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Using the Internet as a Tool for Teaching English as a Second Language

Using the Internet as a Tool for Teaching English as a Second Language
Admin - May 22 2016

The Internet is dramatically transforming the way English is learned as a second or foreign language. Like other aspects in our daily lives that have been profoundly influenced by Internet technologies, the way learners receive and learn new languages is enriched and fast tracked with the integration of online tools in ESL/EFL education. The way the Internet breaches the physical and cultural distance between learning facilitators and students is possibly its most fundamental impact on education in general.  Proximity becomes a non-issue as people from all over the world gain the ability to easily access an extensive trove of learning resources online.


What compelled innovators in the education and training sectors to use the Internet as a teaching channel is not very difficult to see. First, the potential volume of the information that can be uploaded and subsequently retrieved online is nearly impossible to imagine. Moreover, information can be packaged in different multimedia formats that approach students in different levels depending on their learning needs. Short articles, images, films, audios, computer graphics, interactive forms and various combinations of these considerably enrich the learning process. Arguably more important than either the volume or type of information, however, is the way information can now be communicated between knowledge source and knowledge learner. The veritable email that was introduced in the early years of the Web is now accompanied by instant messages, chat rooms, forums, social media and video conferences. Communication and collaboration have never been as richer and as thoroughly supported by digital technology than they are today.


One clear and ubiquitous example is the use of Skype as a tool in casual learning interactions as well as in formal academic institutions. A software application and service that uses voice-over-Internet protocol, Skype allows users to use voice, instant messaging, and video to communicate with each other. With its far-reaching potential in formal education recognized, a version of the service, Skype in the Classroom was launched in 2011. Using the service, educators and learners are enabled to connect and collaborate across the globe using video conferencing and other features at very minimal costs.


The availability of effective teaching tools such as Skype helps establish the Internet as a viable and effective venue for learning.  Given the rate at which new online tools are being developed, it is no wonder that the growth rate of online education is now far exceeding that of traditional classroom learning in colleges and universities.     


Growth of Online Education

Perhaps just as much as the radical inventions of writing and printing, the Internet revolutionized the way people discover, learn and share new ideas and skills. Whereas the early years of the Internet allowed just about anyone with Internet access to retrieve new information, the advanced communication and collaboration infrastructures that prop up today's online networks far exceed the benefits of self-initiated learning. In fact, the online learning interactions that are now possible are driving the rapid rise in the number of online universities, colleges, and other learning institutions.


A 2011 Sloan Consortium Studyillustrates the magnitude with which the Internet has impacted the formal aspects of learning. According to the report, higher education enrollment in US colleges grew by less than 1 percent in 2010. On the other hand, the growth of classes conducted by online colleges jumped by 10 percent during the same period. Since 2002 to 2010, the aggregate growth rate of online education was just a few points shy of 20 percent, clearly showing its commanding momentum over traditional college learning that grew by just 2 percent during the same period.


In addition, the Pew Research Center published a report that online programs are now being more favorably accepted by both learners and learning institutions. in fact, close to 70 percent of respondents in the similar Sloan study regard online classes as the "same or superior" to traditional face-to-face classes. 


The Internet in ESL/EFL Education

In the field of English teaching, the impact of Internet techonologies has been no less phenomenal. For example, ESL/EFL students who need to practice how to pronounce English phrases correctly may download countless audio files as reference. Better yet, those who wish for a more personalized and social approach may enroll in courses offered by language learning institutions that employ competent online tutors. This way, the communicative proficiencies of language learners are steadily reinforced by constant language practice with a native English speaker. Certainly, the advantages of using the Internet in teaching English as a second or foreign language are enormous. However, there are still quite a number of traditional language educators and language learners who have yet to leverage this game-changing tool.


The use of the Internet as a tool for teaching and learning English is part of the advocacy and the growing industry that goes by the acronym CALL (Computer-Assisted Language Learning). In a nutshell, CALL refers to the language teaching tools and methodologies that use computers. These include the manner by which lessons are presented, the ways by which students can learn the lessons, and the methods by which the level and quality of their learning can be evaluated. Animated graphics, digital games, and online quizzes are just some examples of computer-assisted language learning.


Benefits of Internet Use in Language Learning

Because the Internet enables people from various social and cultural backgrounds to communicate with each other, its potential as an aid in the language teaching profession is vast.

1.     The Internet bypasses physical boundaries. Using online resources, English educators and language learners no longer need to be in close physical proximity to each other in order for the learning process to kick off. While there are some aspects of language learning that may be better conducted in a person-to-person scenario, much of the learning process can now be simulated using video conferencing tools and virtual experiences over the Internet.

2.     The Internet help breach cultural barriers. Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of the Internet is the way by which it draws people closer together, regardless of their social, cultural or economic backgrounds. This is easily seen in such social networking portals such as Facebook and YouTube where culturally and linguistically different individuals share, appreciate, and assess different content, ideas, and issues. In terms of learning English as a second or foreign language, it is now possible to align lesson plans and approaches with the cultural context of learners such as learning becomes more meaningful and effective.

3.     The Internet makes it much easier to learn new things. The availability of vast amounts of resources on the net helps empower learners to improve their English skills independently of a classroom dynamic. Because learning materials are conveniently accessible, self-motivation and initiative among language learners is encouraged.

4.     The Internet promotes active teacher and learner involvement. Because tools such as instant messaging, video conferencing and online exams are highly interactive, participants in the learning process--ESL/EFL educators and their students--are compelled to participate in different types of interactions in a more involved manner.

5.     The Internet provides variety, entertainment, and fun. By opening up a pool of resources that include highly engaging material, the Internet drives students to become more motivated and excited to learn English as a second or foreign language.   



That the Internet benefits second and foreign language education is already an unassailable fact. This is simply because it empowers both educators and learners in ways that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago. With the advent of online collaborative technologies that are well-suited for different types of learning scenarios, the use of the Internet as a language teaching tool can only increase in intensity. This is already affirmed by the growth of online language teaching organizations that build learning or tutorial interfaces involving students and native English speakers. The advantages will even go beyond live video tutorials because the Internet is now limited only by the creativity of educators and learners who use it.   

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