Conducted by Champion, Nicole, Shirley and Queenie
Not the building CMC (Creative Media Center) located in CityU, the CMC that we will talk about in the following passage is computer-mediated communication. Computer-mediated communication was defined as “a vehicle for the metaphorical construction of community, the crafting of multiple personae and collective identities, and the assumption of social roles in the temporal frame of on-line exchanges” in Lam’s (2000) case study. She walked through a teenager’s language learning journey based on her perception of this term.
Almon, a Chinese teenager, immigrated from Hong Kong to the United States with his parents and younger brother at the age of 12. He found it difficult to fit into his surroundings, which also aggravated his low language proficiency in the classroom. He was not good at expressing himself in English and worried about his future, wondering if he could ever find a job with his present language competence.
However, six months after he found out about the Internet and learned to make a personal home page and conduct online chat, he told Lam that “I can express myself much more easier now…it’s because of ICQ or email or other reasons…” (Lam, 2000). How did he do this?
During the interview, Almon said that he conducted a personal home page about a Japanese pop singer. Through this website, he could share the singer’s portfolio, pictures, songs, videos and even some other singers’ videos that he liked. At the same time, there were many netizens from all over the world visiting his home page and sharing their own opinions in English. They could chat online and write emails to one another, sharing not only about common hobbies but also their personal experiences and issues. They were like online pen pals talking in writing.
During this process, Almon found that ” it’s easier for me to write out something now…[to] express better.” Lam interpreted that “the qualitatively different relationship to English came with a newly discovered ability to express himself in writing via the electronic media…” (Lam, 2000).
In this case, the application of CMC with its affordances and constraints is described below:
- A sense of belonging is generated during the process that Almon builds his home page. Although he was at a marginalized position in the US society, Almon realized that he has the ability to contribute to J-pop in a virtual community.
- Connectedness to a global English-speaking community can be regarded as the driving force for his huge progress in English proficiency. Computers and the Internet create a virtual space in which language learners have access to authentic communication with native speakers of the target language (Chun, 1994). In order to exchange ideas about J-pop worldwide, Almon wrote his home page in English. And in the process of communicating in English, he utilized his English competence into practice out of class and unconsciously improved his writing skills.
- Low affective filter is the incentive in this case. According to Krashen (2009), motivation, self-confidence and anxiety are the most important elements in language acquisition or language learning. Almon found it easier to express himself in English online than face-to-face because it was less anxious and stressful. In this way, he felt more confident to communicate in English via emailing and texting. Moreover, sharing information to the J-pop community motivated him to get more exposure to English which in turn enhanced his English proficiency.
- Blending into the US society leads to the surprising outcome of his writing in English online. At the very beginning, he viewed himself as an outsider due to his poor English compared with the native speakers around him. Accompanied by the J-pop community, he felt like an insider online and gradually gained confidence. Fortunately, with his enhancement of English proficiency via adequate practice in the target language, he could now share opinions with native speakers in his real life. Through CMC, the shift of identity of an insider from online to offline becomes achievable.
- Though writing on the Internet plays a big role in learning L2, there are still some constraints. By learning from the Internet, it requires students’ self-monitoring and self-regulation ability without teachers’ supervision. For those autonomic learners like Almon, the Internet does give access to a great mass of information for learning. However, it should be considered whether it is still feasible when applied to all students including those with lower self-regulation competence.
It was a beautiful coincidence when Almon noticed visible improvements in his English as he was engaging in CMC with his new identity. A lot of people are involved in online activities from different places in the world. Their English is more appropriate in the setting of modern society, and it is easier for Almon to have a sense of belonging which truly encourages his subsequent language learning.
In the cyber world, it might be the case that it is hard to apply what we have learned in class. However, the English skills taught in class laid a foundation for Almon’s online text-based communication. We have to admit that traditional education has its strengths. However, its drawback is also what we should never neglect. As is said in Lam’s (2000) work, schools get the student prepared for the workplace and the civic involvement, while the internet provides students with opportunities to be a part of the modern English-speaking community. The two are a complement to each other. It may become a trend for SLL (Second language learner) to adopt the CMC in the SLA (Second language acquisition) class or to use it after class as a tool in the future. After all, having access to the authentic English speaking world is always attractive to English learners and it will be a desired state if they can talk in text and learn through the net!
Questions for discussion
- Could you share similar teaching or learning experiences via CMC?
- Do you think that CMC can be used as the main method in language teaching? Why or why not?