With a couple of days to go before our first French exchange student was due to arrive, I started to worry about how we would communicate with her. What would she want to eat? What would we do if she was homesick? Then I thought about the return leg – did I really want to send my 12-year-old daughter to a strange place with people she didn’t know?
What I hadn’t fully appreciated was that my daughter has been emailing and Snapchatting her ‘penpal’ for weeks without even lifting up a pen and piece of paper. She already knows that her mum speaks excellent English, that she likes chicken with everything, performing on stage, and that she has hot chocolate for breakfast. They have quickly developed the kind of relationship she has with her school friends, all at the touch of a keypad.
I walked into her room the other night to find that they had devised their own plan to improve each other’s French/ English by ‘snapping’ each other in their own language. With messages self-destructing within seconds, they had to translate, comprehend and respond simultaneously.
Instant messaging gets plenty of bad press, but it cannot be denied that it is changing the face of communication. You could argue that it removes the intrigue and anticipation. But, from a personal perspective, it has improved my daughter’s French and taken away that fear factor for each of them. If that means both sets of parents on either side of the Channel can rest a little easier while their daughters are away, that can only be a good thing, can’t it?