The blended learning potential in future diplomatsТ foreign languages professional competence acquisition
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №5 - 2013
Author: Mamchur Konstantyn, Kyiv National University of Economics, Ukraine
The scope of diplomacy has expanded from traditional interstate
relations to international contacts that include non-governmental actors.
Therefore, the acquisition of new knowledge and competences has become an
absolute necessity for today’s experts in international relations.
The profession of a diplomat has a universal character. It
stipulates the competence in international law and international affairs,
diplomatic negotiations and crisis management, strategic thinking and network
building. Consequently, foreign language communicative competence has become of
great importance for future and acting diplomats.
English is one of the most frequently used international languages
for occupational purposes. Embassies, consulates and ministries of foreign
affairs in particular pay great attention to their officials’ English skills as
these institutions conduct multilateral international relations. Diplomacy is
one of those professions in which English is used in conducting international
relations, in performing relevant office work and in negotiating.
According to the United Kingdom Foreign Affairs Committee,
linguistic abilities should be given more weight in promotion criteria,
including to top jobs, as this would “command respect” abroad.  This opinion
coincides with Ukrainian view on the required competences of diplomats.
However, there is a stereotype of the diplomat as a professional sitting
with other diplomats in formal meeting rooms, negotiating peace, threatening
war, or hammering out the terms of a treaty; this is just a part of what
experts in international relations do. The great majority of diplomatic
activity involves personal contacts with officials and citizens of a host country,
getting to know them and their perspectives . Accordingly, for some posts, a
lack of fluency in the local language will limit the credibility of the post
At the same time, in the domain of a foreign language for specific
purposes learning, there still exist some problems connected with the acquiring
of less commonly taught languages. Here, it is worth mentioning that the term
“less commonly taught” applies only to the educational picture of Ukraine. Other frequently used names for this group of languages, which share some
characteristics across specific languages but are quite distinct in other
areas, are critical languages, uncommon languages, less commonly spoken languages,
exotic languages, exceptional languages. Some scientists (Richard Brecht and A.
Ronald Walton, 1994) believe that these languages, which are crucial for international
affairs, are generally available at universities, but their difficulty makes it
virtually impossible for students to reach a functional ability solely on the
basis of in-country academic programs . Students and teachers frequently
speculate as to which foreign language is the most difficult for
Ukrainian-speaking students to learn and what makes some languages harder to
learn then the others. The opinion of the Head of Diplomatic Academy of the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine about less commonly taught languages is
“… we even do not have the task to train an individual in oriental languages
during a short period of time. The World practice says that it is needed up to
five years of face-to-face language learning plus practicing abroad to get a
high level specialist” . So, we can assume that a foreign language training
of future diplomats in Ukraine is conducted in the conditions of time pressure,
partly isolated from the occupational needs of the trainees.
In modern pedagogical and methodological literature the problem of
foreign languages professional competence formation was researched by I. Alekseeva,
O. Voevoda, V. Komisarov, I. Haleeva, A. Shchukin, I. Zotkina etc. Theoretical
basis for the organization of occupational education at the present stage is
reflected in studies of A. Asmolov, V. Blinov and others. The problems of
training experts in international relations to overcome the barriers to
intercultural communication in the era of globalization are presented in the
researches of S. Ter-Minasova, L. Venedina, E. Hall.
Notwithstanding a great number of scientific researches in the field
of diplomats’ foreign language training, intercultural communication and
professional communication, still there is a gap between the growing
requirements to foreign languages professional competence of experts in
international relations and the training they get. This unsolved pedagogical
problem requires from educators to search for new approaches in foreign languages
for specific (occupational) purposes training. Thus, the specific strategic
objectives of diplomats’ foreign language training are to be set up to improve
quality of teaching and learning through implementation of student-centred,
competency-based and differentiated learning.
