Posted by Corrine, Zoe, Eunice & Cindy

social network1

Online Community connects people around the world.

The modern century has entered an increasingly networked, electronic, and globalized age. Students are involved in virtual communities, mediated by tools like emails, blogs and online forums, on a more frequent basis. An increasing number of researchers pay attention to the impact of digital literacy practices on L2 learning. Wan Shun Eva Lam (2000) points out that using L2 to communicate on the Internet has a positive effect on identity formation and L2 literacy development. In her case study, she conducted interviews with a Chinese immigrant student called Almon in the United States. Almon experienced a dramatic improvement in his English and a positive change of his life attitude after he started to run his personal home pages, conduct on-line chat and have e-mail exchanges with his pen pals.

Now, let’s see what Almon did on the Internet:

1. Setting up Personal Home Page

Almon located his home page in “Tokyo” on Geocities, where he provided information about a Japanese popular singer – Ryoko Hirosue. He used multimodal resources for meaning making on his home page, including setting background music, writing a profile of the star, presenting an animated cartoon, inserting useful links and providing space for fans to comment and exchange ideas. Being the owner of the home page, he adopted certain types of language choices – first and second pronouns, imperatives and the modal verb can – to show his new identity as a knowledgeable and valued member in this particular J-pop community.

2. Chatting Online

Almon was regularly in touch with people from all around the world sharing their common interests via chat or e-mail. Many of his pen pals were female and were considerate and supportive. Meanwhile, Almon adopted certain language choices, such as hedges, qualifiers and emoticons to act in a nurturing and supportive role. In this way, gender lines in the virtual community are blurred, which is different from the gender role in reality.

What do we think of this case?

Previously, Almon was a low-achieving student studying in a high school. Due to his non-native like English, he revealed a sense of his marginalized position in society and depression about his future. However, after he started to run his personal home pages, conduct on-line chat and have e-mail exchanges with his pen pals, he overcame his fear about the future, gained a sense of belonging in the country and developed better competence in English.

Almon’s experience reminds us of our participation in Douban and Baidu Forum. In these websites, we can post our comments on a book or a movie and discuss our favorite character with people who share similar interests. By doing so, we often gain a sense of belonging as we act as a contributor in this forum. Although we might use Internet language, like 4u and lol, when chatting with web users, we can speak a more native-like language and better participate in the networked environment. However, the use of Internet language may lead to poor performance in formal English learning, like misspelling and incorrect grammar.


The new literacy experience of Almon and our own experiences suggest that teachers might consider encouraging students’ interaction through CMC, since students can practice their English in a supportive and collaborative environment. They can make appropriate linguistic choices and utilize a certain discourse to perform particular roles in various communities.

  1. How can teachers incorporate the use of virtual spaces in and out of language class?
  2. What are the positive and negative effects of this practice in language teaching?

Image credit: Chrls Potter

58 thoughts on “Writing on the Internet and Language Learning

  1. Interaction through CMC helps us to build our identities and provides a way for us to join in a community where we can share the same interest and have liberty to express ourselves without fear. If teachers consider apply this approach, it would be best to set up rules first so as to protect students’ privacy and monitor the whole process.

    • Rules are necessary, like No dirty language; Show respect to each other’s opinions;
      If we don’t clarify rules, there would be big problems later.

    • II also agree that rules are really important, such as using L2 only, because students are always feel comfortable in using L1, especially in communication.

    • Yes, you give a important suggestion for those teachers who have their students these practices. Also, I think learners’ autonomy should be consider so that an effective learning can be guaranteed. Or, students might easily drop out these activities for the reasons like lack of time or heavy burden of other course work.

    • What kind(s) of English is accepted or allowed by the teachers? Do we just accept standard English?

      It is really a very good question.
      I think it will depend on many factors, such as the age of my students, the duration they have learnt L2, their proficiency and motivation.

      If my students are weakers or less motivated ones, I will be thrilled when they try to participate, even though what they speak or write may be full of mistakes.

      However, if my students are more able, I will ask them to write appropriately according to the context or text type.

    • I also agree that rules are needed to some kind prevent students from always using their L1

  2. The positives of this approach are various: firstly, it helps “shy” boys and girls to find a way to communicate with people instead of face to face; secondly, writing to others would force students double-check their grammars, spellings and etc.; thirdly, it helps them to build a good community for English learning and friends-making, also let them find their own belongs.

    The negatives of this approach are also need to be concerned: First, CMC could be a big distractions for Ss, some of them may move the study to computer games. Second, during the exchange,they may not get effective feedback from the teachers which is quite important for language learning.

