Can Social Networking Websites Foster Second Language Acquisition?

by: Charo Uceda

Language was, is and always will be two
things, a) a way of communication and b) a carrier of culture. It is then of no surprise that social networking websites are becoming increasingly popular in learning languages. In the topic of language learning we can speak of the old way versus the new way of learning. However, the old methodology of learning does not mean that technology was absent, only that the technology used was consistent with what was available at the particular time. An example of the approach and methodology using technology during the 50’s was a method called the audio-lingual. This method came about with the advent of record playing machines. As the years brought us new inventions such as tape recorders, CDs/DVDs, overhead projectors, MP3s, iPods, and multi-function cell phones, among others, learning and specifically language learning changed dramatically.

Parallel to invention, globalization has altered the list of necessary skills one must develop in order to become a citizen with the ability to make a significant contribution to today’s worldwide society. In fact, Project TIME was a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education Technology Innovation Challenge Grant which described that in order to respond to today’s high demands in the world, education must be centered on meaningful learning using technology, adding that there are seven survival skills that need to be acquired by the new ‘net’ generation. These skills are as follows: 1) Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, 2) Collaboration Across Networks and Leading and Influence, 3) Agility and Adaptability, 4) Initiative and Entrepreneurship, 5) Effective Oral and Written Communication, 6) Accessing and Analyzing Information and 7) Curiosity and Imagination. Furthermore, the use of technology for academic purposes helps create learning communities by supporting exploration, Page 1

Can Social Networking Web sites Foster Second Language Acquisition?

collaboration, investigation, invention and collective knowledge acquisition. Until fairly recently, online education was conceived and used as a myriad of correspondence courses. That is now a thing of the past, giving way to the arrival of webbased audio/video, text and a plethora of collaboration tools, thus creating fertile ground for students to be their own knowledge gatekeepers and resulting in a dualistic learning mode that provides individually tailored education, while still engaging group activity.

account and a password, while the profile page includes the usual data and has the ability to upload a personal picture–all of which is consistent with websites of this sort. The page where journals can be uploaded are user-friendly, with useful additions such as a dictionary, the ability to upload up to three pictures and the chance to publish one’s journal. A most important feature is the capability of this site to choose three different profile settings: private, share or group view. The service works on the notion that once a journal is published, members that are native speakers of the language will review the journal and will be able to post corrections, and leave notes or comments for the learner. In turn, the learner of the particular language understands that he/she will return the favor by doing the same thing with other members who are learning the native’s language. Another feature that is very helpful in developing practice conversation with native speakers is the option to connect through Skype, which is a widely used free video conferencing interface. Practicing conversation with native speakers is one of the most important tasks in second language acquisition, an activity that exposes the learner to authentic language, thus making these sites utterly beneficial in developing language fluency. In addition to this, the site also lends itself to create groups or invite friends that can be categorized in a specific way. In the case of ESL/EFL learning, it is important to practice with natives that speak a certain dialect or have a distinct accent. (e.g. British English, American English, Southern U.S. accent, etc.). Learning to identify varieties of language, vocabulary words, idioms and Page 2

The advent of ‘Web 2.0’ has fostered the proliferation of sites dedicated to language learning, and it seems only logical that this trend will increase exponentially in years to come. A particular site that offers a social network interface with a plethora of other services attached is called Lang-8.com, and it is promoted as a free social network website concentrated on the activity of journal writing to support language acquisition. Steps to register as a member are simple enough as they only require an e-mail

Can Social Networking Web sites Foster Second Language Acquisition?

colloquialisms provides the learners with an opportunity to not only learn to speak a language, but also gain acculturation, which is another important asset when learning languages. One of the biggest challenges in language teaching is the practice conversation time that one can offer the student, so these websites bring needed support to any teacher, especially when budget allocation is more likely to be cut before it is increased.

One also would like to see this site adding the ability to use IMS Messenger, which is another popular video conferencing interface, and in this way give the user more flexibility. However, researchers, scholars, high-tech companies, entrepreneurs and technology enthusiasts are in a heated debate. Some of them defend the position that technology, through the use of websites is effective enough to accomplish the goal of learning all by itself, while educators seem to take the position that the activity of learning should be a blended one. Blended Learning is a rather new term based on the combination of traditional, face-toface class instruction with the integration of technology, thus striking a balance between the benefits of guided instruction plus the affordances of technology.

One final feature that comes as a handy tool of technology within this site is the RSS, (Real Simple Syndication) icon. This link allows the user to get a straight feed to the site, thus saving time. Even though all the features mentioned above make this site a favorite for teachers and learners bitten by the technology bug, it also has weaknesses. For example, one cannot blog, (web log). Blogging is one technology tool that promotes creation and development of opinions, while at the same time it fosters story-telling skills. All these activities are conducive to support vocabulary expansion, and communicative strategy skills.

This new view of effective and meaningful learning rests on the hypothesis that neither the computer, nor the World Wide Web are anywhere close to replacing instructors, but instead that these elements should act in concert with each other in order to maximize the learning experience. Unfortunately, the introduction and implementation of blended learning could also prove negative if not handled carefully and skillfully. An instructor with a lack of expertise in the technology chosen might use it to support old habits of instruction, or on the other hand, the instructor might use technology to merely fill time and as a result, give the impression of technology integration, while lacking proper academic objectives and purposes.

Can Social Networking Web sites Foster Second Language Acquisition?

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Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies. London and New York: Routledge. Whatever the current opinions are, in terms of best practices in teaching and learning languages, there is little disagreement about the great potential of integrating technology in the classroom, since it is a fact that the use of it, in its many forms, can foster motivation, collaboration and the ability to create autonomous learners. That is, individuals that are no longer limited by the knowledge imparted by their instructors may instead take ownership of their knowledge and enter into a cycle of knowledge discovery, consumption and distribution. Lohr, S. (2009, November 5). The New York Times. Retrieved November 5, 2009, from Technology: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/ 08/19/study-finds-that-onlineeducation-beats-the-classroom/ Sharma, P., & Barrett, B. (2009, February). Review of Blended Learning: Using Technology In and Beyond the Language Classroom. Retrieved November 6, 2009, from Language Learning & Technology: http://llt.msu.edu/vol13num1/revie w3.pdf Warschauer, M. (2002, May 2). On-line Learning in Second Language Classrooms: An Ethnography Study. (M. W. Kern, Ed.) Retrieved November 6, 2009, from http://llt.msu.edu/vol7num2/review 2/default.html

Can Social Networking Web sites Foster Second Language Acquisition?

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