Scholarly article on topic 'The language of electronic communication and its implications for TEFL'

The language of electronic communication and its implications for TEFL Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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{"Social media" / "electronically-mediated communication" / "electronic discourse" / TEFL / texting / literacy}

Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Irina Averianova

Abstract With the proliferation of digital media employed for content production and connection among individuals, electronically-mediated communication (EMC) is finding increasing use and recognition in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). At the same time, the pedagogical research and practice have not sufficiently addressed the peculiarities of electronic discourse involved in on-line interaction or its implications for TEFL. Its distinctive linguistic characteristics, which deviate significantly from the normative usage, taught in formal education, present certain difficulties for EFL learners. The potential hazards of inappropriate use of electronic discourse may lead to significant communication problems, such as exclusion, flaming, and general lack of comprehensibility. Also, the penetration of texting, or SMS shorthand, into academic writing indicates a lack of code-switching skills and a growing preference towards non-standard language, hitherto unacceptable in the academic context. This paper looks into benefits of using electronic interaction in the TEFL classroom and outlines the problems which frequently occur in non-native speakers’ use of electronic discourse. Based on available research and teaching practice, recommendations are suggested for addressing the language of electronic communication in the TEFL classroom.

Academic research paper on topic "The language of electronic communication and its implications for TEFL"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 34 (2012) 14 - 19

Languages, Cultures and Virtual Communities Les Langues, les Cultures et les Communautés Virtuelles

The language of electronic communication and its implications for TEFL

Irina Averianova*

Nagoya University of Commerce and Business Administration, 4-4 Sagamine Komenoki Nisshin Aichi 470-0193, Japan

Abstract

With the proliferation of digital media employed for content production and connection among individuals, electronically-mediated communication (EMC) is finding increasing use and recognition in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). At the same time, the pedagogical research and practice have not sufficiently addressed the peculiarities of electronic discourse involved in on-line interaction or its implications for TEFL. Its distinctive linguistic characteristics, which deviate significantly from the normative usage, taught in formal education, present certain difficulties for EFL learners. The potential hazards of inappropriate use of electronic discourse may lead to significant communication problems, such as exclusion, flaming, and general lack of comprehensibility. Also, the penetration of texting, or SMS shorthand, into academic writing indicates a lack of code-switching skills and a growing preference towards non-standard language, hitherto unacceptable in the academic context. This paper looks into benefits of using electronic interaction in the TEFL classroom and outlines the problems which frequently occur in non-native speakers' use of electronic discourse. Based on available research and teaching practice, recommendations are suggested for addressing the language of electronic communication in the TEFL classroom.

© 2012 Published by Elsevier B.V. Stele ction and/or peer-review underrespons ibility ofEURC)CALL2010 Sc ientific Committee

Keywords: social media; electronically-mediated communication; electronic discourse; TEFL; texting; literacy

* Irina Averianova. Tel.: +81 561 732 111; Fax: +81 561 731 202 averianova @nucba.ac .jp

1877-0428 © 2012 Published by Elsevier B.V. Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of EUROCALL2010 Scientific Committee doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.02.004

1. Introduction

The growth of the Internet and expansion of computer and mobile technologies have generated a communication revolution, with an increasing number of people interacting via a broad range of communication platforms, such as e-mail, text-chat, forums, blogs, wikis, etc. For the new "cyber" generation, communication with the help of digital technology, mobile phones in particular, is the predominant way of daily interaction.

With the proliferation of "social media", or digital media employed for content production and connection among individuals, electronically-mediated communication (EMC) is finding increasing use and recognition in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). Besides the already established practice of using email exchange and on-line chat in foreign language instruction, there are reports of the successful implementation of blogging (Campbell, 2003), collaborative writing in wikis (Emigh & Herring, 2005; Lee, 2009), social networking through Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other interactive websites (Hislope, 2008), and so on. Recently, the emerging practice of using short-message exchange (SMS) activities as an EFL teaching and learning tool has attracted noticeable attention. The negative attitude of educators towards texting is rapidly changing now to accepting mobile phones as an indispensable part of the youth culture and utilizing this technology as a learning tool (McCarty, 2009).

As the benefits of EMC in teaching foreign languages are gaining growing recognition, so are the challenges that students and teachers face with interactive technology. One such issue is the acknowledgement that communication on the Net requires a specific type of literacy, which needs to be addressed in TEFL.

2. Promises and problems of electronic communication for TEFL

The importance of EMC for foreign language acquisition is getting unanimous recognition as the ability to communicate is increasingly accepted as the main objective of language learning. The major national and international guidelines for foreign language learning, such as Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (Council of Europe, 2001) and the US National Standards in Foreign Language Education (1999), advocate the incorporation of new technologies into the foreign language learning experience. While Framework underlines the importance of learning communication in a variety of contexts, Standards emphasizes the need to provide access through technology to authentic sources of language since such access "helps establish the necessary knowledge base for language learners" (p. 36). Besides the authenticity, studies carried out in classrooms and laboratories using online technologies indicate that EMC provides a secure, highly motivating, uninhibited and interactive learning environment (Belisle, 1996; Warschauer, 1995; etc.). Some other benefits of networked language learning include more active and equitable learner participation (Kern, 1995; Warschauer, 1996), more student-centred and dynamic environment (Darhower, 2002), and development of overall intercultural communicative competence (Byram, 1997).

