By Steve Kaufmann
English is the dominant language of the Internet. The Internet will in turn become the dominant place to learn English. The way languages are learned is changing, and these changes are accelerating.
The Internet is constantly evolving. It has created a dynamic environment for the communication and the management of information. The Internet has brought with it new forms of social interaction without boundaries. Technologies like MP3, iPod, Skype and PDAs, as well as blogs and podcasts, are making an immense variety of communication, information, literature, news and other language content available anywhere and anytime. A cascade of developments is causing interactive communities to spring up based on common interests, without regard to geography. This is going to stand traditional language learning on its head. English dominates on the Internet in areas ranging from entertainment to science. If you want to learn English, this represents an unprecedented opportunity.
You can access English language content on any subject and learn from it. You can connect with English speaking people who share your interests. You can do this via e-mail, through blogs, podcasts and forums. You can link up with friends or even language tutors using free Internet telephony. The World Wide Web is the ultimate dynamic classroom and learning community.
Over the next few years the Internet will take over from the classroom as the place of choice to learn English: Here are some of the reasons.
The Primacy of Input
If you want to learn English or any other language, you need input, meaningful, interesting and at your level. Today language learning experts emphasize input over output, listening and reading over grammar study. Before you can use the language, you must get used to the language. You don’t need to be in a hurry to speak English, and you don’t need to speak it all the time to improve.
“Real language acquisition develops slowly, and speaking skills emerge significantly later than listening skills, even when conditions are perfect. The best methods are therefore those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are ‘ready’, recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production.” Stephen Krashen.
When you learned your own language as a child, you didn’t begin by speaking. You began by listening. New language learners can benefit from a “silent period”. During the “silent period” you can absorb the language. You need not force yourself to speak it until you are confident. Even if you are an intermediate learner, extensive reading and listening will increase your familiarity with the language, enrich your vocabulary, and develop confidence. This is more beneficial than studying grammar.
While listening and reading often and regularly are vital, the content must be meaningful. Learning content should be interesting and comprehensible to you. This means that you, not the teacher, should choose what to learn from. The Internet allows unlimited choice of fascinating authentic content. The traditional textbook cannot compete.
Motivated learners used to spend their time in book stores looking for graded content that would help them in their language studies. Yet, inevitably a lot of this material could only be found in uninteresting textbooks and readers. But today authentic content on a variety of subjects is only a click away. This is especially the case for the person who wants to learn English.
This range of material is made accessible to learners, since new systems can grade it for difficulty in a way that is customized to your specific vocabulary. You can learn English by listening to and reading on subjects that interest you and you won’t find it too difficult.
Vocabulary over Grammar
In order to achieve fluency in English you need to be comfortable using at least 10,000 words. On the Internet, you can choose appropriate content to listen to and read. The content can be graded to your level. But what about learning and remembering all those new words. We know how quickly we forget words when we look them up in a dictionary. And there are so many words to learn. Fortunately, the Internet makes it a lot easier to learn vocabulary.
On the Internet you can use online dictionaries to look up words instantly (i.e., Babylon). There are learning software programs which create customized word lists for you as you learn words. This software can help you accumulate example sentences for these words from the familiar contexts you are listening to and reading. You can set vocabulary goals and follow your progress towards these goals.
The Internet helps you to efficiently accumulate vocabulary based on lively and interesting language content, customized to your needs. This combination of vocabulary learning efficiency and limitless content is only part of why the Internet will become the place of choice to learn English.
Learning in Chunks
Vocabulary does not only mean words. It also means phrases, or chunks of words. Phrases are groups of words that come together in a way that is natural to the native speaker but not always to the learner. Michael Lewis has been one of the pioneers in pointing out that you learn language in chunks, or lexical phrases. The Internet and the computer make this easier.
On the computer, you can grab language chunks as you are listening and reading and collect them in an easy to use database. Phrases and chunks of the language can be linked to larger contexts, which are already familiar to you. You don’t need to rely on dictionary definitions and rote memory. You can review these chunks of language in short fragment form, in sentence form and as part of a larger context that you can listen to and read many times.
In this way you gradually develop an instinctive sense for how words are used. This is the natural way to learn correct usage. It is more effective than trying to remember and apply grammar rules.
As you build up your confidence in English through regular input and word and phrase learning, you will no doubt want to talk to native speakers. Once again the Internet is the ideal environment, offering more opportunities than the classroom.
Better Tutors on the Internet
The Internet connects people who are looking for each other. A quick search on a few professional web sites will locate native English speaker writers, editors, or professionals from all over the world, who are interested in acting as language tutors and coaches. If you want to learn English, you can interact with this outstanding pool of qualified people with a wide range of experience and knowledge.
