Today, learning English involves much more than poring though textbooks, doing tests, and putting dictums into practise. With the advent of the Internet and its attendant technology, hosts of options exist for improving your English skills. These options involve interacting with others online via social networks - communicating in order to learn about other cultures, have fun, and to learn English at the same time.
Believe it or not, social networks are a relatively new phenomenon. Geocities was one of the web's first social networking sites. They began in 1994. In 1997, AOL Instant Messenger launched. In 2003, MySpace launched, with Facebook following in 2004. Next up was Twitter in 2006. Come 2008, Facebook overtook MySpace as the leading social networking site, and now we have more social Networks than ever.
People are increasingly conversing online using these diverse social sites. They enjoy the immediacy and convenience of engaging in discourse any time, any place, anywhere.
Let's look at a couple of the most popular social networking opportunities available to you for improving your English.
Twitter is a social networking site that demands precision of expression. Why is that? It's because each post or "Tweet" you can make is limited to 140 characters. Therefore, you must be concise in your messaging.
As a micro-blogging service, Twitter asks the question "What's happening?" With Twitter, you let others know what you're doing. You can immediately update others on the latest about you and your interests, and with only 140 characters available per message, you're forced to choose your words carefully and to convey your message clearly. This is excellent for improving your English as you eliminate unnecessary words. Like writing poetry, you choose the best words to communicate with. Twitter does not afford you the luxury of rambling on about a topic.
With Twitter, you send your Tweets to your Friends or Followers, and you can Follow other people who interest you, and read their Tweets, which are also short. In this way Twitter helps you improve your English reading skills too. You can read a variety of short messages on a myriad of subjects. In this way, you learn new words, turns of phrase, and jargon, which all helps you build your English vocabulary.
Facebook is a social networking service whereby users can create a personal profile, add other users as friends, and exchange messages. This includes automatic notifications when they update their personal profile. Facebook users can also join common-interest user groups that they find useful.
In a nutshell, Facebook is a web portal for keeping in touch with others. You choose whom you allow to access your Facebook pages. You can post text, pictures, images, video, and music on your Facebook page. You can use a "Wall", which other members can use in order to text each other messages. In addition to text, messages can also contain photos, videos, music and links to other websites.
Again, this is an excellent mechanism for building your English skills. You gain English writing experience through composing your various messages. You are not limited to 140 characters, and so you can be elaborate a bit more with your messaging.
Facebook also builds your English reading skills. You can read an assortment of messages from those whom you allow into your pages. This diversity of messages means you can learn new words from people all over the world, depending on your list of friends.
Some may write extended messages, giving you the opportunity to study their way with words, as well as their word choice. Facebook exposes you to a significant selection of writing (text) in which to build your English skills.
Skype and Discord
Skype and Discord are computer software applications that allow users to make voice calls over the Internet. Calls to other users of these services are free. Calls to traditional landline phones and mobile phones involve paying a fee. This allows you to talk, and/or text and add videos. You can use these platforms on your computer, your mobile device, or even on your TV, depending on the model of TV you have.
When it comes to improving your English skills, platforms like these get you talking. Consequently, you converse, which is putting your English speaking and listening skills into action. Just as you do in-person, you chat and get your message across verbally. You use the English vocabulary you've built up – along with those new words and phrases that you've learned.
Moreover, you listen, which means you learn English words and phrasing from others. Of course, you can text too, which lets you practise your English writing skills just as you do on other social networking sites, but the main strength of using Skype or Discord is using to speak or (if you're brave) and video chats (if you're really, really brave). There are even teachers who offer traditional English lessons and there are conversational groups that meet more informally.
You really can learn English this way.
If Facebook and Twitter sound a bit frivalous for your tastes, you might prefer LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a social networking site for professionals. It's an excellent way to connect with other professionals, be it in business, academia, or other organisations. LinkedIn allows you to connect with others to find and share opportunities on a daily basis.
On LinkedIn you can build your business English skills through writing your profile, and then keeping it updated. You also build your business English skills through sending messages to others, reading their responses, and replying in kind.
YouTube is a video-sharing website. Users upload, share and view videos on this social networking site. Learning English via YouTube involves listening to the language via the videos you view. You also learn through reading the comments posted in English, situated below each video. In addition, some YouTube videos are text presentations in a slide show format, or have subtitles available, so you can actually read English in each screen shot.
If you're feeling extra brave you can even post your own video and become the next YouTube sensation. Tell people about your life, read some poetry, sing a song, showcase your talent. You can even create cartoon videos using software like Muvizu,
Flickr is a social networking site with a difference, because you build contact with people by sharing photographs, and short videos. If you have a digital camera, you can share your life with an online community. Put up some pictures and find people who have taken photos of things you are interested in and leave a comment for them, or find groups on subjects you like to take pictures of. There are groups for countries, hobbies, animals ... just about anything you can think of.
Google has integrated hangouts with Gmail, this has potential as it allows you to put contacts, family and friends into different categories. For me, the jury is out at the moment, but we'll keep you posted.
Forums And Message Boards
Social networking really began with message boards and then moved to forums. They allow users to communicate about different subjects. A forum is a discussion area on a website. Most Internet forums focus on a specific subject. Those interested in the subject gather to discuss topics and share opinions, information, and ideas.
Forums get you writing English. You compose messages in a coherent manner so others understand the point or points you're trying to make. In turn, you read the postings of other forum members and pick up new words, phrases, and unique information along the way. It all contributes to building your English language skills in an interesting manner.
An example is the Learn English forum. Here users interested in building their English language skills gather to converse. You can practise your English on this forum by posting your thoughts on a variety of topics, and by connecting with others who have an interest in learning English in the Live Text Chat room.
Things To Bear In Mind
There are other social sites out there, but these are among the most popular, and they are all free, and likely to remain so. When you choose a network, be aware that sites that start off as free, sometimes start charging for premium accounts, or close down altogether.
You can join a social networking site dedicated to learning English, but that way you could be restricting yourself to speaking about learning English, which would get pretty boring after a time. By expanding your horizons a bit, you're more likely to meet other native speakers, and people who are interested in things that interest you. If you are already taking part in some formal learning in traditional or online classes, think of the rest of the net as the playground at school. You'll keep learning, but you'll be having fun too.
Remember to conduct your conversations safely when using social networks. Keep some control over the information you display. Never display any of your personal ID numbers, phone numbers, or bank and credit card account numbers. Be careful on what sites you want your full name, address, and phone number posted. Furthermore, don't post other people's personal information.
Consider the above array of social networking sites for improving your English. Try them all to find out which ones you're comfortable with, and which you feel are best suited to building your English language skills. Used wisely, social networking sites allow you to connect with others while developing those all-important communication skills you desire.
The way you interact with others is part of your success with these services. If you're not sure how to win friends and influence people, there is an excellent Netiquette guide here.