    • I do agree that online forum can help the introvert students to express themselves more freely in L2.
      However, I do doubt that whether writing online would force students to double-check their writings. I indeed think students writing in classroom will coerce students to check their work more carefully. It is because students are well aware that their writings will be marked by teachers.
      Posting online indeed is in a more casual context and hence Also, the common use of hashtag in social media encourages users to use short phrases. As a result, students may not pay much attention to the grammar in the writing.

    • There seem to be a couple of issues here. One is whether using CMC can be considered a distraction from language learning. I think what the article is trying to show is how using CMC (in this case, self-directed and out of class) actually led to language learning. The other issue is what kind of English we want learners to learn: is it Standard English only? What about for use in all of those contexts where Standard English alone is not enough (online contexts, for example). Do you think, as Lam does, that Almon’s experiences were important to his language learning? As teachers, should we be aware of such experiences and recognize their validity?

  3. Everyone interacts on social media every day and mostly we use it as a connection with our friends, our relatives as well as the outer world, but few of us use it as a way to improve our language skills. I do agree with identity issue mentioned in this case study. If we have native-like accent and can speak very fluently, people will thought of us as well-educated and possess high status, vice versa.
    Social media can be a great way to encourage students to learn language since they have less pressure while communicating in the virtual world, thus they are more willing to express their ideas and in this way it can foster their ability of critical thinking. But, it also has concerns. They are easily distracted to other things like video clips, computer games and so on, other than language learning. And I think it will not help them a lot in academic learning since the people you interact with may not superior than you in the target language.

    • I really appreciate your reply about the “concerns” part. Students, especially those who are young, may be less self-controlled and easier to be distracted by other interesting online or offline activities. And it is true that they cannot always receive valuable help from net friends. But the platform the Internet provides is mutual. I mean, students could not only ask for help, but also offer some.

    • QQ was helpful for my undergraduate study. Teachers or commissary in charge of studies uploaded files via QQ, the other students downloaded the files, which helped me overcome the final exams!!!!!!!! Also, when I studied BEC, Professor asked us to have computer-based simulation programs, rather doing the tasks with much consideration, I just wanted to finish the tasks and watch Korean TV series.

  4. I do get benefit from CMC. About two year ago, I began to post my Instagram and FB in English instead of Chinese so that people around world can understand my post.I practiced my writing skills and knew many foreign friends sharing the same interests with me. Sometimes they may give useful feedbacks to me which is a positive circle when learning English.

    • I have the same experience of writing my posts in English to share my life with people from all over the world on the social networking. I really enjoy this kind of English practice. However, I think that the accuracy of feedbacks we get from these networking cannot always be guaranteed, cuz there must be people who are also learners of the target language commenting under your post. So make sure you have a critical view toward those feedbacks.

    • It is nice that you use English on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. I also wanted to try that before but I was afraid of making grammatical mistakes.

      Now, it seems to me that there are a lot of benefits of doing so. Not only can I meet foreigners who share similar interests with me, I may even get corrective feedback from other netizens.

  5. I think this case is also a good proof of that interaction would be more effective if it could gain students’ interest. As for other languages, we could be motivated to learn Japanese if we are interested in Japanese singers or comics, or learn Cantonese if we are addicted to TVB plays or actors. However, using second language to write personal homepage or chat could be a huge challenge for beginners. In language learning classroom, teachers could let students share their personal homepages about their interests written by second language.

    • Emma, I agree that motivation is one of the most important factors for second language acquisition. It’s indeed a good way to start writing something students are interested in so they won’t find writing online that difficult. Perhaps teachers can provide more support to them first before students begin the actual writing, for instance, some online writing tools, samples of final product and useful links about the topics to be written.

  6. Teachers could design various activities with the help of recourses from virtual space to make their classes more interesting and provoking. As for out-of-class activities, if not more, working online tend to be as effective as traditional ways. After a day’s hard work at school, students might feel tired at coursework. Virtual world could provide some alternative ways of learning, thus improving students’ language proficiency.
    The positive effects may lie in the formation of identity and literacy development. The negative ones, for example, are the decrease of people’s face-to-face communication and my doubt that whether all the encouragement and feedback is rational.

    • Students being too tired of their school work is really what makes them upset when learning English. Although my students need to complete online exercises, they find them hard and difficult. Virtual spaces would be helping them to get away from traditional grammar drills.

    • Good point. These virtual spaces are also much more meaningful than the drills you mention.

  7. Communicating with people who have similar interest with us in target language could improve our language competence and enhance our learning interest. Because of the similar interest, we share more common topics with each other and we will be more motivated to learn the language for better communication.
    It is an effective way to learn a language through interaction in virtual spaces, which provide us with more opportunities to practice the language. However, there is also a negative effect. Some students might spend too much time on the Internet and be addicted to the virtual spaces since they are weak in controlling themselves, which has a bad influence on their studies and lives.

