picture1CMC, Computer mediated communication, is widely used in language teaching today. According to Abrams (2012), the way students communicate when using CMC differs from their face-to-face interactions. L2 learners become more independent and rely less on instructors. In addition, students who practice oral and written chat through computer perform better than other peers.

In this post, we will take Skype as an example to explore how CMC can be used in language teaching.

Photo Credit: nylsmkt via Compfight.cc


Skype is a synchronous CMC software that provides video chat and voice calls from computers, tablets and mobile devices to other devices. It also allows instant messaging, exchange of files as well as conference calls. (For more information please click here.)

In recent years, Skype is widely used in language teaching due to its low cost, conferencing capacities, recording options and capacity to connect free real-time conversation (Godwin-Jones, 2005; Foote, 2008). Generally speaking, Skype has three affordances:

1) Synchronous—it provides an opportunity to speak in real-time with people around the world. Teachers and learners can have lessons online without geographic restrictions. In addition, it serves as a platform allowing synchronous conferencing calls, so that learners can have small discussion forums via Skype.

2) Multifunctional—it allows text, voice and video messaging and also affords file sharing functions, which provides teachers and learners with alternative ways to communicate. Moreover, its recording option is very useful for language learners. Learners can record conversations with teachers or peers, and also set up their own recording portfolios tracking their learning process. With the recordings, learners are able to review conversations any time they like and discover their errors and shortcomings while reviewing.

3) User-friendly—the use of Skype is free and, as a result, Skype facilitates the spread of online courses. Besides, the interface is simple and easy to understand, so that learners at different ages can master quickly.

Unavoidably, Skype also has some constraints.

Using Skype in teaching requires learners to have a good sense of self-control. The real studying environment of learners is hard to observe. Learners may conduct multitasking when they have Skype lessons. The screen also blocks people’s natural way of communication. It is easy for learners to feel restrained in front of computer because body movements are limited. In addition, when the teacher wants to share documents with students, the interactivity cannot be as smooth as face-to-face communication.

Learner’s experience
The implementation of Skype in language learning is becoming common nowadays.

“I took an online IELTS speaking course before. At that time, I was living in Guangzhou while the teacher was in Malaysia. Skype became the only tool we used to communicate. We usually shared files and practiced speaking via Skype. I think Skype is convenient because I can have real-time conversation with the teacher and receive feedback immediately. However, the biggest constraint is that it has high requirement for internet speed. Our conversations sometimes broke off because of the slow internet connection. But generally speaking, I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. It is still a very useful tool to learn a language. ” —Huaming

“I used to have group discussions via Skype in the university. But I just couldn’t react as casually as in face-to-face communication because it’s very hard to observe other’s reactions through the screen. And you need to reply immediately because if you pause, it seems weird. I also once took oral tests through Skype. I was more nervous because every move I made would be recorded. Moreover, some of my classmates prepared the answers in advance and when the oral test began, they just read the notes from the screen, but Skype won’t tell the secret.” —Lily

There is no denying that Skype, as a synchronous and multifunctional communication software, creates lots of possibilities to language teaching. Have you ever had the experience of using CMC tools in education settings? How could such tools be used by language teachers and learners? What are the potential benefits and pitfalls? Please share with us your ideas and experiences.

If you are interested, you can see a video of How to use Skype for online classes.

58 thoughts on “CMC in L2 Teaching

  1. Skype was originally designed as a telecommunication software which can send all kinds of documents and instant messages and available on any digital devices. When dealing with language learning and teaching, I think, the online conference call is more practical than one-on-one communication activities which are very energy-consuming for teachers. I as astonished that there is a website training anyone to be a language teacher within 3 hours when I search “Skype” with google. So another concern of mine is that such virtual communication may involve some less experienced or even unqualified language teachers in the online teaching for Skype is very easy to get access to.

    • Thanks very much for your comments! First of all, I agree that conference call is a useful tool to communicate with people far away. But, as we have seen a video on youtube in class, when used in language teaching , I think there are still some problems, such as people are easy to feel boring and be interrupted especially for young students. As for less experienced teachers, I believe that in school, there are still many new teachers who are not rich in experience. Experience is something that can be gained throungh practical teaching. And this kind of websites also provide a stage for new teachers to have the chance to practice. And I am convinced that there is no need to worry about the teaching quality of this green hands, because most of these websites are two way selection. And many of these websites have trial lessons for students to decide and choose.

