This section of the website discusses certain aspects of computer-mediated communication (CMC) particularly how it relates to language education. CMC’s potential in the language classroom has been known, discussed, and researched since the 1980s (Warschauer, 2001, as cited in Cummings, 1986). CMC is discussion and interaction between two or more people via computer supported media. This can take place in e-mail, video, audio and written chat [instant messaging], through interactive video games, discussion boards, list servers, wikis, blogs (weblogs), and multi-player video games, to mention but a few. Resourceful and innovative language educators can augment the learning environment by utilizing any or many of these varieties of CMC. The use of CMC can greatly help language learners become familiar with people who are speaking the target language with an accent, and who are L2 language users themselves.

For purposes of business, L2 language use in the international community is English. Over eighty-five percent of people who speak English in the world speak it as a second or other language (Hadley, 2001); therefore, it is important for people dealing with a foreign client to be able to understand what they are saying, and to be able to understand their traditions, customs, and cultures. Learning a language and culture go hand in hand (Cameron, 1998).

In addition, around the world, North American, and then the U.K. accents are the ones held with the highest regard amongst learners of English. After that, the other native English accents, such as Australian, New Zealand, Irish, and South African, are sought after. There are many people who speak English like a native speaker but who are not from European descent, for example, the Philippines, Singapore, South Pacific West Indies, Belize, Guyana, South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh), and some African nations. These forms of English are usually overlooked and not sought after by learners of English. These two points need to be critically thought through by educators and learners. Firstly, when a person from Taiwan is conducting business over the phone with a person from Indonesia, it not does matter whether or not the accent is American. The immediate necessity is to be clearly understood. In most cases, these two people would have a Taiwanese and Indonesian accent anyhow. Secondly, it is not difficult to understand why accents from non Caucasian English countries are not sought after. They are not the accents of where the money is, and they are not the accents glorified by Hollywood and British television and film. There are also historically developed dominance and colonial issues that occurred as well. For the past 300 years, the world’s super-powers, Britain and America, have been speaking English. Parents spend thousands of dollars seeking out white native speakers of English to teach their children, and send their children overseas to study English, when they can do it cheaply by sending them to Manila or Fuji to study English. In addition, there are thousands of qualified English teachers from India and Belize who can teach these students, but schools would rather hire an underqualified white person to do an inadequate job of teaching English.

Moreover, people listen twice as much as they speak and five times as much as they read and write (Hadley, 2001). Listening skills are used more than the other skills, even though reading and writing are emphasised in traditional classrooms, and learners are always encouraged to engage with their classmates and native speakers in order to practice their speaking. It is time to take into account these facts and devise new ways for learners to train their listening skills. Students need to think of what they will be using English for, beyond the L2 classroom (Brecht & Walton, 1995).

In Taiwan and other countries where people speak English as an L2, mistakes are made over the phone when shipping and receiving orders (Pan & Lesser, personal communication, September, 2006). Moreover, sometimes business trips need to be made so that face-to-face communication can take place because they cannot understand what is being uttered over the phone. These business trips prove to be costly from a financial and time-management point of view. These mistakes can be avoided if learners can become familiar with accents from other countries.

CMC can bridge the gap between learners of English; accents and culture can become learnt. Teachers can collaborate with their contemporaries in different countries to establish some instant messaging sessions between their students, using software such as Skype, Yahoo! Messenger, or Windows Live Messenger (Mynard, 2002). Skype is an excellent freeware, downloadable from the Internet. When users are Skype members, they freely can leave voicemail messages instead of e-mails, they can write in a chat box with their ‘key-pal’, they can make video and audio calls, and even Skypecasts, where up to 100 people can converse with each other at the same time. If users pay a small fee, they can make connections from computers to phones, and send SMS to cellular phones anywhere in the world. However, if the Skype user makes a call to a local number, then it can be expensive, as Skype charges per minute; some times on a regular phone, local calls are free. In addition, Skype is sometimes banned from schools because of supernods in Skype, which has to do with control of bandwidth, something that more remote schools do not have a lot of. L2 learners can share their culture with their new friend, as well as train their ear to this new accent, for example, a Gambian and a Spanish conversing over how people greet each other in their respective countries.

