You remember pen pals? I had a few growing up in school and all were from different countries. They were invariably learning English and would write to us in English. Being American, we'd happily write back in English. Services like ePals makes cross-border communication and collaboration even easier for students, connecting them like never before. Pen pals are so 1982, when ePals and its ilk allow for social networking between kids of different cultures.
While a key piece of this cross-border should be language instruction (and not just other kids learning English, folks), sometimes the content of the message is more important than the language. As we look towards rolling out Google Apps for Education this summer, I was thrilled to hear about Gmail's new automatic translation tools. According to the Gmail blog,
If all parties are using Gmail, you can have entire conversations in multiple languages with each participant reading the messages in whatever language is most comfortable for them. It's not quite the universal translators we're so fond of from science fiction, but thanks to Google Translate, it's an exciting step in the right direction. I use this feature everyday to help me work with teammates around the globe (they think my Japanese is much better than it really is...shhhh!).
Good idea, huh? We'll see how it works in practice, but I really like the idea of kids being able to communicate, collaborate, and otherwise interact regardless of the level of their language learning. The Earth gets flatter every day; here's one more tool for our students to navigate the new landscape.