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Table of contents

They are all majoring in the humanities sociology, history, fine arts… and have a minimal language requirement. Those who are studying English or German come to the Centre de ressources et d'apprentissage des langues CRAL , where they follow a programme of guided on-line learning and face-to-face workshops. Some sample questions from this part of the survey include: We did not question participants about their other informal learning activities in English. The statements in the questionnaire are rated on a four-point Likert scale by which respondents indicate their degree of agreement with the statement, or indicate the frequency with which they carry out the activity mentioned in the statement.

Where relevant, respondents are also asked to give examples of activities they engage in. Face validation took the form of a trial phase in which the questionnaire was administered to 15 students and feedback on ambiguous questions used to develop the final version. Only 6 of the students who responded to the questionnaire claimed to have no regular Internet activities in English.

While all skills areas could potentially be impacted, we shall see that three appear to be particularly involved in web 2. For each set of results presented we provide a brief discussion of the discursive characteristics of the media students are interacting with.


This informs the final section where we discuss possible applications of this information for a classroom setting. Frequency respondents engage in listening as compared to reading activities.

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Indeed the largest group of respondents for this question are occasional Internet users who read documents on the web less than once a month. Merely listening to music from a multimedia source rather than on an analogue radio would therefore be unlikely to lead to a significant change in listening comprehension outcomes.

The data in figure 2 relate to examples mentioned by respondents, some of whom gave several examples and some of whom gave no examples of listening materials. The answers were grouped in such a way as to make the role of listening to music apparent and to give indications as to the other categories of listening materials.

Twenty-five to thirty percent of respondents report watching English language films and a similar percentage report watching television series in English. These programmes all originate from the United States and fall into two broad categories, situation comedies and drama series aimed at a teenage and young adult market. The increases would appear to come not only from numbers of activities which, as we have seen, occur at least once a week for over half of our sample population , but also the duration of the activities undertaken.

A short television series lasts at least 25 minutes and the average film is over 90 minutes long. The content differs from that of English language songs, which as well as being difficult to grasp on a phonetic level due to issues of rhythm and background noise, also offer few contextual clues as to meaning. This is neither skimming nor scanning in terms of listening activity. It is listening undertaken for pleasure and various sub-groups of pleasure, such as belonging to a certain social group or maintaining a particular self-image.

The subject matter is supported by a narrative structure, in a theatrical context where unity of setting and characters dominate, over many episodes or even an entire series. In the case of films there is obviously potential for a far greater variety of situations, discourses and viewer relationship to the film. The most frequent context for reading activities mentioned by the students surveyed is social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace.

Whereas students mostly mention e-mailing in English as an occasional activity, social networking is more often a weekly than a monthly activity. Firstly, for most of our students, reading is part of an interactive process and they like interacting, even through written media. Secondly, their reading of this type of text is quite good, at least to the extent that they have no recognised problems of comprehension. Indeed, two questions that received very negative answers were: Again the statistical dominance of social networking sites such as Facebook can be seen in these results, when compared to potentially context rich interfaces such as virtual worlds, the largest of which, Second Life , rarely has more than 80, simultaneous connections.

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Writing is rarely informative participating in thematic forums for example and occurs primarily in contexts where the writer's real name is used e-mails and social networks as opposed to those in which the writer's true identity is hidden by a pseudonym or avatar forums and virtual worlds. Respondents reacted positively to statements such as: An initial observation is that it is specifically this type of writing that the B1 level of the CEFR targets: This is illustrated by the statement: Possible reasons for this lack of oral expression will be brought up in the discussion section of this paper.

Frequency of speaking in English via Internet. Below, we suggest some possible pedagogical implications for these results in the language classroom.

Obviously if we want informal learning to remain informal, it must remain outside the classroom and even as suggested in our earlier definition dissociated from the classroom. However, as language teachers, it is tempting to imagine a possible reinforcement of classroom learning outside or possible integration of advantages from informal learning into more formal learning situations.

The suggestions made here should be seen as general guidelines, the specific applications of which are best left to the creativity and sensitivity of the individual classroom teacher. It means developing an interest in their extracurricular activities and perhaps educating ourselves as to what our students find interesting and worthwhile.

Few of the participants recognised the characters of the favourite television series that students of disciplines other than English actually watch in English How I Met your Mother , The IT Crowd , etc. To what extent does learner-centredness involve actually knowing something about these types of content areas? This could either be done in distance learning, with twinning classes using blogs or instant messaging, or even done in the classroom, as an occasional alternative to oral pairwork.

Other possibilities might include using examples of writing from blogs and forums as teaching tools. These could provide appropriate and easy access to samples of informal language or certain areas of ESP computer-related forums being an obvious target. We would of course discourage teachers from using samples from instant messaging, social networks or e-mail as these tend to be highly personal and could imply invasion-of-privacy issues.

It is indeed possible that Social Networks will prove to be a temporary phenomenon similar to the development and subsequent stagnation of interfaces like Friends Reunited or indeed Second Life. Since our results suggest that much of the interaction respondents were involved in concerned actual friends rather than avatars, and current relationships and activities rather than past ones, there is some scope to be optimistic that online interaction in English between learners and friends with whom they share English as a common language may be a durable phenomenon, whether on social networking platforms or in another form.

These practices are currently tolerated to diverse degrees in different parts of the world, and just as technologies allowing file sharing have become widespread, protection systems such as DRMs digital rights management systems could equally gain in sophistication and effectiveness. If borne out by research, this tendency may lead to a durable reduction in the divide which has up to now separated countries in which subtitling is the norm and those in which foreign language material is usually dubbed.

While it is clear for example that most interaction take place in a written form even when audio links are available, we do not yet know whether learners choose this mode to increase thinking time in interactions and to hide any pronunciation difficulties they may have in oral communication, or whether they are simply replicating the habits of a generation more used to texting than to calling on the telephone even when the initial cost motivation behind such a choice is beginning to recede.

Issues such as loss of face due to errors in text versus audio formats would be a possible example of further research in this field. Language users certainly discover English language television series based on the recommendation of friends, many of whom they interact with online, although whether or not these interactions often take place in English is not clear.

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Beyond the technical affordances of sites such as Facebook to integrate video sources into user contributions, it might be useful to determine to what extent series plot-lines are discussed informally online by non native speakers, and indeed whether they ever engage in more extensive series based language work such as fan fiction, in which fans of series write scripts for new imaginary episodes or as preludes or postscripts to existing episodes.

It is quite natural for learners to be unwilling to open up private exchanges to the scrutiny of research, even with the pretext of only being interested in the linguistic aspects of such communications. Indeed social networking sites allow users to restrict the ways in which people not identified as friends access such conversations. From a pedagogical point of view it would not therefore be advisable to engage in formal practice of such exchanges which are by their very nature private.

It is more likely that participation in thematic forums or commenting on thematic blogs might represent a better way of formally practicing similar skills in a less personal context. They are however not producing similar kinds of language in similar amounts as Swain's output hypothesis might require.

In any case, more research is called for into the longitudinal effects of this kind of informal English exposure. Common European Framework of Reference. In Ellis, Nick ed. Implicit and explicit learning of languages. London Academic Press, Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Les langues modernes , Language learning in the classroom.

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How non-specialist students of English practice informal learning using web tools

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