Fanfiction is writing in which fans use media narratives and pop cultural icons as inspiration for creating their own texts.(Black, 2006, p.172)

Rebecca W. Black conducted a case study about a girl named Nanako, a native Mandarin Chinese speaker who had moved from China to Canada. When she first arrived in Canada, she struggled with her courses and making friends since she did not speak any English. Later, by joining and creating a personal page on which she posted her own fanfictions in English, Nanako was not only motivated to improve  English through interactions with her readers, but also better affiliated herself to the new community.


Fanart Fanart of Naruto (Photo Credit: neji hyuga is the best via Compfight cc)

 The study shows that online fanfictions have the following affordances:

  1. Both native and non-native English speakers can acquire the abilities to appropriately use multiple languages, social Discourses, school-based forms of writing and knowledge of popular culture.
  2. Members can build a positive self through representing themselves as experts in popular cultures they are familiar with.
  3. Unlike traditional school settings which involve barriers such as social class, gender, race etc., the online environment provides a safe, supportive and meaningful place for language learning and communication.
  4. With the increasing engagement in the online community, writers can gradually change from “writing for fun” to “writing with specific purpose”.

However, we believe that online fanfiction has some constraints as well

  1.  As teenagers have low self-control ability, they may be addicted to online fanfiction.
  2. The language quality of fanfictions online can not be guaranteed since everyone has access to social networking.
  3. Without strict censorship online, content of those fanfictions involving violence, pornography and crime etc. can mislead impressionable youth.

In your opinion, what are the affordances and constraints of online fanfiction? How can online fanfiction be used in language education?  Do you have any experience relating to fanfictions?

49 thoughts on “Online Fanfiction in Language Learning

  1. I think online fan fiction is quite an interesting topic since we may all have such experience of being a reader or writer of online fanfictions. It could be used to improve language skills because the author of the fiction not only motivated by his or her love for the original work, character, superstars or whatever, but also gain confidence through interactions with readers. However, it is a time-consuming activity and for young students, they are easily addicted to that virtual world. This is only a case study, not every one can gain success through this way.

    • Hi Sherry – I’m wondering about the problem of addiction that you have identified and in what way you see it as a problem. Constance Steinkuehler, who does a lot of work on online games in language education refers to the games as a ‘motivational drug’ that gets the students to engage with learning. With fanfiction, are we talking about ‘addiction’ or ‘motivation’ and ‘engagement’? I’m interested to hear your ideas.

    • To join such an online community does create motivations because students need to improve their language skills to read, write and communicate. However, going too far is as bad as not going enough. They may find reading fanfiction, writing fanficton and interaction with those sharing the same idols so interesting that they cannot help spending time playing a role in that virtual world. That is what I mean “addiction”: they are crazy about being a fan in the virtual world and rely too much on that psychologically. Language is not the only thing they are getting from doing these things, but also thinking, value, world view etc. The problem is there are too much fanfiction online. We cannot guarantee that both the language and content are appropriate for young students because all the texts are written by people of different age, background and language level. Young students is curious and immature, I do believe if we want to apply this into language teaching, teachers should play the role of supervisor who can filter what student can read and write or just simplify it like assigning them to write a fiction about the cultures they like.

    • Thanks for that thoughtful response. If anyone else has any comments on this topic, I’d love to hear them.

    • I agree with you, Sherry. I witness an addiction case when I was having internship at a primary school. There were several students spend too much time on reading and writing fiction. I even saw them reading fictions during classes like math or music. However, I think this kind of behavior should not be prohibited or punished. If the students really consider writing fanfiction as their hobby or are gifted in writing, perhaps it is important for teachers to carefully protect their interests and find a better way to guide the students. If they can be guided properly, addiction could also become motivation and engagement.

    • Hi,Gloria, I really appreciate your idea of protecting students’ interests. Students are not products of a factory. We should treat them as an individual rather than setting standards and telling them what they should and should not do. What we can do maybe is leading them to a right direction by providing them with good suggestions.

    • Yes, sure, fan fiction is very useful for students to build their confidences. If they don’t want to share their opinions in class, they could share them online through a new identity, which is very significant.

  2. I did not have any experience in fanfiction. However, I am thinking about the activity we did last week, i.e. news report of a fairy tale. Maybe we could ask students to create a modern fiction of a famous character of a fairy tale. Creative thinking is something that educators in china always overlook. Too many so-called “standard” answers constrains students’ creative thinking. Thus, if we could ask them to write this kind of fiction, it would definitely boost learners’ interest in language learning.

