Multilingual cyberspace: a response to The Guardian

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The Guardian recently published an article looking at the dominance of languages in the online world and the different ways we use online platforms depending on our first language, which got me thinking about some of the issues we as English teachers may forget about when introducing technology, particularly the Internet, into the classroom or curriculum.

Within the safe confines of the classroom, we can bubble wrap content and make sure learners only really interact with one another, but whether we instruct them to or not, chances are that the learners will also be using the Internet outside of class. Here, they are left to their own devices to try and find their way around the vast digital landscape. Any good teacher will pre-empt possible risks and keep their students well-informed of the dangers and risks in general Internet usage; after all, those dangers and risks apply in all contexts, not just in the classroom. This could be done through talks and workshops, and learners may even be encouraged to research and create content in English to inform one another about the risks they take online. Current research suggests, however, that teachers’ worries about implementing Internet into English courses may stem more from limited resources and the possibility of the Internet distracting learners (e.g. Khassawneh, 2012; Albirini, 2006) than dangers of use.

The Guardian article talks about another issue, however, which is the different ways users interact with social media. For instance, German-speaking users are more likely to share URLs when tweeting, whereas Korean speakers are more likely to hold a conversation via Twitter. Even if we assume we do not need to train all learners in how to use particular platforms, does research like that mentioned in this article suggest we need to train learners in what way to use it? Is this even something we are expected or allowed to do? Surely, it is not wise to try and mould the behaviour of learners to the standards we have ourselves.

To give another example, my Facebook feed is sometimes filled with very personal content, about people’s relationships, struggles, stresses, and so forth. These posts stem largely, if not completely, from friends with English as a first language. My Japanese and Korean friends, however, will post rarely, only to announce very big news, like getting married. I recall a Japanese friend of mine saying once that she felt very uncomfortable when British friends posted any bad news on Facebook. According to her, it wasn’t good to make others feel bad too by sharing that information. Another Japanese friend, who was recently a victim of attempted robbery, posted about his experience, ending his story with “I’ll delete it (the post) in a few days.”

In considering the vast amount of differences that could exist from speaker-to-speaker based on their own cultural and linguistic experiences, we must be willing to accept that, like many other resources, using the Internet within a course may not always work for everyone. Not because the learners do not know how to use it, and not even because they do not want to, but because the way they view it as a tool may not be how you view it as a tool. Introducing activities such as blogging, tweeting, posting on Facebook, and so forth of course has its advantages, but perhaps we should consider bringing our learners closer to the decision making process in how to use these platforms and what to post about. Particularly in a multinational classroom, you might like to use the opportunity to get learners talking about their usage of social media through debates, interviews, or even presentations. You may even discover a novel way of making use of social media to learn or use English, like this Japanese learner of English who took it upon himself to translate Donald Trump’s tweets. In doing this activity, this particular student learnt a lot about the tricky parts of translating between Japanese and English!

Please feel free to discuss in the comments what you think about this. Do we need to consider the way different language users experience the Internet before we implement it? Or should we confine learning to educational environments where the content can be controlled and kept as vanilla and uniform as possible?


Khassawneh, S. F. (2012). EFL TEACHERS’PERCEPTIONS AND PERSPECTIVES ON THE USE OF THE INTERNET IN THE TEACHING PROCESS AT YARMOUK UNIVERSITY IN JORDAN. European Scientific Journal, 8(13). (Available to download via Google Scholar)
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2 thoughts on “Multilingual cyberspace: a response to The Guardian

  1. Would it be worth almost pushing students to utilise the internet in a different way to what they see as “normal?” At least in a classroom, a student can be forewarned. I do agree with your point on the Japanese not being apparently comfortable with bad news. Mine tend to post about babies, work, formal parties or travel. It is a bit like how most people in the UK and America used to use Facebook 5 years ago! Any more shocking news from Japan comes from my foreign friends who are still there.

    But yes, “vanilla” is bad. Students need to be pushed. If they seek to interact beyond their shores, then they need to be ready for what they find. It is unlikely to happen, but as a teacher, we can help prevent a digital version of “Paris syndrome” from kicking in.

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    • I definitely agree. I can only imagine how boring classes might become if learners are kept confined within what the teacher wants them to experience. Though learners may utilize the Web in different ways, I think it would be easy enough to introduce them to new ways of using it within a learning context. My thoughts on reading the article were that this was another interesting point to consider if perhaps some learners weren’t engaging in the activities.

      I remember when I first heard about Paris Syndrome. I thought my teacher was kidding around!

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