How Social Networking Sites Can Help You Learn Languages

I got a kick out of this post yesterday questioning the value of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter in language learning. (And no, it's not funny because of the URL, though that did make me laugh.)

What's funny to me is the irony of a post questioning the value of Facebook and Twitter, which has both a "retweet" button and a "like" button at the bottom. Is the realization hitting you yet?

Just in case the point isn't already obvious, I'll spell it out: if a person had such a blog, and he actually wrote useful posts about language learning, people could re-tweet and like those posts, and they'd be providing valuable language-learning resources on Facebook and Twitter!

To be honest, I am generally of the opinion that people who write such rhetorical wonderings are usually not really wondering at all, but rather posturing a bit, in attempt to make the erudite implication that they are above such "trivial nonsense" as Facebook or Twitter, the opiate of less-intelligent people. And to anyone who thinks that way, I say, "wake up, fool, because you're missing out."

It's much more useful than it first appears

The true value of Facebook isn't readily apparent to a lot of people yet. But I think a lot of people are starting to catch on. While social networking is the feature that caught on, I think the real value of Facebook is the newsfeed! You "like" various web pages, people, clubs, groups, etc., and then their updates show up in your feed. It's like RSS, but on a much more usable level.

For instance, I have "liked" Fluent in 3 months, ielanguages, Transparent's Italian, Dreaming in Italian, Lithuanian language, Untemplater, and several others. Now, every time one of these sites posts an update, it shows up in my news feed on Facebook. But I can also get more than just web page updates. Some, such as Benny, also post additional information, notes, etc from time to time, including info you can't get by just reading the web site or subscribing to the RSS feed.

More importantly, when any of these sites posts an update that I like, I can click the "like" button and instantly share it with all of my friends and contacts on Facebook. And likewise, they can share such things with me. I often learn of cool new language-related information on Facebook long before the same news finds its way to me though RSS or email or general web surfing.

You can also increase your network

Perhaps the biggest potential on Facebook, though, is right there in the name social network — that word network. You can find and add new friends by Facebook, including native speakers of the language(s) you are studying!

Sometimes it's a simple friend-of-a-friend scenario, where you see their comments on someone else's status — maybe someone you know, or maybe on a page you're both fans of — and you can start a dialog and add a new friend. Or maybe you both participate in the same discussions page. Or maybe you're the type of person who sees nothing wrong with doing a friend search in another country and just adding people you don't know! Either way, there is no better way to learn a language than to use it!

And all of this is just on Facebook. It says nothing of what you can do with Twitter. Maybe I'll explore those possibilities next!

Meanwhile, with all this talk about Facebook, I think now is a good time to remind everyone to go to my Facebook page and click the "like" button so you can get those updates in your newsfeed too! Yes, you could also do that by clicking it up in that little box at the top of the right side of my web page, but you would miss out because I, too, add additional info and discussions on my Facebook page that you can only see if you go there.

And if you've already "liked" this web site, help spead the word. Clicking the "recommend" link and share it with your friends!

Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.

Author: Yearlyglot
I'll lead you through a 12 month journey from knowing absolutely nothing about a language to having professional fluency.

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  • Randy Yearlyglot

    I chuckled a bit when I read Steve's comment on his blog (not his 'posterous') calling you 'Randy, one of Benny's followers'. Oh dear.Anyway, I can't be bothered to comment there, so I'll comment here instead. I use Twitter as a language tool, by following people who tweet in the languages I speak or am learning. Although it takes a little more time to read posts in other languages alongside posts in my native language, the limited characters available with Twitter breaks reading down into bite-size chunks.A possible disadvantage with using it for one's reading practice though, is that there is a *lot* of slang used that you may not come across in books etc. Of course some people might see that as a positive.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Sure, if the world was divided up into followers of Benny versus followers of Steve (which is apparently the way things work in his mind), then he'd be right, of course. Hahah!Yes, you can count me in the camp that thinks of slang as a GOOD thing. I can find official, literary language anywhere in hundreds of books. But there are no lessons for learning how people really talk. That slang is only picked up from hearing and seeing it used, and asking for help when you don't understand something. If you don't learn slang, you're going to be lost in the language you think you know!

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    You absolutely nailed it with the second bit: the most useful aspect of social networks like Facebook is the ability to find and communicate with people in other countries, people who are native speakers of the language you're learning and who will often be interested in learning YOUR language (especially if you speak English), thereby allowing you to get tons of intercambio buddies very quickly.It's a truly awesome resource only dismissed by the technophobes and...well, maybe by bloggers who want to stir up things and get links by making controversial posts ;) (I would've nofollowed that link to his post, btw...).Cheers,

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    The important thing is that there are a lot of ways in which such sites can be useful to a language learner. The potential is so huge that I'm left only to think that someone claiming he can't think of anything useful about such sites must be posturing.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    You could always change the language on Facebook. That way you'll know the Facebook lingo in another language. Instead of "liking" something, you can "me gusta" it in the Spanish version of Facebook. To change the language, you just click the link in the bottom left-hand corner.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    I don't want to downplay the value of changing settings -- it's certainly a useful part of immersion into a new language. However, I really don't feel like there's a huge learning value to changing your Facebook settings -- or those of any other web site that you use regularly. For example, I always know that the "thumbs up" icon means "like", so it doesn't really matter what language it's written in, and I'm certainly not going to learn something from this.In my opinion, the main value of changing the language settings is, as I said, as a piece of the immersion puzzle. If you change Facebook, and Google, and Gmail, and your online banking, and your Windows or MacOS settings, until as much as possible is in your target language... you will then gain the reading benefits of seeing certain words often and burning them into your brain. But I really don't feel that you're going to learn much new vocabulary this way.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    I think you over-reacted a little, Steve talks initially about language education not language learning (not the same thing). Steve points out he uses both for links and traffic in his short post, so again a little unfair to score points off of that as I suspect most of your readers won't actually read the original.Steve does then question the use of them for his own language learning and offers the opinion that they are a time wasting activity (often true). Promoting his own commercial interests and an element of manipulation are there for sure but Steve certainly isn't the only one to do that is he???Personally I find Twitter very useful for language learning, Facebook less so. Facebook is essentially the core you, if you have many interests it is easy to dissipate and fracture there if you try to make it a key focus of your interests, the social profile of a language learner (I find) is in constant flux. Twitter and blogging allow me to have a number of focused and separate on line identities. I think there is enough available on-line for successful language learners to either use or ignore these tools as suits them though.The best thing I did on Twitter in hindsight was find a number of interesting Chinese tweeters and archive feeds into a feed reader, a couple of them kept going with some really interesting and highly connected content. Now I come back to the archived streams I have a highly interesting and connected set of material to read (Chinese encodes a lot more information in 140 chars, some Chinese treat Twitter like a diary). Archiving feeds allowed me to pull in far more than I could read and then cherry pick when I had the time.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    I'm not attacking Steve. But you certainly seem to be defending him.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    No, I commented on his post and yours, and then followed up with an example of my own regarding using Twitter.I thought it was fair, I doubt Steve needs defending by me ;). If you have reasonably strong opinions in a post I think is fair to comment and disagree?

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    I don't have any problem with any discussion of my posts -- agreement, disagreement, examples, whatever. I only start to get concerned when comments start to become unrelated. In other words, commenting on his post should be done on his blog. As for the rest, I always welcome your opinions here... you often have a perspective that is quite different from my own, which occasionally causes me to see things in a different way.

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