    • I understand your concern that some online language teachers are not qualified. Actually, I encountered some less qualified language teachers online. Someone can become a language teacher as long as he or she can speak comparatively fluent English. I met a teacher, who was still a college student , teaching oral English via Skype. I can not promise that he was competent to teach, but I think he indeed helped me a lot. At that time I need a partner to practice, to push myself to keep speaking, and feedback did not very helpful then. But people who need adequate feedback had better consider the teacher’s qualification.

  2. When I was in an IELTS speaking class, there were some Korean students study together with us. And after the training class, we all separated to different places. While I was left in the class for assistant. At that time, we usually Skype to share information with each other and exchange exam materials. Our teacher made comments on our spoken English and this helped us a lot. So, I think it is a useful tool which can be applied in our future teaching plans.

    • Your comment reminds of a software,which could help users to improve their speaking. It is called ‘rosetta stone’. It is developed specifically for speaking.

    • Hi Junjie! I have also used that software. It can help students learn many languages. Good recommendation!

    • Haha, I am a big fan of rosetta stone, too. I learned English and Japanese on it. Interesting experience!

    • Haha, I am a big fan of rosetta stone, too. I learned English and Japanese on it. Interesting experience!

  3. Unlike some apps which might be just used for normal oral drills through computer, apps like Skype works as a platform of chatting with others. So communication becomes a motivation of learning language in this case. Meanwhile, students can also gain information through it which benefit their practical use of language.

    • Yeah, communication may motivate students’ interest of learing language, which stimulates students to practice more in daily life. As teachers, we need to find effective ways to lead students to communicate and help students to keep communication in L2 as a habit. And CMC is quite convenient in this respect.

  4. I have no experience in using Skype for teaching and learning purpose. I think it might be useful in Tandem Learning. A tandem pair can communicate through Skype, correct each others’ oral mistakes and do some writing. This kind of authentic interaction can help students have a better sense of “global” English instead of “standard” English. But as you pointed out in blog, there might be pressure on learners while they using instant communication. I think it is teachers’ job to relief learners and give them confidence to continue.
    I want to mention a website widely used in China as teaching tool, http://www.yy.com I once used it to prepare IELTS. Teachers created a channel and we joined in. Teachers had the control over each student’s microphone so that the classroom was not noisy. There was also a board where every student can write some comments, feedback or questions. It is efficient and convenient.

    • I quite agree with your words, this is related to the tandem learning approach. And I also experienced YY for my language learning, and I think it is something like a TV conference, it is very convenient and useful, especially for those who are not available to IELTS classes on personal. Except for the shortcoming that it takes the teacher some time to adjust the headset and mike before every class.

    • Your ideas are quite useful. I also used yy for lessons as well. Just as you said, students behaved well in class so that It was not difficult for teachers to manage the classroom. But maybe that is because we had good self-discipline. For younger learners, It maybe not so easy to keep their attention to the lecture all the time.

    • YY is really a popular APP in China. Nothing is more effective than it in online learning field so far. However most of the class is commercial and the quality of the class is not under any administration. Learners have to select the class carefully to ensure that they really learn something.

  5. Thank you for bringing up CMC and Skype. I am working on the critical essay right now and one of the literature reviews I read is about CMC in educational settings. Thorne(2003) points out that “within educational contexts, CMC activity often appears to forge a hybridity that allows for an interplay between students’ non-academic identities and the discursively constructed institutional roles of the classroom”. I like this idea of non-academic identities and roles of classroom, for that’s what L2 learners expect to experience from CMC activities and what teachers should pay attention to. In addition, Skype is a culturally specific tool, so the effective use of it requires some efforts to inform learners of shared knowledge.

    Skype Translator came out recently, which learners and teachers may be interested in. I checked a video in which Skype company tested the use of Skype Translator in two schools, one in Mexico City and the other in Tacoma, USA. The interactions turned out wonderful. Maybe it is just a promotional video, who knows, but it shows the possibility and trend for future learning. If you are interested in, please click there http://blogs.skype.com/2014/12/15/skype-translator-preview-an-exciting-journey-to-a-new-chapter-in-communication/.

    • Thanks for your sharing. The video is amazing. The Skype translator provides great convenience for us to communicate with people of different language. But I have a question: does this kind of tool help us or hinder us from learning a language? There is no doubt that it is very useful in our daily life. But with the translator, it seems that we do not need to learn a new language any more. What do you think?

