Lee, K., & Ranta, L. (2014). Facebook: Facilitating Social Access and Language Acquisition for International Students? Tesl Canada Journal, 31(2), 22–50.
Lee and Ranta examined the use of Facebook by English as a Second Language (ESL) learners in Canada to see if Facebook could be used to increase interactions between native and non-native speakers of English. They administered an online questionnaire in English to adult students in an intensive English Language Program at a Canadian university. Over half of the participants who were surveyed used Facebook, and 70% of the participants set their account to English instead of their native language (p. 32). The authors found that there was no significant correlation between Facebook use and the use of English with non-native speakers because of the way people become friends on Facebook. Very seldom do people randomly request or accept friend requests, so in order for ESL students to become friends on Facebook, a necessary step was for them to become acquaintances in real life first. The highest scores were in the area of willingness on the part of the ESL student to communicate in English via Facebook. According to the authors, this may be due to the fact that using Facebook lowers a person’s inhibition and allows them to think and take their time before posting a response. Lastly, a weak correlation was found in regards to English language proficiency and Facebook usage. Particularly interesting was the ESL students self-reporting of higher levels of spoken English skills which the authors attributed to the nature of Facebook postings which tend to be more conversational in a spoken sense than formal in a written sense. The authors end the article with a list of additional areas that could be explored. In particular, in regards to creating social connections for ESL students so that they are not isolated, teaching students how to use Facebook to connect with people, and exploring other social media sites such as Twitter or Tumblr in order to meet native speakers.
The authors went into great detail in the literature review concerning the main areas of their study. They discussed the linguistics and psychological benefits of interaction on ESL students’ need for interaction with native speakers as well as the psychological benefits. They explained the problems that non-native speakers have when trying to connect with native speakers and how this barrier causes ESL students to feel isolated and can limit a student’s ability to develop language skills. In addition, they explained why computers and online learning could be an effective way to solve some of the issues of isolation and help students to develop their language skills more quickly. In particular, the authors explained their choice of using the social media outlet Facebook in this study for a variety of different reasons. The authors should have taken into account the very nature of friending others on Facebook. To me, this weakens the study. I do agree with the authors in the end when they stated that another social media site such as Twitter where students do not have to have friends first may have been a better site to use.
This study was of interest to me because of my work with ESL students. I have many friends on Facebook who have been former students in the ESL Center at the university where I teach. I find that I rarely have to translate their posts into English as most of these students do post comments in English, so I can see how using Facebook could be a way for them to improve their language skills. Also, the finding that the ESL students in this study felt that posting to Facebook helps to improve their speaking skills does make sense to me. When writing posts to Facebook, I tend to write like I would speak and not use all formal prescriptive English grammar rules. There are still many that I follow, but there are more rules that I break in this environment than in any other.
One area that I find intriguing and would like to consider for research would be concerning using Facebook to help students find activities to do on campus and in the general area. In this study, they were researching the usefulness of Facebook to make connections between native and non-native speakers. In the study I would like to conduct, the focus would be more on drawing ESL students’ attention to activities to see if they would attend activities that they may have missed otherwise, and then to see how they benefited from the activity as well as to see if by attending different events they felt more a part of the community with a better understanding of the culture. (Needs a little refining, but I see a diamond in the rough.)