    • Communicating with people sharing similar interest could improve language. but don’t you think this is also a negative effect? When the students come across a people who doesn’t share same interest with them, what could they say? Will they still be shy or embarrassed?

    • I think some shy people might be more active in online chatting since it could avoid the embarassment of face-to-face communication and they will feel more relax and comfortable to initiate new topics.

  8. As a practitioner, I do think virtual spaces can motivate students to learn English beyond classroom. Such platform can provide students authentic experiences in using English as well as enable students to experiment what they have learnt in class through interaction with other language users. However, it may involve much time cost in teaching students how to use the virtual spaces and some ethical issues such as cyber bullying need to be addressed before teachers use this tool extensively.

    After teaching certain grammar items or vocabulary in class, teachers may use their accounts to login virtual spaces in class to illustrate how students can interact with other language users worldwide. This will let the students know the need of learning English as communication does not always have to be formal writing and speaking, instead, it can be done through simple chats online. Beyond class time, teachers can then ask students to find some topics for discussion in the chat rooms of virtual spaces and come up with a consent about the topic and share with the class in the coming lesson.

    • I agree with your opinion that English does not always have to be formal writing and speaking, instead, it can be done through simple chats online. Even some online game or puzzle worker will be functioned as a language tool.

  9. Actually, there are many ways for teachers to incorporate virtual spaces in and out of class. For in the class, teacher can conduct some immediate discussion in class via on-line discussion board or communicative website such as For out of the class, just like what we do, teacher can assign students to make a blog in a group or individually and check them during a time interval.
    It is effective for students to communicate with each other, express their own ideas, and also during the process, students and teacher’s feedback can correct their possible language mistakes and thus get improved. The weakness is it cannot provide authentic communication environment for students, so most of the practice online can only be an armchair strategist.

    • Discussions in class are still authentic communications, are they not? The students would still be communicating ideas with one another in the target language, and trying to give meaningful output by the end of it. So, although they might not get to interact with native speakers or people outside of the classroom in this case, I still think your suggestion provides a good opportunity for the students to interact in an authentic context.

  10. Using CMC to encourage students is a good way in teaching L2. Nowadays, students like to watch videos online and send Danmu to the videos. Danmu is a kind of comment, but it could be seen by others while watching the video. Teacher could post an interesting video and ask students to send Danmu on it through CMC in L2. The positive point of using CMC is obvious, students will not afraid to use L2 online and will find interesting in learning it. However, the negative effect is not only students could not learn formal L2, but also they may be addicted to computer using.

    • Danmu is hilarious and useful especially when you encounter uncomprehending knowledge and watching it is a effective way to communicate with ideas of others. Some Danmu can be shielded in case they are too many to read.

    • You give us a good example of online participation. People can say what they want when watching the video and interact with others. It is a new way in nowadays online interaction and let people show their own identities through words.

    • This looks really interesting. Can these danmu ‘interactions’ be stored and saved? Or do they disappear? It’d be great if you could keep them for later analysis with the class.

  11. Students can easily get bored in traditional ways of learning L2. Teachers can change different means of CMC in order to make the class more attractive. During my undergraduate period, our teacher of interpretation plays different videos every class covering entertainment, politics, economy, speech of state leaders and even reality show to practice listening and translating. It hardly is seen that students are up to here. Being assigned to find different video clips after class can kindle the imagination of students who focus on diverse aspects of one topic while sometimes it can be complex being in front of such a great amount of resources and forgetting the original task.

    • I agree with you! When I was assigned to do this kind of resourse searching task. I always spend too much time on it and far beyond my expectation. Sometimes it is really time cosuming to find some appropriate materials, and I often attracted by those related hyperlinks!

  12. For the merits, obviously, It will arouse great interest among students who are willing to play active roles in virtual world. However, how to prevent negative comments and some inproper or unsuitable contents are of great importance. Students may have some emotional reactions to some comments, which may have negative impact on their language learning. So sufficient instruction and prompt guide is important.

  13. You mentioned in the blog that chatting on the Internet helps us develop a more ‘native-like language’. I am not too sure about this, since English is very globalized nowadays and we are more likely to encounter fellow non-native English speakers than native ones. However, I do think these online interactions can help develop fluency.

    In order to make the use of virtual space effective, I think the teachers should give very specific tasks to the students to let them to what they are trying to learn and practice. If there was no control, it would be like dropping a person off in England, and tell him to “go learn English” with no further instruction. And the result may be the person (student) wasting time looking for different options and not learning the language effectively.