The latter, going beyond linguistic fluency and intercultural sensitivity, encompasses pragmatic competence, or the ability of learners to appropriately use the target language in various social contexts. Since in the classroom most of the EFL learners acquire largely formal speech habits, their exposure to authentic speech in EMC remains, for many, the only opportunity to learn other varieties of language, the predominant one being electronic discourse. Text-based but speech-like interaction occurring via computers and cell-phones has generated a specific way of writing, which ingeniously refurbishes the traditional means and conventions of traditional written norms for the purposes of economical, compressed and fast-paced message production. The unique linguistic and iconographic features of electronic writing comprise but are not limited to innovative abbreviation (acronyms, clippings,

logograms, or letter-numeral hybrids and letter-morpheme substitutes, vowel deletion, etc.), emoticons, truncated simplified syntax, non-normative capitalization and other characteristics. Reoccurring in most of the informal and spontaneous message exchanges, such as chat, texting, and informal email, these features currently comprise a norm of their own. This norm significantly deviates from the Standard English that most TEFL students have been previously exposed to in the traditional classroom setting and may present certain problems for EMC novices.

Intrinsically, the problems arise not so much from the linguistic innovations of electronic discourse, which do not supersede standard writing in EMC and, on the other hand, are quickly appropriated by TEFL students. What needs to be addressed, however, is the tendency of some EFL students to compress their writing beyond the point of comprehensibility and to use electronic discourse in inappropriate communicative situations. The first concern is born of students' desire to emulate the distinctive discursive behaviour of the online community so as to be accepted by it. In doing this, they overindulge in condensed writing, novel abbreviation, use of emoticons, and show their ignorance of syntax and orthography (Averianova, 2006, 2009b; Jonsson, 1998). This potentially can lead to lack of comprehensibility, misunderstanding and, ultimately, disruption of communication. Such miscommunications over time can seriously affect one's relationships with others and impact successful participation in online forums (Gumperz, 1982).

The second concern is connected with a lack of code-switching skills, when learners use elements of compressed writing in those areas where standard written English is required. Among such instances is the use of informal contractions, non-standard abbreviations, emoticons and texting in academic writing, correspondence with teachers and other formal settings (Abdullah, 1998; Averianova, 2009a; Baron, 2008; Berman, 2006).

The existence of such problems in TEFL practice indicates that more attention should be paid to the development of second-language learners' pragmatic competence, as such competence constitutes a new type of literacy required for network communication. This kind of literacy helps language learners "to understand not only what is acceptable, but also what is expected of members who share a common communication space" (Williams, 2004, p. 163).

3. Pedagogical implications

Accumulated pedagogical experience of using EMC in teaching foreign languages indicates that each communicative format, due to its own technological and sociocultural conventions, presents teachers and learners with different scenarios and different ensuing challenges. Such parameters of EMC as synchronicity and asynchronicity, moderation, presence of audio and visual components among others entail various methodological and pedagogical implications for each format of online interaction. At the same time, the issues of linguistic competence related to electronic discourse are common for any kind of electronic communication, as are the approaches of addressing them in the foreign language classroom.

It is worth noting that while some teachers appreciate the deviant nature of electronic language for its stimulation of uninhibited language production of their students (Al-Jarf, 2006), recent educational research is paying more attention to the challenges which the new language variation sets before non-native speakers. Recently, more and more TEFL practitioners realize that electronic discourse and its rules of writing and interpreting compressed texts need to be introduced (Crystal, 2001). Simultaneously, there is an increasing realization of the need to address pragmatic competence in using EMC in foreign language teaching (Chapelle, 2003; Warschauer, 2000).

Previous research (Averianova, 2006, 2009b) has outlined two basic approaches to teaching electronic discourse - reactive and proactive. The reactive approach consists of critical assessment of recorded production generated by students in online communication by teachers, peers and/or native speakers

participating in EMC exchanges. The benefits of such an approach include the opportunity to highlight mistakes and provide precise feedback on the quality of writing in each particular case (Krajka, 2001). A proactive approach, on the other hand, attempts to prevent the problems by introducing students to conventions of electronic discourse and inviting them to critically evaluate different samples of electronic messages with regard to their comprehensibility, appropriateness, intercultural sensitivity and other relevant characteristics (Averianova, 2009b; Netiquette, 1997).

A similar but more elaborated approach can be achieved within the framework of the New London Group (1996), which includes four "spheres of learning opportunities": Overt Instruction, when, in our case, learners are introduced to peculiarities of electronic discourse; Situated Practice, when learners engage in meaningful electronic communication with their class peers in a structured setting; the Critical Framing stage, when teachers engage students in critical assessment of their production; and Transformed Practice, where students apply what they have learned to the authentic, non-educational interaction. There are studies on successful implementation of such an approach for teaching different aspects of French and Spanish electronic discourse (Williams, 2009; van Compernolle & Pierozak, 2009) but evidently similar methods can be used for other pedagogical purposes of teaching EMC in different linguistic and communicative environments.

4. Conclusions

Social media have radically transformed the nature of modern communication and introduced ways of interaction which are "fundamentally different from those found in other semiotic situations" (Crystal, 2001, p. 5). Ability to communicate in different electronic formats comprises a new type of literacy required of foreign language learners in the new millennium. As electronically-mediated communication becomes the main instrument for developing such literacy, TEFL needs to address the discursive knowledge and skills essential for such interaction. The practicalities of teaching electronic discourse can be as diverse as the ways of implementing EMC for learning target language communication in and beyond the classroom settings. Any approach will serve its purposes as long as it raises learners' awareness of how language functions in various authentic interactions.

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