    • Yes,I agree with you. Creative thinking has been neglected in China for many years. We only take in knowledge from teachers but not give our own opinion. I also think writing fanfiction is a good way for students to express themselves and share their creative thinking.

  3. Fanfiction is not strange to me, but I have never thought about involving it into language teaching. For me, the most advantage of such new literacy is that learners are free from the cultural boundaries. The shared culture backgrounds narrow the gaps between native or non-native readers and writers. Such writing is not entirely “made up” by writers, which somehow would be adopted from writers’ own life while encouraging their creativity and could be regarded as the writing of life with different “representatives”. I believe it is worth trying in our future classroom for our students.

    • Yes I agree with your idea since the main purpose of learning language is to communicate with each others. Without the cultural background knowledge or common conception towards one thing, they cannot reach a successful interaction. Therefore, fanfiction offers a platform for communicating based on a shared interest which may lead to a more easy way of learning language and culture.

    • I like your point of view. I think students would be interested in writing about themselves while use their imagination to create characters beyond them.

    • Language culturE, I think it is very important during the process of learning a new language, if students could use fan fiction as the tool to learn some culture, I think it would be very good. They can access to the “real” native culture through fan fiction.

    • I agree. It is hard to involve fan fiction into real language teaching. However, teacher could encourage student to run their own fanfictions, especially for those students who have low self-esteem. Through building their fanfictions they could communicate with people who have the similar interests, they will not feel alone while improve their own self-esteem.

  4. Actually, I’m not so familiar with fanfiction. My cousin is so crazy about Naruto that she spends a lot of time learning Japanese and drawing the main characters. So I think the best selling point of fanfiction is motivation. Learners are motivated by what interests them. In terms of language education, online fanfiction can be designed as a group work. People who share the same interests often get more motivation and achieve more success when they work together. Another thing is that learners should be taught how to avoid infringing on the original authors’ copyright in advance.

    • One of my cousin is also a big fan of Japanese cartoons. She spend a lot of time reading online fanfictions and drawing pictures. I don’t know whether it is good for her or bad. Group work is a good idea, its like building a small community where your ideas can get immediate feedback from those who share the same interest. I really like your last point. It remind me of many play-writers in China copy others’ ideas…

    • Do you mean Yu Ma? Hahaha~ I think hobbies and interests are good things to motivate them to explore more. At the same time, it’s also necessary for parents and teachers to guide them especially teenagers in an appropriate way.

    • yes, I do agree with you. Cassie. 🙂 I think fan fiction gives the language learners a lot of interests, and makes them actively and subjectively learn the language instead of being forced to learn. If they are shy students, they could find a very good platform for them to express themselves. Fan fiction is also a good way for common interests people sharing their knowledge and language together, which makes a significance.

  5. I have no experience in fanfiction but my Japanese teacher is a big fan of it. She once said that fanfiction not only allow her move to a new stage of writing, but also embark on a special way of communicating with others. So I think it also makes sense to apply it to language education. Fanfiction can serve as a platform to encourage students to show their own self and increase self-confidence.

    • I agree with you Jenny. Fanfiction is a good way for people to show their own self, especially for those who are shy. So it is good for language education to some extent indirectly. Also Japan is very famous for its cartoon so I think people learn Japanese may have more interest in fanfiction.

    • In terms of applying to language education as you said, I suppose what we have done last class actually could be a good way for middle/advanced students in order to cultivate the critical thinking of adapting stories as well as for entertainment. But still, I think when using the way of online fanfiction, we should be careful. Otherwise, it might cause other problems like Jeff said below.

    • I am not good at writing, so that actually I am not very interested in writing my own fanfiction. But I think it maybe a good way for some others who enjoy writing to practice writing proficiency in L2. compared with writing academic papers and so on, writing fanfiction is much more motivated and interesting.