    • The question posed here is supervision issues. I think set time and specified tasks are needed in order to control and it is better applied when checking.

  14. I do agree that CMC has a positive impact in helping learners to improve their L2. I think that CMC provided a non-classroom context to learners. Learners would not feel great pressure in L2 acquisition when compared to the classroom context. As a result, it is very common for L2 incidental learning.

    Nevertheless, I do doubt the effectiveness of online chatting with web users. The main goal in online chat-room is to achieve quick and successful understanding among users. Therefore, aside from the likelihood of using improper Internet language, web users tend to use incomplete and short sentences in online chat-room. If CMC is introduced in the classroom, certain regulations must be implemented. Students must use complete and grammatically correct sentences during their online conversation. Students must also need to offer corrective feedback to their classmates on grammatical items.

    • I have similar doubts with you. And a question of the regulations you notices is that how students offer corrective feedback to their classmate. Is there a specific grammatical item when they have their online chat? If not, can they judge wether their peers are right or wrong?

  15. It’s obvious that the interaction is very important when considering the online writing. Writing your own page sometimes will be encouraged by others and get positive reactions, which I think can be listed as a crucial motivation in L2 learning.

    But we should also notice there might be some bad comments on the writing which will discourage the learner. To deal with this kind of situation, teachers should encourage students to be critical with those comments and try to find out where should be improved, rather than quitting.

    • Yes, sometimes negative comments would make people upset even hinder their interest. Teachers should tell them two aspects of situation and teach them how to deal with.

  16. In traditional classroom learning, students always have pressure to study and they have to think about what teachers and other classmates think of them after answering the questions. If they always get the negative feedback from others, they will come to think whether they are good enough. However, in their own blog space, they are more likely to say what they want without having pressure to learning a certain point of knowledge. In this way, they can explode their own identities when showing what they are interested in and interacting with other people with the similar interests.
    I think teachers can encourage students to open their own blogs and share their own thinking with people they are not familiar with. It is a good way to shape their own identities and practice their language as well.
    Maybe there are some disadvantages that students are so addictive to their online circle so that cannot adapt to the real environment that they are living in.

  17. Online communication is popular among students in China, like Wechat and QQ, It is important for teacher to apply them in language teaching. However, I do think these methods could use only outside the classroom. They are assuming much time. We just have 40-45 minutes for a class. Typing, somehow, wastes time and it pays more attention to reading and “writing” skills. How about listening and speaking? And they are difficult to be controlled. Students may talk something else that is not related to the class. Thus, leaving these methods as outside tasks may provide them more freedom.

    • I think that what you mentioned above are very practical problems and should be taken into consideration when the class involves in online communication. Personally, if teachers want to adopt this approach, they should take the regulation and evaluation problems of students into account. As for the language skills, I consider that every program has a different focus, so not all the four abilities are necessarily achieved in the same program.

    • QQ was helpful for my undergraduate study. Teachers or commissary in charge of studies uploaded files via QQ, the other students downloaded the files, which helped me overcome the final exams!!!!!!!! Also, when I studied BEC, Professor asked us to have computer-based simulation programs, rather doing the tasks with much consideration, I just wanted to finish the tasks and watch Korean TV series.

  18. I strongly pro that writing in L2 on the Internet so as to communicate with others more or less help learners’ L2 competence, especially in writing skills. On the one hand, in order to achieve the purpose of communication, L2 learners will try their best to make sense of their wordings and keep accuracy so that people can understand. On the other hand, learners can gain a sense of belonging by interacting with people who share the interests or concerns. In this way, learners are encouraged and then more willing to practice their L2 writing on the Internet. I think it’s a good way to foster L2 learners’ ability of expressing their ideas more logically.

    • I share the same idea with you. The sense of belonging can inspire students to go further when learning. Communication among a group of people who share the same interest can always be encouraging.

  19. As for question one, I think teachers can introduce some virtual space with good qualities to the students and encourage to participate in these sites. Then ask the students to pay a visit to them from time to time, and mark down what they find interesting and inspiring in their learning journal. This can help the teachers to keep track of students learning and offer some feedback to them. The positive effect of this activity is that students can learn through their interests, by go over the virtual spaces that attracts them. However, there are too many false information and sites in the internet. Teachers should pay more attention to the selection of the websites.

  20. Personally, I do not deny the effectiveness in setting up personal home page for language learning, as it motivates students more than the mechanic textbooks. By setting up personal home page, students are given more autonomy in what they are doing. However, I doubt that whether it is too time-consuming. In Chinese context, students always need to take exams per week or per month. Their learning tasks are fully packed. Setting up personal home page requires a large amount of time and the things students obtained from this practice sometimes could not be swiftly and obviously reflected on their exam scores, which is the main concern in exam-oriented environment.

