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Speaking & the Internet: an unlikely match?
by MJ. Auria, E. Lozano & M. Mansilla
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1) Approaches

The Internet is regarded as the superhighway of information, the ultimate mass medium, but also as a very valuable interpersonal means of communication.

It is for the latter function that we teachers use the Internet with our students and encourage them to use it on their own.

When the Internet was not even born to the lay world and computer technology was in its infancy, the acclaimed linguist, M.A.K. Halliday hit the nail on the head when he said:

"The distinction between speech and writing is becoming blurred as a consequence of modern technology"

After surfing the web for contemporary linguists' views , we cannot but praise Halliday's vision of today's scenario.

A contemporary well-known linguist, David Crystal , has coined the term "Netspeak" to refer to a new type of computer mediated language, which is in fact a blend of written and spoken language and it is the language computer users the world over communicate through. Symbols and emoticons that take over real facial expressions, prosodic features, body language .... that is, onsite face-to-face communication. D.Crystal says that "what makes Netspeak so interesting , as a form of communication, is the way it relies on characteristics belonging to both sides of the speech/writing divide"

We would like to point out here that it is English, particularly, that because of its status as a lingua franca, is being largely affected by the medium. As Alexander Voiskounsky puts it in his article "Teleloge Conversations"

" Analysing English usage by those netters for whom it is not the mother tongue, one could find a peculiar kind of *pidginized 'network English' being formed "

* (authors' note): "pidgin" is a lingua franca that is spoken by non-native speakers.

We must admit that not much research need to be be done to disclose the undeniable fact that written rather than spoken English is widely used through the Net, for various reasons, among them the possibility of communicating with others without the hindrance of pronunciation , as English is not a phonemic language and you never know how to pronounce diphthongs, for example! ,

If we ESL teachers do not want to see how spoken English loses its battle to 'pidginized netspeak' we have to turn to the teacher's best allies : multimedia (software)and the playful element inherent in the medium (hardware)

In Rogers' words "a new kind of imaginary playground for the mind". An unbeatable description that we can only expand by saying that, thanks to multimedia, speaking can regain its popularity with English learners through mind-challenging, eye-catching CALL activities in the computer lab. Let's not forget that a need for competition and interaction is in the very nature of human beings, and this is where multimedia come to our rescue: on the one hand, audio-aided material can provide the student with a spoken Egnlish model that students imitate and respond to . On the other hand, Interaction can place through voiced chats, webcams and videoconferencing, which can be used to communicate with others outside the classroom.

Other ESL teachers are on the same wavelength, as is the case of D.Teeler and P.Gray, who claim " "Still, the real motivating factor in using the Internet for speaking practice has to be its potential for communication beyond the classroom walls through the use of videoconferencing and telephony. Arranging debates and presentations with a class 5000 miles away, with different perspectives on an issue, pushes students to express themselves coherently, examine their rhetoric and work on social strategies. And the tools promote collaboration between schools and experts for investigation and research on cross-curricular projects. "

This scenario sounds really promising : speaking practice activities would then be authentic, genuine interaction taking place in real time. What James Simpson calls " Synchronous Computer Mediated Communication" . The future direction of CMC includes the prospect of increased availability and the use of voice and video conferencing, assuring a continued growth in its significance for teaching and learning."

However, we run the risk of becoming too dependent on new technologies and sooner or later we will be held hostage by computer gurus, always with new upgraded gadgetry, versions etc. to sell. The downside of it being how time consuming reaching a mere user level is, let alone becoming the troubleshooter in the computer lab!

One of the most conclusive findings we can put forward at this stage is that the new role of teachers has been dramatically influenced by the medium .This new role is at the same time:

a) rewarding , because the medium encourages learners to learn independently and turns teachers themselves into learners.

b) scary, because it can be too demanding "...the element of motivation that IT arouses ensures that many learners will continue to access the Internet and thus develop linguistically perhaps in spite of its only partial presence in schools. For the most part the Internet is still there for teachers to explore and exploit more fully." Trotman,Wayne "Aspects of the Internet and their Possibilities for ELT: a Survey Review"

In fact, in the next two sections we will analyize the results of our findings after fully exploring the Net for teaching pronunciation methods and speaking practice within online courses.

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