The purpose of the article is to define the potential of the blended
learning approach in future diplomats’ foreign languages professional
Learning a foreign language presents different challenges for
different people in different contexts. The ways different individuals approach
the task of learning new vocabulary, figuring out new grammar rules, listening,
reading, and speaking in a language other than their native language, are
diverse. A range of methods and approaches are used to introduce new language,
and a variety of classroom management techniques are employed to maximize
practice opportunities. In the other words, the educator should create the
optimal conditions for students for effective language learning. Such
conditions have been identified and characterized in a number of studies, but
the most general (Egbert & Hanson-Smith, 1999) include the following:
1. Learners interact in the target language with an authentic
2. Learners are involved in authentic tasks.
3. Learners can interact socially and negotiate meaning.
4. Learners have enough time and feedback.
5. Learners are guided to attend mindfully to the learning process.
6. Learners work in an atmosphere with an ideal stress/anxiety
7. Learner autonomy is supported .
The majority of future diplomats’ foreign languages training still
takes place in the classroom, and language teachers know from experience that
achieving the presented conditions poses a significant challenge in most
foreign language teaching situations where students have limited opportunities
to actively engage in using the target language. Language teachers understand
that to serve the needs of the students, they need to create an environment
that most closely resembles actual use of the target language. In attempting to
achieve the “optimal” learning environment, they have a number of resources and
tools available. Recording devices, video players, newspapers, and language
laboratories all provide different and varied access to content. They can
employ a variety of activity types with group work and pair work, collaborative
learning and independent learning to engage our learners in communicative
language practice. They all try to address the need for personalized learning
through the introduction of self-study resources designed for independent
study. Thus, online learning environment can provide new approaches to foreign
languages learning, supplement and compliment traditional face-to-face language
Discussion of blended learning (BL) appears with increased frequency
in both the academic literature and the mass media. As education is becoming a
universal service delivered anywhere and anytime over the global network, the
higher education institutions try to implement elements of e-learning in
traditional course delivery, in order to prepare their students, as well as the
institution, for the future participation in education .
There are many definitions of blended learning, but the most common
is that which recognises some combination of virtual and real-life environments
for example, Graham (2006), who describes the combination of face-to-face
settings, which are characterised by synchronous interaction, and information
and communication technology based settings, which are asynchronous, and
text-based and where trainees operate independently . Garrison & Vaughan
(2008) define blended learning as “the thoughtful fusion of face-to-face and
online learning experiences” [8, p. 5] emphasising the need for reflection on
traditional approaches and for redesigning learning and teaching in this new
As Garrison and Kanuka (2004) commented, this combination of classroom
and online settings has simplicity, but there is also complexity to the concept
which is evident in the wide variety of settings, diversity of the student
population and consequent learning designs .
The appearance of new learning technologies, for example,
podcasting, internet based audio and video communication, e-portfolios and
social networking tools including blogs and wikis create new potentials for
future experts in international affairs. Students acquire a foreign language
when they have opportunities to use the language in live communication with the
other speakers. Sometimes, it happens that the teacher is the only target
language speaking person available to students, and although the course time is
limited, the task is to develop effective communicative skills in the field of
students’ future profession. In this case, the language acquisition supported
by digital or net-based flexible solutions in the organization of learning is
the only way to enhance the learners’ communicative competence, especially in
their occupational sphere.
Some time ago any kind of distance learning was thought to be
inappropriate for a language instruction due to communicative nature of the
language acquiring. Nowadays, with the use of technology, teachers may create
virtual language environment (students can communicate with a teacher, with
each other and with native speakers online with the use of social networks,
Skype, etc.) The word processing software, for example, can be used to experiment
with collaborative writing, self-assessment, and peer assessment – a function
that can also be taken outside the classroom by using wikis. Students may be
encouraged to use instant messaging to practice conversation skills and forums
for discussion on topics of the professional interest. The Internet can be used
for research on class projects. Some students can have their own blogs to
practice writing and engage with an audience and help develop skills and
strategies that are vital to successful independent learners. Group blogs are
used to summarize the day’s learning for absentees and provide writing
practice. Through the use of these tools, teachers and learners are already
engaging in the blended learning experience, perhaps without even realizing it.
