The technological advancements and media tools for communication that have come up post web 2.0 have turned out to be a social phenomenon that have impacted every walk of our life. The language classroom is very much located in this new media space. This virtual transformation of physical space provides a more democratic, flexible, and natural setting for language use. This paper will attempt to demonstrate that new media tools can provide learners with a real socio-cultural learning environment, where they actually negotiate meaning in a real life context. The fundamental premise of Communicative Language Teaching method (CLT) can be captured in an integrated new media technology-enabled learning environment when teaching English as second language. CLT essentially assumes the learner’s engagement with language for a variety of purposes in all phases of learning. The essence of this assumption can be captured in the virtual space of new media technologies, which provides a more democratic, flexible, and natural setting for language use. In this paper, new media is understood as a collective term which refers to the technological advancement and media tools for communication post web 2.0, such as internet, YouTube, Skype, Twitter, Blog, Facebook, mobile phones, etc. The advancements in digital media technologies have turned out to be a social phenomenon, making geographical boundaries porous and blurred. This is reflected in the linguistic boundaries as well. Traditional media and new media are together defusing linguistic boundaries between standard and vernacular varieties of language. Digital audio-video exchanges and their abundant online availability for mass consumption are responsible for fuelling this phenomenon. In an ambitious remark, Crystal (2003) describes a possibility of:
…a world in which intelligibility and identity happily coexist. This situation is the familiar one of bilingualism—but a bilingualism where one of the languages within a speaker is the global language, providing access to the world community, and the other is the regional language, providing access to the local community. (p. 22)
This statement essentially assumes English to be the global language and any language other than English as a regional language. This may a hypothetical situation, however it has a basis in the fact that even with a very conservative assessment, we cannot deny the fact that English has turned out to be the language of this digital technology revolution that is facilitating outreach to the masses and creating a new social order in which people interact with each other within this hyper electronic network.
This technology-driven social change in the backdrop of the exponential growth in communication technology is very comprehensibly documented by Manuel Castells (1997), in his three monumental volumes known as The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture. He defines the network society as:
…a society whose social structure is made of networks, powered by microelectronics-based information and communication technology. By social structure, I understand the organizational arrangements of humans in relations of production, consumption, reproduction, experience, and power expressed in meaningful communication coded by culture. (p. 3)
These arguments lead us to draw two inferences very clearly. The first is that new media technologies have acquired a pervasive effect, and the second is that English has gained even more importance as the means to take this medium to the masses. The virtuality of the network society is a new reality and the language teaching classrooms are located well within it. Therefore, any change within the environment will be reflected in its engagement with language in the classroom. The following section briefly describes the basic assumptions of the CLT method when identifying the role of new media technologies in delivering effective learning outcomes.
Principles of Communicative Language Teaching Method
Language teaching methods have changed considerably from Grammar Translation method, Direct Method, Audio-lingual Method, Suggestopedia, The Silent Way, Total Physical Response and The Natural Approach. Today, CLT is a widely accepted method for teaching a language.
The term “communicative competence”, which is the central theme in the CLT method, was introduced in second language learning in the early 1970s (Habermas, 1970; Hymes, 1971, 1972; Jakobovits, 1970; Savignon, 1971). Hymes’ (1972) notion of competence was a response to Chomsky’s idea of linguistic competence. Both Chomsky (1965) and Hymes (1972) used the notion of competence, but their theoretical positions were distinct. Chomsky’s notion of linguistic competence refers to the tacit knowledge of language (that subsumes formal linguistic subsystems such as phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic). Hymes’ position extends beyond the tacit knowledge of language to include sociolinguistic competence and the actual knowledge and abilities of the language user that govern successful communication. According to Savignon (2002), “Competence is defined in terms of the expression, interpretation, and negotiation of meaning and looks to both psycholinguistic and sociocultural perspectives in second language acquisition (SLA)” (p. 1). Berns (1990) provides a useful summary of eight principles of CLT (as quoted in Savignon, 2002), which assumes certain fundamental notions. These include: the learner’s communication need is central; the pedagogy is flexible and accommodates socio-cultural factors; and above all the pedagogy requires learners to be engaged with language in a variety of ways during all phases of learning. The following section describes the role of new media technologies in capturing these fundamental principles of CLT method during the teaching-learning process of English as a second language.
