The Use of the Internet in ESL Learning: Problems, Advantages and Disadvantages
Selami Aydin is an assistant professor at English Language Teaching Department at Balikesir University. His research has mainly been in language testing, writing and technology in second language learning. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Today the internet, consisting of millions of computers, has an important role and great potential in educational life. It is also used specifically and widely in second language learning all over the world. Though the internet use in second and foreign language learning has brought certain advantages, it carries some disadvantages. However, before discussing its advantages and disadvantages, it is a must to mention some potential problems.
First problem is that the internet is not always accessible by all learners and teachers though English as a second language all over the world is taught widely. Statistics (The World Bank, 2004) indicate that internet use depends on the financial situations of countries. For example, some values on the internet accessibility of overall population are 75.6% in Sweden, 61.4% in Holland, 68.7% in Japan, 50% in Germany, 17.7% in Greece, 14.2% in Turkey, 11.1% in Russia, 10.9% in Thailand, 6.6% in Saudi Arabia and 4.5% in Kenya. To sum up, when the accessibility of overall population is considered, it is possible to say that the inequity issues in internet accessibility are discouraging for both language teachers and students in educational settings (Mike, 1996). Internet unfamiliarity is another problem that causes lack of training in second language classroom. In other words, little experience on the internet is an anxiety source for both second language learners and teachers. Third, since the internet offers all types of topics, some of them are not unsuitable for school children who learn English as second language. Though serious precautions are taken today, this is still an important problem for parents and children (Singhal, 1997). Last and fourth, the increasing amount of information generally makes learners confused while they try to reach specific information. (Chafe, 1999). Consequently, problems on internet use focus on computer unavailability, lack of internet accessibility and training, computer anxiety, computer unfamiliarity of both teachers and students and some financial obligations.
Research results indicate that internet use increases language use and acquisition of second language (Kasanga, 1996). For example, it was found that interaction in language helps learners to gain input in language learning process (Kitao, 1998). Specifically, it increases synchronous and a synchronous communication of ESL learners and (Kern, 1995; Warschauer and Healey 1998) and them to use language in real communication situations (Wiburg and Butker Pasceo, 2002). In other words, the internet motivates learners to use English in their daily lives and provides functional communicative experiences ((LeLoup and Ponterio, 1997). Communication with native speakers allows learners to practice specific skills such as negotiating, persuading, clarifying meaning, requesting information, and engaging in true-life, authentic discussion. Additionally, the internet gives the opportunity to construct knowledge together by expressing themselves in print and then assessing, evaluating, comparing, and reflecting on their own views and those of others (Warschauer, 1997).In sum, it is useful medium for communication with native speakers in real situations, improving writing skills, teaching of culture (Cononelos and Olivia, 1993) and learning about the target culture (Singhal, 1997). It is also useful to retrieve, access and use information in the context of second language learning. The internet is a platform for experiencing and presenting creative works such as essays, poetry and stories and for providing supplemental language activities in specific areas of language learning (Singhal, 1997). Additionally, the Internet promotes higher thinking skills (Mike, 1996). It helps students to improve their computer skills, such as keyboarding skills, opening and storing files, Internet searching (Means and Olson, 1997), and technical and conceptual experiences. It increases the participation when it is used in classroom environment (Sullivan and Pratt, 1996; Warschauer, 1996). For instance, it was found that the ESL learners produce more sentences when it compared to the situation in classroom environment (Kern, 1995). It also useful not only for the quantity but also the quality of language: Learners have a great variety of speech discourse (Sullivan and Pratt, 1996) and use more complex language (Warschauer, 1996). According to the research activities, the internet changes the interaction between learners and teachers (Kern, 1995): There is less teacher and more learner talk in computer classes. Furthermore, it changes teacher and students' roles (Peterson, 1997) and makes learning more student-centered (Warschauer, Turbee, and Roberts, 1996). The internet is a source of supplemental resources and authentic materials (Graus, 1999). Finally, the studies indicate that the internet has positive effects on motivation (Muehleisen, 1997), provides means for creative works (Singhal, 1997) and gives opportunities for collaboration and socialization in learning process (Means and Olson, 1997).
Research activities show that there are some disadvantages of the internet use in second language learning. First, communication with native speakers affects reading skills defectively (Kern, 1995). This is also valid for listening, speaking and writing skills. Though it is a fact that the internet improves communicational and language skills, the significant point is that teachers and learners are not sometimes aware of why, how, whom and where they teach and learn. Second, though a mass of materials in the internet can be found, integration of the materials into second language curriculum is a potential difficulty. Unfortunately, internet use in language learning and teaching may be the waste of time if it does not depend on a language curriculum.
With its advantages and disadvantages, the internet has significant effects on communicating, teaching and learning. Thus, both teachers and learners should have the chance of internet accessibility, experience and familiarity with its functions in educational life. For this purpose, before using the internet in second language learning and teaching activities, teachers and learners should be instructed. This is a must to use it in language classrooms efficiently. On the other hand, it should be known that the internet is not sufficient itself to teach and learn a second language. In other words, it cannot include all teaching and learning activities and be replaced the real teaching and learning environment, such as language classroom and real-life communication. As a result, it is only a tool for educational activities. However, it can be implicated that the research has not concluded on the issue yet. Thus, research issue should focus on a great variety of the internet use in language learning and teaching such as attitudes of learners and teachers towards it, individual differences on using the internet, effective ways to use it, the suitability of educational and instructive purposes and the effects on teaching and learning. As a final point, it is possible to say that technology is not a purpose but only a tool for all humanistic necessities.
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