  6. Personally, I do not have any experience with fan fiction but can see why younger children would like it.
    In my opinion, I don’t really see it as being a good tool from a teacher’s perspective to use in a lesson or build lessons from it. From a social perspective, I think that it may be have it’s benefits for helping to get a student to use English for entertainment. Having said that, I think that there are quite a few drawbacks for this kind of ‘edutainment’. While yes, they’re using the language, but it will very quickly become too repetitive in nature. I don’t see the development of good language usage being gained by spending too much time in this virtual world. Also, as mentioned above, the addiction to the gaming aspect of it. I would think that the gaming type aspect would very soon eclipse the practicing/learning of English once the student was accustom to using the platform.
    I think as a teacher we can look at this phenomenon and use it to adapt a teaching/learning variety of it. Creating a web based platform that builds on what is being taught in class but in a more engaging way so that students would show a similar interest in it, would be a possible idea. Lastly, I think that it is very important to keep in mind the predator aspect of something like a fan fiction website. There are manly ways in which young students can be influenced and taken advantage of in these types of online societies. It is hard for teachers and parents to monitor successfully.

    • In Black’s study, she actually did not mention any drawbacks, but we have the same concerns of the fanfiction site as you do. Learners may spend too much time writing, reading or interacting with other fans. However, as writing or reading in the topics learners interested is a great motivation to language learners, we teachers are able to combine these ideas with some other methods, such as establishing a small group or assign the some writing tasks which they like.

  7. I think the idea of using online fanfiction can be a writing exercise for those practicing writers. Since the characters and the settings have already been defined the same as the original work, the writer can only pay attention to the specific aspect such as the design of plot or the description of emotional changes throughout the fanfiction. However, “every coin has its two sides”. I did have a friend who are extremely interested in fanfiction. And from her experience, reading fanfiction seems like a disaster. Because as she said, when you are in the part of that fan community, you are supposed to have to read each other’s fanfiction within that fan group. Some of them might be a havoc on her when she read (e.g.: poor writing skills and too much pornography etc.) and she would rather never participate that fan group.

    • Yes Caroline, I do think this way of practicing language will be more suitable to mature and advanced writers. They can create good works based on the original one. I once read a fiction written by a high school Chinese teacher based on Xiao Ao Jiang Hu, which is so brilliant that even as good as the original one written by Jin Yong. Young learners, however, really need more classic works to help them form good language habits. And in those community, people who read your work may give pressure on the you to read and comment on his work in return which violate the original intention of free interaction. Therefore, I think fanfiction can be read or write for fun. it needs more consideration if we want to apply it to language teaching.

  8. From my point of view, fan fiction is not a good idea for language teaching in classroom.
    The users emphasize meaning rather than form. One one hand, it cultivates students’comprehension and communicative confidence in language learning. On the other, it has limitation in acquiring accurate and more complex language.
    Teachers can provide students with better-organised materials in the class, rather than poor-written texts, to balance form and meaning.

    • Thank you Melody, but I partly agree with your ideas since I believe that writing about the interesting encourages learners complete their assignment better, fanfiction might be a creative platform. As far as I concerned, teachers could transform this method into a more suitable way for education. For instance, to assign those topics as writing or reading assignments or to establish a small-scale community of fanfiction, etc. So I think teacher could adopt it but in a appropriate way.

  9. I went to the link you provided. Just like the blog, the fanfiction provides a pleasure of publishing. And I do find some very creative pieces of writing which can not be found in real books.
    Check this:
    Rusty clouds
    Open up please
    Me and my love
    Emotional free
    Over all our parents’ will
    Joy and pride
    United at last
    Love has overcome evil
    In all aspects of our lives
    Every kiss without regret
    Tonight and forever onwards
    Can you guess what it is about? Rome and Juliet! For the last half an hour surfing on this website, I as a language learner am motivated and inspired.

    • Wow, that’s a fascinating experience, right? Actually in the website, there are contents catering for a large range of readers with different interests. So from my point of view, as teachers we could select some topics from those fan fictions and assignment some writing works to students which they’re interesting.

  10. Wow, this topic is totally new to me. I am not familiar with fanfiction, not to mention the way to apply it in language teaching. In my opinion, fanfiction has the same role and function as video games or comic books or TV series, it provides learners a motivation to start learning a new language and a motivation to keep learning. People always say that interest is the best teacher. If we find out students are specially interested in certain area, we can make use of it and turn it into intrinsic motivation.

    • Hi Aileen! I really agree with you. This kind of activity can motivate students to keep learning. They learn knowledge spontaneously instead of being motivated by exams.

