By Grace Wang and Camie Kwok
Highlights of Stevenson and Liu (2010)’s article on foreign language learning websites:
In recent years, some foreign language learning websites have incorporated Web 2.0 functions. Specifically, they allow users to interact with native speakers of their target languages. Stevenson and Liu (2010) conduct an online survey and a usability test on three such websites: Palabea, Babbel and Livemocha (1). While incorporating Web 2.0 functions, these websites also include traditional Web 1.0 features like providing video lectures on vocabulary and grammar.
In their survey, questions on how current users used Babbel are asked. The survey results indicate that the users find the “Vocab Training” section most useful, while disliking the “Discussion Board” and “People (chat) page”, as they resemble those of a dating website more than a learning one’s.
Both technical usability test and pedagogical usability test are carried out for all three websites. Apart from feedback similar to the ones mentioned on Babbel, overall speaking, users show greater interest in traditional learning technology. In other words, they expect to receive sufficient input from video lectures and readings before interacting with proficient language speakers. In addition, users are concerned about whether the sites help them reach their learning goals in a clear and systematic manner.
Remark: (1) Palabea has already closed down, while Livemocha has been sold and converted into another site called Bilingua.
As the social networking function of language learning websites is often their specialty, let me share with you my experience. Yeeyan is a website focused on providing translation resources and online discussion about translation. When I was in high school, I was interested in translation and visited this website very often. On Yeeyan, I met a nice Chinese man who lived with his perfect wife and 2 children in America. He encouraged me to learn more about translation and recommended some places and books to me. We kept emailing each other once per month for half a year, until he decided to stop using the website. He expressed that the website had changed too much, and we lost contact ever since. After that, I stopped visiting that website as well. I think this experience shows that the relationships you built online sometimes motivate your learning; yet, at other times, it may de-motivate you.
Based on the article and our personal experience, we notice the following affordances and constraints of the social networking feature of these websites:
1. Doing – it provides users a group of authentic communicators to interact with in the target language. It is something seldom affordable in reality;
2. Meaning – it provides users an atmosphere of freedom to express themselves;
3. Relating – it helps to build up interpersonal relationships with people who have common interests, some of whom are experts of the target language;
4. Thinking – it relieves users’ feeling of loneliness in the path of language learning;
5. Being – it gives you a new identity as a user, rather than a passive learner, of the language.
1. Doing – Conversation topics tend to be restricted to games, movies, stars, books, cultures, etc., as they are easier for extended discussions. Other topics may bring communication breakdown;
2. Meaning – the freedom these platforms provide may lead to abusive language and sexual harassment;
3. Relating – the personal relationships built, if they are too weak or intense, may de-motivate or distract learners from the goal of language learning;
4. Thinking – users need to be independent thinkers, not easily swayed by online relationships;
5. Being – the identity of the users is limited by the forms of online communication provided by the website. In the case of Yeeyan, the speeches are edited before being sent; hence the users are not spontaneous interlocutors who take part in face-to-face conversations.
So do you have any experience in being motivated or de-motivated by the people you interact with on a foreign language learning website or app? Do you think it is a good experience or not and why? Alternatively, how do you evaluate the social networking features of language learning websites?
1. An article on the analysis of language, learning and identity in social networking in language learning websites, citing Busuu as an example:
Alvarez, J. (2015). “Language, learning, and identity in social networking sites for language learning: the case of Busuu.” 75(08), Dissertation Abstracts International, A: The Humanities and Social Sciences, Vol.75 (08).
2. An article exploring the affordances of microblogging as one form of social networking in language learning, taking Twitter as an example:
Fewell, N. (2014). “Social networking and language learning with Twitter.” Research Papers in Language Teaching and Learning, 5(1), 223-234.