Yahoo! messenger, with many of the same capabilities as Skype, is another good choice for students to have audio and video conversations with their colleagues. These L2 learners can enter chat rooms, where they can discuss and interact with people of simular interests. On the other hand, teachers need to be careful with their students when within chat rooms, because of online security issues. Chat rooms are often frequented by unfavourable characters, so students need to know how to identify these kinds of bad elements on the net. Teachers should also teach manners, ethics of the Internet (Rooksby, 2002). Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo messenger users can chat with each other, something called interoperability. This greatly adds to the number of L2 learners who can instant message with each other.

Motivation and attitudes also increase when instant messages and other CMC is used (Hadley, 2001, & Mills, 2000). Students not only learn new and intriguing accents, but they also increase their desire to learn a new L2, visit that country, and even participate in class. These learners also increase their imaginative and creative writing styles, and become more proficient in grammar and newly acquired vocabulary (Hadley, 2001). Many L2 students who do not use CMC instant messaging tools are often reluctant to talk to their native L2 teachers and other speakers, but through instant messaging, they can create aliases and thus interact with non-natives and natives alike. A good teacher may also want to enter the chat, so students can interact on a less formal level with them. After using CMC, L2 students are more likely to interact in face-to-face meetings with native speakers (Hadley, 2001, & Meunier, 1998).

These same students, through CMC, should also be able teach the teacher a thing or two about CMC, as younger generations are much more well versed in technology and the world of the Internet (Lepeintre & Warschauer, 1997). Furthermore, gender issues can be resolved through instant messaging (Meunier, 1998). Female students who are somewhat shy and reluctant to speak out in a class full of dominating and bullying men now have the chance to communicate with some friendlier students overseas, so not only are they receiving an opportunity to participate, but they are also learning new accents and culture. This example can increase their motivation (Czikio & Park, 2003, as cited in Wong & Fauverge, 1999). Tests conducted prove that students have increased motivation when learning an L2 through CMC (Blake, 2000).

L2 students rarely rush to an open book to read what is on that page, but they will rush to the screen if they see that they have a new E-mail, or instant message (Deutsch, N.D., as cited in Milliron, 2004). This needs to be explored by an L2 teacher. Short online stories about different countries can be exchanged between teachers and students, both of whom are on different continents. Japanese students can read about the Yemeni Day of National Unity, held on May 22, in English, while their friends in Yemen can read about Samurai warriors, in English. L2 learners of English can also exchange music, a means that transcends language and culture.

Diverse access levels to technology, mainly relating to cost, has kept CMC out of the language class. Some schools simply do not have the budget to buy computers and other technology that allows for CMC in the classroom. Additionally, there is a lack of skilled teachers. Many language teachers are not provided with the opportunity of professional development in CMC. Moreover, there are diverse regulations online in the CMC environment. Many schools ban instant messaging, so administration needs to change their way of thinking regarding CMC in language labs. Finally, online moderation is a separate skill. It can be a challenge for a teacher in Singapore to control what their student’s ‘key pals’ write in Dubai. It is at best, only hoped that these students will keep on topic.

To conclude, students from around the world are learning English, the L2 of the business and international community. Since eighty-five percent of English speakers are non-native speakers, they need to learn how to listen to people with very different accents. This can be accomplished through CMC, and more specifically, instant messaging, which includes audio and video chatting. L2 students can overcome linguistic and cultural barriers through instant messaging. They can increase their attitudes and motivation towards learning an L2 as well, through CMC. Rather than students going to the teacher in his or her office, a very daunting experience for shy learners, they can go online to ask their new ‘key-pals’ or other teachers these questions, via CMC’s various tools (EVC connects teachers and learners online, N.D.). CMC technology is growing day by day, and this means language learning capability must be crafted and mastered by the L2 teacher. It has been known since the 1980s that CMC has great potential in the L2 classroom. The time is now for L2 teachers to start using this technology for their language students.

Reference list

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