English Language Teaching in New Media Enabled Learning Environment
In the preface to his work, Language and the Internet, David Crystal (2004) notes:
An emphasis, which formerly was on technology, has shifted to be on people and purposes. And as the Internet comes increasingly to be viewed from a social perspective, so the role of language becomes central. Indeed, notwithstanding the remarkable technological achievements and the visual panache of screen presentation, what is immediately obvious when engaging in any of the Internet’s functions is its linguistic character. If the Internet is a revolution, therefore, it is likely to be a linguistic revolution. (p. viii)
The process of digitization has facilitated the masses to have access to worldwide network in a truly emancipated networked society. The members of this network society are connected to this network of information through internet and mobile technology. During the last two decades, there have been a number of studies centred on the use of technology, specifically on the use of computer and digital technology in second language learning. There are apprehensions and reservations regarding the overwhelming use and impact of technology on the learning outcome of the learners. Bax (2003), proposes to achieve a state of technology normalization, in which:
CALL (computer aided language learning) finally becomes invisible, serving the needs of learners and integrated into every teacher’s everyday practice….It will require change in attitudes, in approach and practice amongst teachers and learners; it will require fuller integration into administrative procedures and syllabuses. (p. 27)
From the beginning of the year 2000, the focus of studies shifted from CALL to the web 2.0 based internet and related media tools available in cyberspace. These include studies conducted by Campbell (2003), Bax (2000, 2003), Eastman (2005), Godwin (2003) and Johnson (2004), etc. Campbell (2003) elaborated on the impact on productivity of using Weblogs for exchanging views and ideas in ESL classes, and promoting collaborative tasks in language use for ESL learners. Jackson et al. (2006), brought out some interesting findings such as “the students who used the internet more, got higher scores and grades.” Chandrasegaran and Kong (2006), demonstrated that discussion forums on the internet substantially enhance a learner’s argumentative skills. Hismanoglu (2011) observed that the “potential of ICT in ELT has been recognized and technology and materials are available, but what is missing is the efficient integration of them into the currently used course books and the ongoing teacher training”. There were a number of studies with almost similar interpretation, which unanimously acknowledge the potential of information and communication technology in SLA and English language teaching. Ahmad (2012) statistically explored EFL learners’ response towards new media technology in general and its impact in improving accentual patterns of individual English words in particular. Therefore, there is a sizeable body of literature recommending effective use of media tools in ELT.
Berns’ summarization of the eight principles of CLT essentially keeps the learner at the centre of the entire process of teaching and learning. The teacher is required to simply be a facilitator in creating opportunities to use language for a variety of purposes. The new media tools create a free and non-threatening environment for learning. The availability of new online media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogger, YouTube, Instagram, and Pininterest, etc., to name a few, are virtual realities of our life through which we socialize and express ourselves. These can be used and capitalized upon in the context of English language teaching to create a natural habitat for language use, extending beyond the confines of a physical classroom. These media platforms can be used in a variety of ways such as group chats, blog postings, group discussion forums, posting opinions and comment trails on an issue, video sharing and registering responses on discussion forums, etc. These readily available internet tools can be instrumental for learners in receiving and spreading information, expressing their feelings and emotions, and sharing ideas and experiences in the target language. The learners’ connectivity with the network and the ease with which these platforms can be used make it very convenient and feasible. Face-to-face communication is hence replaced by an asynchronous computer-mediated communication, which prompts learners to experiment with ideational and textual functions in constructing meaning. Proximity between learners becomes redundant and they are no longer required to be present physically in a class for getting opportunities to use a language. The new media platforms create these opportunities to use and practice English in their independent time and space and give learners the freedom to engage and experiment with the language. Interestingly, learners are not at all out of reach, and the teacher, being a member of the network, has accessibility to the format and content of language use by the learners.
The teacher can facilitate collaborative learning by creating smaller groups for group chats; initiating a class blog for posting comments; starting an online discussion forum to make everyone participate in the discussion, voicing their opinions on issues, and reflecting on ideas; and initiating an online platform for sharing audio and video depending on the local assessment of the creative needs of the learners. The virtual character of these media tools and platforms provide the learners with a non-threatening, democratic, flexible and open environment for using language beyond the physical space in a variety of ways such as sharing information, posting comments, giving an opinion, responding to prompts, expressing feelings, narrating experiences, etc. It also empowers teachers to help the learners in achieving their learning goals without any constraints on time and space. The teacher does not need to struggle to keep track of the developmental phases of learning of the individuals as the data texts (stored and saved in the archives of the digital platform) are always available on the network at his or her disposal.
Finally, we can conclude that the integration of new media technologies in English language teaching and learning process has visible effective outcomes. The basic idea of keeping the learner and learner-centric needs at the centre of pedagogy, which is fundamentally required in CLT, can be captured easily in the new media enabled virtual learning environment. This is complementary to the physical classroom, and in no way proposes to replace the physical classroom. The idea is to extend and integrate these two spaces (virtual and physical). This integration requires the language teacher to be well-versed in new technology and have an uninterrupted link with this network.
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Om Prakash teaches English and Applied Linguistics at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Gautam Buddha University, Greater Noida. His primary research interests include applied linguistics, language, media and society.