  6. Hello, I am Yueming, I really love the article you have written, especially the structure of your article, which is so clear. and for Skype, we have written many articles about the Skype as the medium for teaching. it is very convenient, there is no need for learners to go to school or some certain places. However, when facing classmates or teachers through Skype, you don’t feel so comfortable, sometimes, the feelings are so strange. For my part, I prefer use Skype sometimes, we can talk and communicate through it, but maybe not foe all the purpose. Thank you so much.

    • I think that Yueming draws on an important point. “there is no need for learners to go to school”. Not so much in Hong Kong at least but I’ve read that due to funding issues that many universities in western countries have many classes that are solely conducted on Skype like formats. The virtual classroom is becoming more and more a widely used term. I agree that there are some benefits in terms of convenience and ease of accessing a classroom while sitting in your pyjamas at home, but to cater to the learners that are not able to be effective learners with the wealth of distractions that are at home is something that would need to be assessed. How is the learning different? What psychological triggers do we create when we think about sitting in a ‘classroom’ if that classroom is actually our bedroom?

    • I also thing that it can be awkward when communicating through Skype for teachers and students. And as Jeff mentioned about situations in American? It might cause problem if the main teaching format becomes Skype. People might feel alienated if they don’t have enough actual interaction face to face.

    • Hello, Yueming! You just mentioned one important affordance of cmc communication. That is it get rid of geographic restriction. With the aid of computer, we do not have to go to a certain place for face-to-face communication. I think this is a very important affordance cmc tools have.

    • Hi Yueming! I also think that both Skype communication and face-to-face communication have their pros and cons. Teachers should combine them by applying Skape as facilitator.

    • Yes, Yueming, I agree with you. Using Skype for daily communication with friends or exchanging opinions with others is quite good. But it cannot replace classroom teaching, given that the face-to-face communication is essential in language learning.

  7. Skype provides a good platform for learners, especially those who are in need to learn an unknown language. It is particularly good for one’s writing and speaking. And of course listening and reanding will also be exercising. Not to mention that you can make friends with a total unknown foreigner that will increase your ability of communication as well. That’s great experience. This is a good new literacy that I am fond of.

    • Thanks Emma. You are right that this kind of communication practices learners’ basic language skills. Moreover, since it is authentic communication, learners can interact with others also, so that they can practice social skills as well.

  8. Thanks for sharing! I quite agree with the part that “it’s very hard to observe other’s reactions through the screen”. I had similar experience that I could not decide whether the speaker was just stating his opinion or being sarcastic. But I do LOVE its free-of-charge mode.

    • Thank you, Gavin. In the communication, when I need to give reactions, I will observe others’ body language, facial expression, tone and anything else. Online communication, to a certain degree, restrains them. Because how you speak during a video commnunication, will be different from face-to-face communication more or less.
      However, the purpsose of using CMC is to help students learn something, maybe how to respond normally is not so important. Or students can practice more with friends, to get used to the online communication mode. As teachers, we also have responsiblity to help students to find their comfortable zone in communication.

  9. It is a convenient and brilliant way to study in this way. But people may be not used to this new way of learning and find it hard to adapt to. The effectiveness may depend on who are using it. I once observed a friend learning French online, students go to YY (the website mentioned by Aileen), there is one teacher and many students, all of them can talk, it is good for interaction but also brings problem of management. there are many interruptions and overlaps. Easily get boring and tired..

    • I quite agree with you. The effectiveness is really dependent on who used it for learning. So the learning process should be well designed in order to achieve the learning goal. I guess it is better to use it as the extra practice part instead of using it to replace classroom teaching and learning.

    • YY is also a cmc tool for real-time communication. As what you said, teaching lessons to a class via these tools may cause chaos. But today these tools are more commonly used for one-on-one lessons and small discussion forum, which are more easy to manage. Maybe in the future it can be adapted into big class teaching.

  10. Frankly, synchronously chat apps (visual or non-visual), such as WeChat, Skype and WhatsApp, provide users a cheaper opportunity, comparing with international phone call, to communicate with foreign language users. But the biggest problem of these kinds of communicating tools is the limitation of time difference. Users’ communication is limited by the control of time zone unless someone is making concessions of postponing sleep time.

