Ask most teachers for their thoughts on social media, and they’ll probably tell you it’s the enemy of learning, a force of distraction to be kept out of the classroom at all costs. Facebook, Instagram and the like are places where memes, emojis and bad spelling reign supreme, where 'you’re' and 'your' are used interchangeably, where grammar is frequently subjected to unspeakable misuse.
But as a group of English learners in Minnesota have shown, social media isn’t always so bad. It can, in fact, be a tool of learning for students, one that's sometimes more effective than the classroom itself.
A recent study out of the University of Minnesota’s College of Education looked at how social media—Facebook in particular—can be used to support language acquisition.
Instructors from U of M orchestrated a project that brought Facebook into a class of ESL students, many of them members of Minnesota’s large population of East African newcomers. According to Minneapolis newspaper MinnPost, the authors of the study found that creating and fostering an online presence empowered students to become the authors of their own story.
The affirmative engagement the students’ peers had with their posts built their confidence and encouraged the use of more elaborate language. They also found that students were more willing to provide feedback than they were when formally asked to do so in the classroom.
And while tech-savvy teens are especially well-poised to utilize the benefits of Facebook, social media can be a useful language learning tool for students of any age. Take a look at the following suggestions for using your online social presence to give your language studies a boost!
Be they natives or fellow learners, engaging with others who speak the language you’re learning in a casual online setting can embolden you to test your limits without the fear of embarrassment. No one is going to judge your awkward use of new vocabulary when commenting on a viral cat video.
The internet is teeming with meetup groups (including virtual meetup groups!) catering to just about every interest, especially in a cosmopolitan city like Montreal. Check out meetup.com for language exchange meets, like E-QIP's Connect 1 events, or seek out Facebook groups like Mundo Lingo Montreal to connect with other language enthusiasts who are eager to get together and chat.
However you feel about the turn toward bite-sized content over in-depth reporting in the news world, there’s no denying that the simple, easy to digest nature of news content these days makes it very accessible to language learners. Follow a few news sources in your chosen language and watch the headlines roll in (and then try to find a way to bring them up in conversation with other speakers).
Sometimes getting the push you need to take your learning to the next level can be as simple as forcing yourself to think in your language of study in one tiny facet of your life. Most social media platforms allow you to change the language the site appears in through the settings page—a small change with big benefits.