With the emerging role of social media it is hardly surprising that English language students, in their quest to improve their language skills, are taking to the internet in search of new learning tools. And with the dominance of Facebook, counting more than 2 billion worldwide users in the third quarter of 2017, it makes sense that these students are flocking to this online social networking site in their masses.
What are the advantages of social networks in language learning?
Let’s examine closer the example of Facebook; here you have many possibilities of engaging in real-time conversations whether it is with a native English speaker, an English language teacher or in fact just a like-minded student wishing to practice their target language.
One of the main advantages of Facebook is the ability to set up closed groups. This has opened up the opportunity for English teaching providers to create a more classroom-like setting for their members. Providing educational content, these groups encourage students to engage with one another and to interact with the language based activities provided by the group organizers. The simple fact that Facebook is viewed as an informal environment means that the students are more likely to feel relaxed and more willing to share their ideas despite maybe feeling their language level is lower than they would like. As these groups work mainly through a “text chat” concept they require students to use their writing skills and in turn the benefits for improving sentence structure and vocabulary building are invaluable. The other interest of these groups comes through diversity; they allow students the choice of which activity to participate in, whether it is educational, business related, practical exam tips, or just for the pleasure of talking.
Another overwhelming plus with social media language learning is that it is relatively free of charge. As long as they have a computer and internet access, students can key into a variety of English language resources that wouldn’t be, in some instances, available to them. This is surely a positive aspect when we consider the rights of everyone to have the access to language learning.
Are there any disadvantages to language learning through social media?
Unfortunately, there are some detrimental aspects to social media based language learning. It has to be noted that many of the closed groups that have been created especially to provide students with tools to enhance their English skills are managed by people with little or no knowledge of English teaching. That is not to say that these peoples’ intentions are not good, of course they are considering the time they give up benevolently, but very often the content added to the groups is incorrect and misleading and little time is taken to correct students’ mistakes.
“Texting language” has opened another debate regarding the affectivity of social media based language learning. It has long been argued that the use of this kind of communication is detrimental to improving writing skills. Due to the nature of social media and the rapidity with which students communicate it is almost impossible not to revert to text type writing.
As with any language learning tool, correct and responsible use has to be considered. With the traditional classroom setting we attend the course, we may have some homework to do or have an essay to write and goals to achieve. It is true to say, as studies have shown, that social media networks such as Facebook are addictive thus caution needs to be taken when deciding how long students are actually spending online.
What can we conclude?
Undoubtedly the most famous social network on the planet, Facebook, Skype is going to be around for a long time. Although it comes with its pros and cons we have to acknowledge that English language learning has never been as accessible as it is today! Surly the conclusion is, if used correctly, it truly can be an effective and enhancing learning tool.
Secondary level teacher, Tasir English Secondary School, Nagswoti 7, Hetauda