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Image courtesy of Flickr user au-to-dafe. Creative Commons.

Image courtesy of Flickr user au-to-dafe. Creative Commons.

What do you call someone who speaks three languages?  Easy – trilingual.  What about someone who speaks two languages?  Bilingual, duh.  Now, what do you call someone who can only speak one language?  American. My friend recently told me this riddle, and I laughed so hard, because it’s unfortunately so true.  After living in Europe for the past two months, I’ve met so many people from all parts of the the world.  Libya, Spain, Costa Rica, Germany, Bosnia, Poland, Russia, etc.  People whose native language was either Czech, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, German, French, Italian, Arabic, and probably more that I’m forgetting to mention.  The craziest thing that blows my mind is that I could communicate with all of them, because they all spoke some English in addition to their native language.  Most of the people that I met had knowledge of several languages, either from classes in school or from living so closely to so many different countries.  It’s incredible and kind of saddening in a way to think that one day the world could speak English as its universal language.

For the past two months on Mondays, I’ve been “teaching English” to international students, who study at the Czech Technical University.  In class, we go over some basic grammar, learn idioms, read articles, hold debates, or play games.  It’s a really informal international hang-out session, basically.  Very ESL-esque.  Since we only meet for an hour once a week and since the students are at varying levels of proficiency, it’s difficult to ensure that everyone is learning at the right pace.  I feel guilty that some students seem lost in discussions, so I decided to create a Facebook group where people could post stuff and hopefully interact with one another, using English.  That has so far yet to function the way I planned.  However, students do use Facebook to their advantage when it comes to furthering their English language studies.  Say hello to today’s substitute ESL teacher, Ms. Facebook.

Once I opened the Facebook group to the class, I received so many personal Facebook chat messages from students, who just want to practice their English.  I was excited to see that so many people had such determination and passion for the language.  It was perfect for me as well, because my Czech and Spanish students would also help me with my infatuation with their native languages.  Almost everyday, I’d have a fb conversation with a student or two just about cultural differences or about what we did that day, normal topics that people talk about on fb chat.  People who are too shy or intimidated to speak out in class, become extremely verbose online (assuming that it is them and not a hacker).  Facebook chat is perfect, because it’s an informal way to talk, and kindly correct each others’ grammar.  It’s a word-nerd’s paradise.

In one of the classes, we even had a discussion about whether or not social media was helpful or hurtful to relationships.  I may have borrowed some material from our Culture and Social Media Technologies class, but it led to a really great class discussion.  I mean, what 20-something-year-old doesn’t have an opinion on social media?  It was unanimous that social media, such as Facebook and Twitter help people communicate and pass on cultural information.  It helps bridge relationships across the board, either within your own social circle or internationally.  I feel like I’ve learned so much from my “students” or my new Facebook friends, just by talking on fb chat.  Often, I’ll continue conversations that were started online after class on Mondays, which strengthens my relationship with my students.  As an instructor, fb chat has helped me to better prepare lessons, because I can figure out which areas need the most attention.  For example, through fb chatting, I’ve discovered that pronouns and prepositions are the most difficult aspects of grammar to master.  Facebook chat has just proved to be an extremely helpful tool for our international experience.

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One thought on “Word-Nerd’s Paradise

  1. Social media tools such as Facebook create a wonderful platform for people to expose themselves to other cultures and languages, and seems like a great way to practice a language. However, how does verbal communication in a second language benefit from social media? Or does it suffer because of it?

    When it comes to social media in a global context, it clearly has proved to be beneficial in many aspects: whether it be practicing another language, exposure to another culture, or keeping in touch with my home culture while I’m abroad. However, what if everyone just decided to learn a language through chatting online or looking up grammar via Google Translate. Sure you’d pick up some interesting vocabulary, but how effective would it be?

    Some verbal communication, face to face, seems to still be the best way to learn a language. But social media interfaces seem like great practice and a good supplement to learning a language.

    Also, I had to google what ESL meant… now I feel stupid for not knowing what it was beforehand!

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