You do not need teachers with specialized linguistics degrees if you want to learn English on the Internet. The new learning paradigm does not require teachers who are trained in the details of grammar and language teaching. Instead the important qualifications for a tutor on the Internet are; an interest in people, an ability to use one’s native language well, and rich experience to share with learners in English.
On the Internet you can choose the tutor whose accent and interests match your own.
Technologies like Skype make conversations via computer easy to organize and the communication is free of charge. You can get your friends together for a chat or make an appointment with a tutor.
It is like having lessons on demand. You can schedule one-on-one or four-on-one discussions via Skype with the tutor of your choice. You can invite your friends to join, or make new friends from different countries and cultures. Tutors need only provide advice and encouragement as well as feedback, at your convenience. There is no need for grammar instruction or quizzes, since you are learning the language naturally through your input activities.
In the relaxing atmosphere of Internet online discussion, learners and tutors become friends and form a community of people helping and encouraging each other. These are not stressful lessons. They are pleasant opportunities to communicate. You can record these conversations or produce your own oral essays and file them or share them. In this way you can keep track of your progress as you learn English on the Internet.
To really improve your accuracy of expression it is important to write. The correction of written texts can be efficiently organized on the Internet and integrated with your input and speaking activities. Systems can keep a permanent record of both your original texts and the corrected texts. These records can include details on the nature of your mistakes and the tutor’s notes. Tutors can make audio recordings of your corrected writing for you to listen to, in order to reinforce the learning of the corrected phrases. The writing can range from casual writing for a blog to serious academic essays.
Motivation and Enjoyment
Learning on the Internet is effective because it is fun. The Internet avoids the tension and boredom of the classroom and increases your motivation. You choose the content, vocabulary is easy to learn, progress is constantly measured, and you become part of a community.
There are already blogging communities with learners and tutors sharing their experiences. People come together from all over the world to help each other. Bloggers may post in their own language, or in English. English becomes the medium of communication among people of different cultural backgrounds. Blogging isn’t an assignment, but a genuine, enjoyable, and meaningful activity. A contagious enthusiasm will keep you learning. It is not like studying. It’s more like making new friends and discovering new cultures through language.
The Internet introduces a higher level of efficiency in language learning. Efficiency is essential because it creates intensity. It takes a high degree of intensity to transform yourself into a fluent speaker of another language.
There is also another reason why efficiency is important. You have a right to a decent return on your investment of time and money in language learning. If you want to learn English, efficiency is important, yet it is often ignored in traditional language teaching.
“I spent over 14 months studying English in a school. It was a waste of money for Canadian government and a waste of time for me.” Humberto Soto, a recent immigrant to Canada.
Traditional classroom methods are not as efficient as the Internet. It is difficult to cater to learners of different levels and interests. Stress and boredom are often the results. Many people are discouraged by their school experience, and end up convinced that they cannot learn to be fluent in a new language. They lose interest and give up.
For people who want to learn English, the Internet opens up a new world of efficient and satisfying language learning. The Internet makes possible a quality and variety of input that far exceeds the resources of a traditional classroom. Learning methodologies and communication opportunities are available to you on the Internet that the classroom cannot match. Goals can be set and achievements measured. The result is a highly integrated and enjoyable learning environment.
This new method of learning appeals to all ages. While youngsters and students are the most avid users of the Internet, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation 70% of Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 use the Internet! Similar trends are being seen in Europe and Asia.
A Learning Community, The Linguist
The Linguist is both a learning methodology and a community. It is the first language learning system developed specifically to take advantage of the possibilities offered by the Internet. It was initially developed to help people learn English. It is now being revised and expanded in order to offer other major world languages. In the future, The Linguist model has many applications for life-long education.
The explosion of new media and learning technologies via the Internet will change forever the way people learn. The Linguist system will influence how many subjects are taught. It will make it possible for people all over the world to share their knowledge, expertise and learn from each other, in many languages. Learning English is just one of many lessons we can learn on the Internet. Another one of them is to learn how to learn.
About The Author
Steve Kaufmann, CEO and Founder of The Linguist, grew up in Montreal. He obtained a Diplome from l’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris in 1966 and then entered the Canadian Foreign Service, as a Trade Commissioner.
Steve was posted to Hong Kong in 1968 and then served in Japan from 1971 to 1974. In 1974 he left the diplomatic service and served in senior executive positions in the Canadian forest industry until 1987. In 1987 he founded his own company, KP Wood Ltd which today has offices in Japan, Sweden and Canada.
Steve speaks fluent Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese as well as six European languages. He wrote: The Way of the Linguist: A Language Learning Odyssey. In 2002 he established The Linguist Institute Ltd.