How To Use Twitter To Learn Languages

Twitter languages

Yesterday I wrote about some ways that Facebook can be used to learn languages. Today, I'd like to continue the discussion of social networking sites by exploring some ways you can use Twitter to learn a new language.

Reaching content

First, let's think about how content-providers (such as bloggers, like me) are using Twitter. The first, and most obvious way in which bloggers are using Twitter is by "tweeting" a link to any new content we write. So right away, by following a language blogger on Twitter, you have an easy place to find that blogger's posts.

Of course you can also get to those posts by navigating directly to the blog, or by subscribing to the RSS, or liking it on Facebook, so that's not enough of a reason by itself.

But you don't only get access to that person's posts... you also get access to everything that person finds interesting, which often includes materials from other places which you might not have known about. For instance, if I read a language blog that you've never heard of, and I find something interesting, I can "re-tweet" it, and then everyone who follows me on Twitter will also see the info I just re-tweeted. So it's an excellent way to find new sources of information for language learning.

Some information isn't big enough to justify writing a blog post, but it's still valuable and worth sharing, and twitter is particularly useful for those small bits of information. A twitter users doesn't only post links to blogs, they can also post information, and questions, and answers, and rumors, and interesting data. For example, I regularly (not quite every day) post a Russian idiom of the day on my twitter feed. Transparent and BBC languages have word-of-the-day feeds on Twitter for the languages they support. Master Russian posts a word-of-the-day and often an accompanying Russian proverb. And several language bloggers tweet random, useful language tips from time to time.

140-characters is just enough

But another really great use for Twitter in language learning is to "follow" users who post in the language(s) that you are learning. Often, especially when you first start learning a new language, you find that whole pages of text are too much for you. Looking up every word leaves you forgetting what you've read before you get to the end.

That 140-character limit on twitter is especially useful when you subscribe to someone who writes with a lot of colloquialisms or slang, because it's just enough for you to find the answers, but not enough to overwhelm you to the point where you forget (or lose interest in) what you are reading.

I follow a handful of users on twitter who post in Italian, Russian, Spanish, Esperanto, Greek, and Portuguese, which keeps me reading in those languages and learning new words. Heck, I don't even claim to know any Greek — I can barely read the alphabet — and I only know a little bit of Portuguese, but it's still bite-size enough that I can figure out what I'm seeing with just a little bit of effort. And for the languages I do know, I still get plenty of new vocabulary and occasional slang to keep learning just from seeing the language used by a native.

Not a one-way street

The biggest key to using twitter for learning, though, is the fact that it's not a one-way medium. You can post too! Which means you can use it to practice your language as you write your own bite-sized updates. Or you can use it to ask very specific questions about exactly what you're trying to learn in a language! Or, you can use it just to share all the things you find interesting or useful.

All you need are some people to read it... and the best way to get readers is simply to provide good content. That part is easy: just re-tweet the content you think is good, and now you're providing good content.

Also, engage people in conversations. You can write directly to people and generally, they will respond directly to you. I respond to those who tweet to me, as do most of the people in the language blogging community. I can't think of a better way to use twitter for learning than simply to come right out and ask for the answers you need!

And since we're talking about Twitter, I should remind you to add me, so you don't miss out on any cool tips I have, or if you just want to know that there's one person you know will respond if you ask a question. 🙂


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Author: Yearlyglot
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  • The second part was where you really nailed it: what's really useful about social networking sites like Twitter for language learning is that you're getting the modern, colloquial language as it's actually used by native speakers, which is generally FAR more useful to us than the more formal, outdated language you often find in textbooks and such.If you've been spending a significant amount of time studying your target language and you can't understand what native speakers are saying/writing, then this is precisely what your problem is--people don't talk like textbooks are written :DI remember hearing people joking about high schools students who had been taking a foreign language for a couple of years and couldn't hold a basic conversation for 30 seconds with a native speaker to save their lives, but they knew how to say such useful phrases as "Where is the library?" and "I am allergic to shellfish." Based on the 4 years of French I had in high school, I would say this is absolutely true. I remember going to France for a week the summer after my Junior year (mind you I'd had 3 years of French at this point) on a school trip and not being able to say a single damned thing to the locals, THAT really opened my eyes to the uselessness of the teaching method used in most schools to teach foreign languages...Cheers,
    Andrew

  • I think I would stop short of the term "useless", but I agree with your sentiment.Learning the literary language is still necessary, and it's not wasted effort. For example, we all say "gonna" and "shoulda" but our newspapers, and contracts, and corporate communications still write "going to" and "should have". My point is that you have to know both. Speaking and understanding slang requires that you first have an understanding of proper language.But yes... if you don't learn slang, you'll be lost. That was one of my biggest hurdles in Spanish, expecially Mexican Spanish, which is loaded with slang. When I learned Russian, I made a point of learning slang too, and it was much easier for me to adapt.

  • I was wondering about studies done on Twitter for language learning. Are there any you've come across? Thanks much.

  • I'm not aware of any studies.

  • That' why I can serve my guests in 6 languages (and give them an impresion that I speak their language well) but will fail in every official written language test :)

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