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Picking up language skills on social media? The pros and cons of a new trend
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In a bid to prove they're not just a superficial pastime, social media are promoting language learning content

The content posted on social networks like Instagram and TikTok are usually deemed to be relatively trivial. However, a new trend in which users provide informal language learning videos may change that impression. Accounts such as @speakenglishnow on TikTok (with 372,400 followers) and @tita.english (126,000 followers), @pippi.english (209,000 followers) or @elprofeguiri (32,800 followers) on Instagram are just a few examples. The phenomenon has spread through videos that combine common features of social media with specific content on words and expressions or practical tips for language learning. Experts in language communication and learning at the UOC looked at the benefits and drawbacks.

Ferran Lalueza, a member of the Faculty of Information and Communication Sciences at the UOC and an expert on social media, pointed out that we spend a lot of time on these platforms, and that means "we do more and more things on them". This could also include learning languages, "which is always unfinished business" for many people, and which social media can now make easier. In addition, he explained that the platforms themselves "proactively promote this type of content so as not to be perceived as a vacuous and addictive pastime that doesn't provide any value other than mere entertainment".


Factors enabling the success of language videos on social media

Lalueza pointed out that audiovisual formats "fit in very well with language learning," because they allow users "to hear a statement and literally see how each word is articulated". In addition, images can also help define concepts and the narrative "means that everyday dialogues and situations can be reproduced" with support from text if necessary. The interaction between the creator of the post and their followers also means that the content can be tailored to suit the users' interests. The short-video format is also a shift away from the idea that learning a language is a 'titanic' task. Social media give users the feeling that it is easier.

In Lalueza's opinion, "anything that fosters learning and helps people gain useful social and professional skills is positive". If social media provide this kind of content, it can make the experience "entertaining and rewarding" and "increases motivation". However, he warned of the risk of going along with the idea that "everything can be learned without any effort […] Learning should never be torture, but, likewise, we shouldn't think that it must always be easy and fun, because there are some skills, attitudes and knowledge that can never be acquired without making an effort."


Considerations to bear in mind about language videos on social media

In turn, Joseph Hopkins, a member of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and the director of the Languages programme, warned that there is often a commercial motive behind these social media accounts. "Many of them are bait used by online academies and schools to get followers to sign up for their courses," he said. Hopkins understands the success of these videos, because they focus on grammatical concepts, expressions and vocabulary to attract users who, for example, can pick up some knowledge while they are on public transport. 

He believes that following these types of account can be positive, but he warned that "it's not just a question of grammar, vocabulary and phrases: what you need is to have the opportunity to put that knowledge into practice". According to Hopkins, this type of content can be entertaining, but he stressed that "it has no structure, it's relatively arbitrary, and it has information that may or may not be useful". He also pointed out that the content may not "be subject to any quality control, of the type one would find in a language-learning book published by Cambridge or Oxford, for example". In short, he sees this trend as a new form of "covert" advertising.

UOC experts

Photograph of Joseph Hopkins

Joseph Hopkins

Lecturer in the Arts and Humanities Department
Director of the Languages programme

Expert in: Application of ICT to language teaching; online language teaching; computer-assisted communication; online teacher training.

Knowledge area: Teaching of foreign languages.

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Photograph of Ferran Lalueza Bosch

Ferran Lalueza Bosch

Expert in: Crisis communication; corporate communication; social networks; corporate social responsibility; persuasive communication on the Internet.

Knowledge area: Communication, public relations, social media and journalism.

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