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Penn's newest journalists are working right in the classroom - and they are writing in French.

Students in French lecturer Lisa Britton's French 140 often assume the role of journalists who travel the French-speaking world and report back to their fellow students.

Foreign-language instruction has evolved in the last 20 years to engage students both more culturally and intellectually.

This development has been made possible in part by new technologies, but also because instructors have strongly felt the need to liberate foreign languages from the flatness of grammar drills and vocabulary exercises.

"Because you get so involved, you actually want to learn more about the culture," said College sophomore Tanvi Misra, who is in Britton's French class.

Misra and her classmates post their articles to a Wiki-type page on Blackboard that allows students to edit each other's writing and to embellish their reports with pictures and hyperlinks.

College freshman Marcus Goodwin, who is also in the class, added that the mock journalist conferences the class holds also help to reinforce the language because "you get put in a situation that could actually happen if you go to France."

While adopting new technologies can often present a challenge to instructors, Britton said setting today's tech-savvy students free to generate Web content is, in fact, very simple.

"You barely have to explain to students what to do," she said.

In the time before technology figured prominently in language instruction, "teachers would collect train tickets, menus and brochures" when they went abroad so their students could have first-hand experiences with the language, French Language Program director Kathryn McMahon said.

Now, films, Web sites and popular music are common ways to experience a culture in the classroom.

It's no surprise either that Facebook has found itself on the forefront of language instruction.

Students in Melanie Peron's French 202 class have created a Facebook group in which they've posed questions to French university students about the recent strikes.

"We focus on learning how people in France actually think," said College and Wharton sophomore Aditi Kumar, who has posted several times on the message board.

"It brings answers to questions that students don't dare ask me," said Peron.

McMahon said that taking up a cultural emphasis has been in response to the rote hearing and repeating exercises that have been the focus of language instruction since WWII.

Innovative methods of instruction are not suited to the instruction of all languages, though.

Chinese Program coordinator Mien-Hwa Chiang said it is much harder to engage beginning Chinese students with real-world material.

The disconnect between the written language and speech makes it difficult to comprehend Web sites and other media.

Studies have even shown that "some [Chinese] programs fail because they use too much technology," Chiang said.

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