The cultural diversity of the student population and the technology
rich experiences of today’s students raise further issues for BL design. Some
scientists (for example, Vaughan, 2007) argue that mere supplementation of a
face-to-face course with online learning is not blended learning  whereas
others (Littlejohn and Pegler, 2006) prefer to talk about ‘strong’ and ‘weak’
[11, p. 29] blends.
In our opinion, high-quality blended learning is a student-centered,
competency-based logically ordered combination of face-to-face and online
acquisition of knowledge or skills, which allows to study on everyone's own
pace and path, free of time pressure. We also would like to mention that online
learning phase of BL cannot be disconnected from a face-to-face phase.
Blended learning has many of the advantages of fully online learning
including personalization, flexible pacing, and mastery-based progress with
clearly defined relentless standards that prepare students for their career.
Additionally, blended learning offers the following:
Differentiated Learning: by applying online learning, blended
programs can diagnose a student’s learning level, style, etc. and differentiate
instruction. Students work at a personalized level and pace, instead of moving
through the course regardless of their comprehension of a material,
communicative readiness and foreign language competence.
Multiple Learning Modalities: with blended learning, students can
participate in multiple learning modalities in addition to online learning.
These might include group projects, small or large group instruction,
one-on-one tutoring, and more.
Student Ownership: like fully online learning, blended learning
gives students ownership and control of their education. Under the supervision
of their teacher, they have far more control over the time, place, path, and
pace of their learning than traditional school students. This ownership helps
students take pride in their work while developing important self-management
Physical Location: BL provides the benefits of online learning
within an educational facility or even a working place.
Data-Driven Teacher Attention: as with fully online learning, BL is
data-driven, as teachers receiving regular updates on student progress. This
empowers teachers by equipping them with the information to immediately
intervene when students need or adjust instruction based on student learning.
21st Century Preparation: our 21st century marketplace is
technology-driven. Blended learning prepares students for that marketplace by
helping them become proficient, responsible, digital citizens.
Potential Cost-Savings: while starting a blended program can involve
upfront costs, BL courses and institutions have the potential for significant
cost-savings. This comes from reduced facilities and staffing costs.
As far as future diplomats’ foreign languages competences
development is concerned, BL can foster students’ preparation and readiness for
real-life native speaker interaction. Because, the more exposure students have
to different contexts, voices, and accents, the more confident they will feel
in the real world use of language. Students can be prepared online to actively
participate in personalized pair- and group-work activities in class. Thus,
student-to-student interaction can be maximized in the classroom. This builds
future experts’ in international affairs confidence in their ability to
communicate in the real world and increase students’ motivation to learn.
Having analyzed the learning environment of the diplomat’s foreign
language training, we can summarize that their foreign language for specific purposes
program should be built on an assessment of purposes and needs and the
functions for which a foreign language is required. The foreign language for diplomats
has to be concentrated more on language in context than on teaching grammar and
language structures. It should cover subjects varying from international law or
negotiations to critical thinking and crisis management.
We assume that the foreign languages professional competence of
acting and future diplomats can be optimized by:
- defining essential characteristics of the diplomats’ professional
communication, where foreign language training will be an instrument of solving
- changing content-related and processual characteristics of the
diplomats foreign languages training by applying BL approach;
- changing the role of a teacher from the instructor to facilitator,
whose main task is to get future diplomats to assume responsibility for their
foreign language training and take the lead in their communicative competence
for occupational purposes.
The further researches in this domain can be connected with the
development of experimental model of future diplomats’ foreign languages training
and setting the criteria for foreign languages for specific (occupational)
purposes training of future experts in international affairs.
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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №5 - 2013