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Social media – the new language learning app

It happens very often that we blame social media to be the cause of all our procrastination. Many people even see it as a menace.

There is perhaps some truth to it, especially when we spend time on Facebook during a family dinner or while being at a restaurant with our partner. It’s alarming that people demand constant stimulation and cannot refrain from going to Facebook or checking Twitter during a 20 second commercial break.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. These daily distractions can be turned into interesting tools of study on our quest of mastering languages.They can be a great supplement to your chosen langauge learning app.

This post is by Shubham Raut, an experienced language learner and internet explorer (pun unintended).

Social media was invented to help people socialise across cultures. It was designed to facilitate forming networks above and beyond local ones, helping people to connect based on interests, not solely by location. And when people of truly similar mindsets meet, beautiful things happen!

In this post I will walk you through different social media platforms and describe the ways I have used them while learning French, Russian and Esperanto. These are of course only my suggestions, but I hope they will inspire you to look at the social media platforms with a fresh eye. They can truly be just as valuable as any language learning app.

Before we start, I must say that you need to shed all your inhibitions. You must not be scared of ridicule or failure. Making mistakes and not repeating them is a definite sign of making progress!

For the purpose of ease of explanation, let’s say that we want to learn Japanese from scratch.

1. Facebook

Let’s start with the most common of all social media platforms. Our Facebook newsfeed shows us posts from all the pages we follow and the people we befriend.

The right choice of pages can thus change your newsfeed from being filled with cat videos and jokes to one that’s abundant with language learning material.

Type in Japanese in the search box. “Like” all the pages that show up, and join all the groups you can.

This small act drastically changes the look of your Facebook. There is an influx of language related posts on your feed. You meet like-minded people who are learning Japanese with you. You feel a part of something amazing. A language learning community that helps each other. Users keep posting things such as “Common Japanese slang expressions” or “Japanese foods you need to know”, many of which you may never come across in your regular learning.

More advanced learners can help us solve our small problems. Many of our doubts have already been solved in some groups. Also, because a lot of the messages will be in Japanese, you will be forced to beef up your vocabulary to understand them.

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2. Whatsapp

Being the most popular instant messaging app, Whatsapp enjoys the distinction of having a lot of users worldwide. Some of the Facebook groups choose to have Whatsapp groups. I know, it sounds scary. Sharing your number with hundreds of strangers? That’s outrageous!

However, there is no need to worry. Many of these groups have strict rules regarding conduct. No insulting messages, no member can contact another without permission of the group, there are no stupid forwards. 

Guilty members are expelled. What this shows is that language learning groups are usually no-nonsense communities with serious students. Your group might also have a “Spanish only” rule. This forces you to use Google Translator and type in your thoughts. If what you say is wrong, there are many people willing to correct you. Note your mistakes.

Whatsapp gives you the opportunity to have a tutor at hand.

Have a doubt? Ask it on the group or privately message a native speaker, if they don’t mind. Trust me, all your problems will get solved very quickly.

Note: A tool that works like Whatsapp, but is dedicated to finding exchange partners and has an inbuilt dictionary is the language learning app HelloTalk.

3. Group study

Being part of Facebook and Whatsapp groups does much more than only help you learn. It motivates you psychologically. When you go to a movie with your friends, the entire group seems to form a similar impression of the movie. You will either hate or love a movie depending on who you watch it with. This groupism extends to various walks of life.

When you surround yourself with like-minded people, all determined to study the same language, you feel driven to learn more. They help you keep on track with your progress.

This group study also does one important thing. It helps with the equalisation of knowledge. If your friend knows something you don’t, he’ll help you out with it. If you understood a grammar concept they didn’t, you can help them out. The entire group benefits from this kind of mutual learning!

4. Language exchange

This is a widespread concept in language learning where a person learning language X will help you with their native language, in exchange for language X that you speak fluently. Both parties benefit from this.

There are lots of sites and apps specifically designed to facilitate such language exchanges, but you can use your usual social networks just as well. You can find language exchange partners among your new Facebook friends or the above mentioned Whatsapp groups.

Apart from the obvious benefits of learning basic conversation phrases, getting corrections and practicing your skills, it serves another important task: Motivation.

Suppose you met Martina, a native Russian speaker. She wants to learn English for the purpose of higher education. You both start speaking about general topics such as place of living, work, age etc. What next? She seems to be a nice person and you would like to befriend her. But you don’t know how to talk about the amazing Russian music you happened to see on one of the Facebook groups! There is a kind of positive peer pressure to learn more, in order to keep the conversation going. Next time, when you meet say, Ivan, you will already know how to ask him about his favourite music!

We expand on the topic of motivation in our post The psychology of language learning apps: Motivation, memory and the mind.

And check out part two of this blog post entitled Smart devices as smart learning tools.

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Needless to say, check out our Facebook and Twitter feeds for daily language inspiration & let us know how you use social media for language learning!

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