    • Hi, Nancy. I agree that you bring up the point that the time limitation in using the chat apps. But I think there could also be solutions about this issue. For example, students or teachers can neigotiate and manage their time schedual in advance by consdering different time zone, find the best time for both and then come into agreement with each other.

    • Thanks for your comment. Your are right that cmc communication is limited by the control of time zone. But the fact is that it is impossible to solve this problem because we can not change the time, right? On the contrast, I think cmc tools provide us with possibility to communicate across the country. Instead of communicating synchronously, we still can communicate via texts or emails.

  11. My critical review essay is quite realted to this blog post. I am also interested in the application of Skype to language education. As pointed out in the post, Skype can be used as a teaching tool for students’ and teachers’ interaction. As for me, I prefer to draw on the tool for the communication between students. For example, they work together for an intercultural project via skype, which is much less stressful and demanding. They can also notice others’ nonverbal language to better understand the meaning.

    • So in this way, students from different countries can coordinate with each other by using it as a tool for real time interaction. Good idea. It will function when applied to a project-based learning approach.

  12. From my point of view, I would say that the use of skype is more effective in communicating rather than conducting lessons. Even though Skype solves the problems of commuting between school and home, the concentration of students and the internet speed are still big concerns. I had my own experience to communicate with foreign friends to exchange language( Chinese and English) by using skype in my university 3 years ago. I found that it was an effecient way to arouse students’ interest as Skype enables me to learn in an authentic enviroment which you won’t really have at schools. It was during the time that my Enlgish had a huge jump and made great progress.

    • Hello Caroline! Your comment is very helpful. Different from learning language in classroom, cmc provides authentic Environment, which to a large extent arouses learners’ interest in communicating in English. I also practiced English with friends from Philippine and Spain before, and I found that I was much more willing to speak English. Moreover, I felt less anxious and stressful in an authentic environment. Frankly speaking, I enjoy this kind of communication rather than that in classroom.

  13. This article reminds me of a video Dr. CHUN showed us in his Friday class. In this video a group of people attend a network meeting. Although the network helps them to overcome the geographic obstacles, frequent dropping off and coming back make the meeting a total mess. Thus I hold that if a teacher want to introduce CMC into his/her classroom, he/she should take good care of the online class management.

    • That’s an interesting point. Although CMC overcome the geographical obstacles and have different representative forms, teacher’s observation and monitoring is necessary. I think it’s fine for teachers to care for that with the help of CMC tools.However, students may not be the only reason that causes online classes a total mess, internet speed, time lag and other technical issues can all be the problem. Thus both teachers and leaners should take some time in advance to make sure everything is in order.

    • Yes, Cecile. Classroom management is something that should never be neglected no matter what form the classroom takes. Be it a vitural class or a real class, there alway exists the problem of disruptive behaviour. For a class taught via Skype, a myriad of things can be the reasons leading to classroom chaos. Therefore, it is necessary for teachers to make rules about potential issues in advance so they can conduct the class smoothly.

  14. Huaming, I have had the same experience before about the Skype conversation suddenly frozen or break off. I was really worried about the Internet speed and I even double check it several times when I was about to have the interview for university through Skype.

    Lily, I agree with you that it is weird to pause when you are having a conversation with someone via Skype. Even if you lost words, you should at least make some noise to break the embarrassing situation. And, talking via Skype with you old friend for the very first time can also be embarrassing, it feels like you have to sit and dressed very well in front of the camera.

    To conclude, I like your article, because while I read it, I also make many echoes in my mind.

  15. Huaming, I have had the same experience before about the Skype conversation suddenly frozen or break off. I was really worried about the Internet speed and I even double check it several times when I was about to have the interview for university through Skype.

    Lily, I agree with you that it is weird to pause when you are having a conversation with someone via Skype. Even if you lost words, you should at least make some noise to break the embarrassing situation. And, talking via Skype with you old friend for the very first time can also be embarrassing, it feels like you have to sit and dressed very well in front of the camera.

    To conclude, I like your article, because while I read it, I also make many echoes in my mind

  16. Huaming, I have had the same experience before about the Skype conversation suddenly frozen or break off. I was really worried about the Internet speed and I even double check it several times when I was about to have the interview for university through Skype.

    Lily, I agree with you that it is weird to pause when you are having a conversation with someone via Skype. Even if you lost words, you should at least make some noise to break the embarrassing situation. And, talking via Skype with you old friend for the very first time can also be embarrassing, it feels like you have to sit and dressed very well in front of the camera.

