benefit."

Students say they like the chance to learn in a less traditional setting. Instead of sitt! ing in a classroom, listening to a teacher, they're interacting with one another and with students halfway across the world.

"When on the computer, you can extend your imagination," Bao Thao, 17, said through a Hmong translator.

Maria Prieto said she has really enjoyed the project so far. But she admitted it can be a little intimidating to communicate with students from all over the planet, some of whom speak English better than she does.

"You think, 'There's many people listening to you in another country!' " Prieto said in English, with eyes wide and a warm laugh.

But the 16-year-old said she enjoys representing the United States -- "my country," she says -- as well as Mexico, where she was born. On the blog, Prieto has posted an image of the Mexican flag, while also introducing her viewers to San Francisco.

She said the project challenges her to work hard, but she is happy to accept.

"I get to type and speak," Prieto said. "That's very! good for English learners."

Call The Bee's Kim Minugh, ! (916) 32 1-1038.

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