  11. I didn’t know fan fiction before, after I used the hyperlink here, I know it. Fan fiction is very interesting, which could make two sides’ students know more about discourse, culture and of course, English. For my part, almost every body loves the people in fictions, which makes students have more interests in communicating with other through Fan fiction. Motivation is really important. what’s more, for some shy students, they are afraid of saying their words in class, however, through Fan fiction, they could find a community with common interests people. So they could communicate with each other. And for the students, if they could tell others about the culture and other things in their life to others as experts, this would give them a sense of satisfaction and achievement, which improve their motivation towards English learning and Fan fiction.

    • Hello Yueming, the advantages you mentioned in the comment are also right to me. I also think it is a good motivation to help people especially young learners learn language.

  12. I am actually a big fan of this kind of fan-made fictions, and I do have the experience to read some fanfictions written by the native and non-native speaker. And if you read much, you will find that these types of fictions are mostly narratives with a giant block of dialogues between roles. And the amount of detailed descriptions will depend on the author’s writing skill. Thus I don’t think students can learn much from just reading these fanfictions, because the input is often not of high quality, nor is they variable enough.

    But I guess it can be a good accessory teaching appliance to motivate students’ interests, and it will be very helpful for intermediate students to practice their writing. Teachers can have their students divided into several groups and let them co-write a fanfiction. This will stop them from keeping on writing, and students will have to read their peer’s works before they start their own parts. In this way, they can develop their writing and reading skills at the same time.

    • Yes, Cecile! Group work is a good idea. May be students can find the group members themselves based on the same interest and in this way they may gain more motivation and communicate with each other in a freer atmosphere.

    • Your comment about narrative genre is worthy to be taken into a serious consideration. As we have mentioned in other classes, students’ writing skills should be developed within different genres, so the single genre writing activities can not be fully depended on in our classroom so far.

  13. I think many of us agree that fanfiction can motivate students to learn a language. I believe students will get more benefits from reading fanfictions rather than writing their own. I encourage students to read those written by native-speakers. Since students are motivated by the topic, it is likely that they will keep reading. In this sense, it will increase their exposure to the target language. Students can absorb the language from reading fanfictions.

    However, maybe it is not a good idea for students to write their own fanfiction. When writing fanfictions, students will focus more on the content, not accuracy. They may not pay attention to the correctness of some grammar rules or vocabulary. I am afraid that students, especially the lower-levels, will form a bad habit.

    • I can’t agree more. We need to see that fanfiction has both advantages and disadvantages. Although it can motivate students to learn language, it can affect the writing habits of those who have low control and skill.

    • Thanks for these comments. Regarding the idea of forming a bad habit, two things spring to mind. First, we need to remember that making mistakes is an important part of the second language learning process – when corrective feedback is given it allows learners opportunities to revisit the hypotheses that they are developing about language forms and functions. Second, learning can occur as a kind of guided apprenticeship, through interactions between learners and their teacher or learners and their peers. As feedback and interaction are important components of this learning process, any learning activity (including reading and/or writing fanfiction) needs to be ‘scaffolded’ so that there are lots of interaction and feedback opportunities (either with the teacher or with peers).

    • “I believe students will get more benefits from reading fanfictions rather than writing their own.” That’s a very good point to consider. Although reading and writing both are about fanfiction, reading would be a better choice in improving language skills. As you read the things on topics that appeal to you, learning is no more a task but an enjoyment, while writing takes too much time and lacks corrective feedbacks.

    • I reconsider the issue now, about two months later. Before teaching students to ensure accuracy, we as language teachers should consider students’ motivation first. Without motivation, students are not willing to participate in any tasks. In this sense, I think fanfiction writing is a motivating activity for language learners to keep on writing.

  14. First of all, I like fanfiction as well as Japanese cartoon. And I think it will be a good way to learn a language through entertaining such as playing computer games and watching cartoons. Writting fanfiction in English can help with the critical thinking as well as the the ability of organizing the words and sentences. But, besides the addiction problem, what if the author of fanfiction made mistakes and then published on websites, as a result, the incorrect language will broadcast. However, I think it is a good method to motivate learners.

    • I agree with you, I think students would be excited to have cartoon characters in their course materials and enjoy the practice.They should also be encouraged to develop their own story with the words they learned which makes review less boring.

  15. I guess fan fiction is just one of the creative ways of language learning, which is popular among young learners. Everybody has his or her interests, and there certainly are some learners who are not fond of fan fiction. But the most important thing, I deem, is to find your own “fan fiction”, and stick to it. Make sure the activity you like is not just a fad, since language learning is relatively slow and time consuming. Only practice makes perfect.

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