    • I have the same concern with you about its time-consuming property. If students are left to manage a personal home page, they should not only pay attention to the writing part, they also need to consider the images, the layouts of the page, also they may run into some technical problems. Sometimes, the effec of this approach doesn’t deserve its effort.

  21. I agree that gaining a sense of belonging is vital. The establishment of Ryoko Hirosue’s website enabled Almon to share and chat with people who have the same interest as him. He is somehow taking a leading role as he is the owner of the site. There are also positive effects on Almon’s identity – he has a positive change of his life attitude.

    Motivation is another crucial factor. As Almon is the website owner, he has to update the site and communicate with other members. In Almon’s case, I think the turning point is when his website was established. Through maintaining the web page, he is highly motivated and thus his English proficiency was enhanced.

    To me, writing online has more benefits than drawbacks. Unlike doing assignments, the text is not only read by the instructor, but also other students and even the public. The issue of identity is another consideration. As a result, I will check my grammar more carefully. I believe that this practice would make students more aware of their use of language.

  22. Since CMC involves in a high level of interaction among language learners and enhances their interest for language learning, it is necessary to introduce it into language class. However, it also has limitations that needed to be considered.
    Based on my own experience, the exquisite online advertising images and new information forwarding from the web will attract my attention from time to time during language learning process through CMC. So when CMC is applied in class, apart from the importance of learning autonomy and self-discipline of the students, teachers’ supervision and guidance are also irreplaceable. Personally, teachers should advise students to create a real-name account in the classroom learning through CMC, on the one hand to facilitate teachers to identify students in the virtual world, on the other hand to strengthen students’ sense of responsibility for their linguistic behavior. Besides, teachers also need to monitor the interaction between students and learning software or programs, making sure that they are in the best state instead of doing nothing related with language learning. In addition, teachers can provide a testing session to evaluate students’ learning effect in the end, which provides students with a more distinct object.

  23. For the first question, prior to beginning class, teachers can ask students to discuss some questions online, just like a buzz group. Then students can tell teachers what they have known in the real world. By doing this , students can prepare the course with their peers more conveniently, and this can also combine the virtual world and our daily life.

  24. The best thing is that the writing of the webpage initiates language use. The popularity of the webpage and the relationships established during CMC cheers Almon up and raises his confidence. These are all the social effects of digital literacies, changing the way we do things, we think, we interact with others and we present our identities. It seems that Almon had a new life in the Internet world.

    I believe CMC is beneficial. However, sometimes, teachers may be not open enough to accept students’ creativity. This may be an issue we need to think of.

  25. It’s obvious that the interaction is very important when considering the online writing. Writing your own page sometimes will be encouraged by others and get positive reactions, which I think can be listed as a crucial motivation in L2 learning.

    But we should also notice there might be some bad comments on the writing which will discourage the learner. To deal with this kind of situation, teachers should encourage students to be critical with those comments and try to find out where should be improved, rather than quitting.

    • Yes Lexie, setting up a homepage is certainly an exciting and challenging task for students. Students can benefit a lot from this kind of learning experience in terms of enhancing language skills, increasing interactions of different people etc.

      To tackle the problem that you’ve mentioned, I think teachers can assign some students to be I.T. monitors. These monitors need to keep track of the comments. They can notice the teachers once cyber bullying happens.

  26. 1.Teachers should balance students attention to computer programs and in-class communications. While giving instructions to students on doing computer programs, teachers give assessments to students. Students obtain pragmatical experience on writing and reading. And after the activities, teachers give feedback in class and bring students back to real space.
    2.What are the positive and negative effects of this practice in language teaching?
    For this question, I want to say there are always two sides. Based on the online activities and some computer-based programs, students are more motivated. Gaining more attention from students in language teaching is crucial, getting involved in teaching and learning helps a lot. Negative outcome may be distracting students’ attention.

  27. I truly agree that technology allows students to take a more active role in their own language learning. When I was a Secondary 1 student, I started to use MSN and messaging to chat with my foreign classmates. Through the process of texting and recording audio, my speaking, listening and writing skills are improved. Apart from getting support from teachers inside the classrooms, I can also improve my English outside campus. Hence, teachers can increase the variety of homework from paper forms to blogging. This is a new kind of I.T. skill that students should possess in this digital era.

  28. Responding to the second question, I think we need to think about that students may be distracted by the social media and networking websites while they are completing the online tasks. Thus, teachers and parents have the responsibility to educate their children to use computer in a wise manner.

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