How effective is autonomous language learning on social media networks?

Don’t you often find yourself asking how to integrate foreign language learning into your daily life? One obvious answer is to study a language by yourself. The concept of autonomous language learning, first introduced in 1981, is highly applicable to the times in which we live. With the development of technology, the internet and social media networks, new and complex means of communication enable us to chat and share in networks of people across the globe, at any time. Informal aspects of autonomous language learning have therefore become more salient. Antonie Alm picks up on this by examining how advanced language students use Facebook in their second language (L2).

Alm surveyed 71 university students in New Zealand who had studied either French, German, Japanese or Spanish; two thirds of those students had previously been on a school and/or university exchange to develop their respective L2 skills. By means of a questionnaire and personal interviews, he collected information about the creation of personal multilingual environments on Facebook, digital interaction practices, and how useful students perceived online language learning.

Alm found that students who had been on a high school and/or university exchange, and therefore had more international Facebook networks, valued the usefulness of Facebook more than those students who had not been abroad. Chatting was also very popular amongst the former exchange students as it allowed them to keep in touch with friends as well as to practice their language skills. Students appreciated the informal setting of Facebook, where it is acceptable to make mistakes, as the communicative aspect is more important than the linguistic one. Articles in the relevant L2 appearing in newsfeeds was also considered important. Yet many of those same students found it unnatural to share articles, write comments or post status updates in their L2. Alm concludes, however, that this also depends on the student’s first language: Posts or comments in English by non-native speakers were found to be a lot more acceptable. As the global lingua franca, English posts may be understood by many readers, whereas a post in, say, German willingly targets fewer people – especially when written by native speakers of English.

L2 use on social media is strongly determined by the social aspect. Keeping in touch with friends from abroad encourages such language use and, the larger the network of people who speak your L2, the greater the chance of you reading and chatting more frequently in your target language.  But Alm also concludes that English-speaking university students are not always aware of the benefits of social media for autonomous language learning.

So, if you want to effectively improve your language skills, the first step is to join an active Facebook group today and then get out there and go on exchange tomorrow!

– Annika Schilk

Alm, A. (2018). Advanced language learners as autonomous language users on Facebook. In: J. Buendgens-Kosten and D. Elsner (eds.), Multilingual Computer Assisted Language Learning, pp. 191-208. Bristol: Multilingual Matters

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