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Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Role, Importance, and Power of Words (by a guest)

I haven't posted an article for a while and this time I'm sharing an article one of my blog readers wrote. Some months ago I received an e-mail saying:

Hi Marisa,

I'm a researcher/writer for a resource covering the importance of English proficiency in today's workplace. I came across your blog as I was conducting research and I'm interested in contributing an article to your blog because I found the topics you cover very engaging.

I'm thinking about writing an article that looks at how the Internet has changed the way English is used today; not only has its syntax changed as a result of the Internet Revolution, but the amount of job opportunities has also shifted as a result of this shift. I'd be happy to work with you on the topic if you have any insights. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


And I thought it would be a good idea. Here it is:

Today’s post by Alexa Russell focuses on both the challenges and opportunities the Internet offers to teachers of the English language, particularly with the proliferation of social media sites. Alexa researches and writes about studying English in the 21st century, including articles on the availability of open courseware English classes and courses. Here, Alexa builds on the Linguistic Consultancy’s blog post about how to approach teaching English with flexibility and an eye toward motivating students, often by using the social media tools available on the Internet.

The Role of Teachers in The Complicated Relationship Between the English Language and the Internet

The Internet has proven most paradoxical as far as the English language is concerned. On one hand, the web is home to a wealth of English language education opportunities, many of which are free or low-cost; but at the same time, linguistic experts complain that ‘webspeak,’ or shorthand and morphed English used on the web and in text messages, is effectively ruining English spelling and grammar. Today, many experts agree that licensed English teachers can play a crucial role in providing positive learning opportunities for e-students without exposing them to the confusing influence of Internet shorthand.

As New York Times correspondent Eric A. Taub recently noted, there are many online resources free of charge to those who wish to learn English. They include:

  • BBC Learning These English lessons for children and adults use multimedia and an interactive format to improve speaking and writing skills.
  • These interactive English lessons include social networking opportunities and downloadable apps for smartphones and tablet devices.
  • Open Culture This forum-style site features links to various English lessons, as well as videos, eBooks and other supplementary materials.
But formal English courses are not the only resources that can aid web users in learning English. English mini-lessons (with titles like ‘How to Use Adjectives and Adverbs’ and ‘Writing for a North American Business Audience’) are available through the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL). And since many teachers utilize newsprint during their lessons, the international Online Newspaper Index is a valuable resource that demonstrates the worldwide variances in English writing.

With the worldwide rise of social media, many education experts have touted various platforms as valuable English learning tools. For example, a recent article in ESchool News noted that Twitter, a platform with roughly 465 million accounts (as of January 2012), is useful to educators as an accurate gauge of current events, trends and pop culture. Furthermore, most ‘tweets’ are composed in English, and their content is indicative of contemporary language usage. 

While many educators tout the informative qualities of social media, many have spoken out against its detrimental effects on the English language.These complaints are bolstered by a recent study by the American Institutes for Research, which found English proficiency scores have noticeably worsened over the last decade – even as math proficiency has improved. Social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest – as well as the surge in text messaging – are largely blamed for this steady decline. If this is the effect social media has on native English speakers, critics argue, then Twitter and Facebook could not possibly benefit ESL learners.

However, many teachers have found considerable success by using social media to teach English. The San Marcos Unified School District of Northern California, for example, instituted a social media profile program two years. Sixth, seventh and eighth grade students use Facebook to upload finished essays, and then provide feedback and critiques to classmates for their work. Incidentally, the school’s standardized test scores rose from 64.6 percent to 80.3 percent in the year after the program was launched.

Ultimately, noted Guardian UK Contributor Ryan Owen Gibson last April, social media is not only a strong educational resource but also a relevant cultural phenomenon – and those who ignore it are “missing out on a world of opportunities.” He urges teachers to utilize Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and blogging programs to build basic language skills with young people – and warns them not to underestimate the power of social media. “By refusing to engage with our children in the digital playground that is social media,” he noted, “we will never truly understand their needs and never fully realise its potential as a language learning tool.”

The English educators who find the most success with social media are those who teach it under well-established guidelines (i.e. no ‘webspeak’). This structure ensures that children will not only be able to build their skills in an interactive setting, but also that their grammar and spelling won’t suffer.

 Alexa Russell is a freelance writer who has primarily been working with an online, educational resource devoted to delivering information to students pursuing an English degree. Her primary interests are developing educational technology and the changing nature of communication. Feel free to drop her a line if you ever have any questions. 


  1. Interesting article. Today, Internet is more helpful for peoples by lot of fields. Using internet we got lot of information that we want. If the internet is your home then you will get a lot of English language learning opportunities, many of which are free or low cost. Because today, speak English is must important to doing a job in the industries otherwise you will face a lot of problems. These days, many professionals consent that certified English teachers can play an important part in offering positive learning possibilities for e-students without revealing them to the complicated impact of Online shorthand.
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    1. Thanks for your comment, Ross. I'm sorry I haven't answered before.
      I agree with you on the fact that speaking English is essential at present.