By Tiffany, Emily, Zita and Stella
Since its introduction into second and foreign language learning, CMC has contributed to learners’ lexical and grammatical output as well as their motivation to communicate in L2 when compared with face-to-face interactions. Blyth (2008) grouped studies of CMC into four categories:
- sociocultural; and
Insights from Technological and Psycholinguistic Research
From the technological and psycholinguistic perspectives, early studies showed the benefits of practicing via CMC to help improve oral performance in L2. Chun (1994) and Kern (1995)’s studies showed that participants in the CMC group relied less on instructors and they sought genuine information from each other. During the process, participants played multiple roles (e.g., adviser, joker, challenger etc.). A study carried out by Sykes (2005) found that participants who practiced speech acts through written and oral chat outperformed their peers who practiced face-to-face in tone of voice, rate of conversation, laughter and pragmatic features.
Synchronicity, modality, and task design are the extra factors that contribute to the type of discourse participants practice in CMC. Synchronicity indicates the temporal part of communication, which includes synchronous CMC (SCMC: communication takes place at the same time) and asynchronous CMC (ACMC: communication takes place with a gap in time). When it comes to modality, learners rely on the printed text in traditional written communication. But participants in CMC need to spend time reading others’ expressions and creating their responses in order to be engaged in the interaction. In addition to the task design, Abrams (2013) concluded that face-to-face communication demonstrated a sequential process (trigger–repair/resolution–response) on negotiation routine, while a multi-turn repair sequence was marked in the negotiation of CMC.
Insights from Sociocultural and Ecological Research
CMC has become a tool for language learners to facilitate interaction between peers in the last decades. Telecollaboration can help students have a good understanding of other cultures. For instance, they are able to exchange messages online with e-pen pals from other areas. Thorne (2003) and Chun (2011)’s findings are compatible with this opinion. Chun observed German learners of English and American learners of German interacting with each other online, and found that they made great progress in terms of ICC (Intercultural Communicative Competence) by assessing their discourse markers. On the other hand, CMC has the potential of failure and Belz (2000) points out the key to success in telecollaboration. She believes institutional differences and personal factors play an important role in the effectiveness of CMC.
We found the idea of keypal mentioned in Thorne (2003)’s research really helpful and interesting in language learning. And we worked out a couple of advantages as well as disadvantages of this approach as illustrated below.
- It is easy for you to find a person sharing the same L2 as you online to communicate with since the online community is enormous and we have various language learning softwares like Duolinguo, Busuu, Tandem
- Language learners have the opportunity to be in contact with native speakers from whom they can learn authentic language like idioms and slangs.
- With your keypal friends, users are free to express feelings, which is motivating for L2 learners who feel stressed speaking in class.
- Users can experience intercultural communication with those who come from many different cultural backgrounds and understanding culture is a crucial component of learning a language.
- This approach can use both ACMC and SCMC at the same time, which makes the contact time more flexible. Learners can send emails to their keypals as well as chat with them online.
- Some grammatical mistakes will be ignored if both keypals are learners of the target language. Learners will not always get effective feedback from their keypals in terms of improving language accuracy.
- This approach can be useful and effective for elementary level language learners to improve their language proficiency to intermediate level, but for those who want to be advanced language users, it does not work any more. If one manages to gain a native-like level, he or she needs professional instruction given by teachers who are highly trained.
- This way of learning lacks academic resources, so it is not suitable for learners who want to enhance English for academic purposes.
- Do you know other approaches to using CMC in teaching and do you have any suggestions about how CMC can be used in language learning and teaching?
- Have you experienced learning an L2 through a keypal exchange? Could you share your experience with your classmates?