    To conclude, I like your article, because while I read it, I also make many echoes in my mind!

    • Hi Joy! We are glad that you like it. It is a big problem that the internet speed is not fast enough. It will make me crazy if the conversation often breaks off, especially when I am talking about important things. If the internet speed is ok, then will you choose Skype to have an online lesson?

    • I will give it a shot, I also believe native speakers would like to choose Skype as their teaching tool. So far I haven’t found other software that more convenient and popular than Skype. I think Skype will become a tendency of long-distance language teaching and learning tool.

  17. I am suprised to see that so many of our classmates have the experience of using Skype to learn languages. Personally, I never used it before and I will probably not use it if I have a choice because I prefer face-to-face interaction and classroom environment when learning. It feels good when there are people around learning together. However, teaching through Skype has an important advantage, which is that it saves costs and energy. One teacher can teach far more students than he/she does in actual classroom and more students get to have opportunites to learn. Also, students who cannot afford to take classes may find online classes more acceptable.

    • Hello Gloria! CMC indeed saves energy and costs. Your comment reminds me of an online course platform named “Coursera”, which not only provides language courses but also courses about many other fields. You can have a try if you are interested : p

  18. It is really a good try to apply Skype to language learning , especially tandem learning. But just as you discussed above, the biggest challenge is the fact that it is hard to observe participant’s reaction. Different from the traditional classroom teaching in which teachers can be aware of learners’ reactions immediately, CMC always fails to detect it.

    • Good conclusion! I can’t agree more with you. Skype is an ideal tool in tandem learning.

  19. Another question that one could consider is: what is the effect of the CMC channel on the actual language used? In communicating through CMC, do you need to learn a different kind of language (e.g. emoticons, abbreviations, homophones and so on – I’m thinking text-based CMC here)? If you do, is that a positive thing? How could a language teacher exploit those CMC resources as part of a course in a second or foreign language?

    • I think the trend of CMC is the application of new form of langauge into new literacies. It is necessary for a student to both comprehend CMC texts and create new literacies. For conventional form of literacy sometimes bore learners a lot. Thus, creative texts involving emoticons and abbreviations are attractive to learners. And it is also said that this kind of writing style will not impact students’ academic writing. The new form of language in CMC can be acquired naturally instead of being taught by a teacher in a conventional way.

    • I quite agree with Fiona. About how language teacher exploit text-based CMC as a part in language learning, I have an example here. Recently, I saw a news that writer Maris Kreizman jokingly said on Twitter, “Instead of all the cliched adjectives, maybe the publishing industry should give in and allow all blurbs to be done in emoji form.” Then lots of press responded,like Penguin Random House and Bloomsbury USA. People conclude book they read into emoji or guess others’ emoji book conclusion.
      It can be applied in second language teaching classes, for example, a reading summary task. And students also will be interested in this way.

  20. I think there is a potential problem associated with CMC language learning. As CMC language is becoming popular, student may have difficulties in identifying language used in formal and informal settings in the real world.I think this problem is quite tricky and worthy of our attention.

    • Good point! Thus teachers are needed to teach students how to use language in different contexts and situations. And sometimes, students have such awareness of language use. For example, we won’t use the same language in posting weibo and in writing our dissertation.

  21. Very well organized article. I like the section that you guys present some case for learers’ experiences of using Skype. It does brings numerous affordances to language education. It makes distance learning possible, and solves the maldistribution of learning resources to sme extend. Nowadays, more and more CMC technologies have been created and some functions are really brilliant. Such as Wechat, it is now more than a forum for people to communicat. It also have official account for language learning and tips for language tests, like IELTS and TEM. Besides, people can share their learning experiences or problems with their friends, which, for lots of learners, is also a very crucial part for their language learning.

    • Thanks for your comment, Scarlett. We are glad that you like it. You give a very good summary of the affordance of CMC above. As you said, CMC tools nowadays become popular in our daily life, like wechat, etc. They give us great convenience for communication. And also, I believe that in the future, more and more CMC technologies will be integrated into language teaching.

    • Yes, Scarlett. I agree with with you. Personally I like the organization way of this article. When I was preparing the test like IELTS, I searched a lot of public account for english learning to get some materials and I found a large quantity of friends preparing the test at the same time. We encourage each other and communicate through with skype. CMC is definitely useful in the future language education.

Comments are closed.