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Computer Mediated Communication: Bridging the gaps between writing and speaking

Teenage girl typing on her laptopFollowing on from her first post about Computer Assisted Language Learning, Zoe Handley considers the technologies used by language learners to communicate with educators and other learners.

Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) is the broad term for technologies which allow language learners to communicate with other learners or native speakers through text or audio.

Including e-mail, discussion forums, text messaging, chat and conferencing, CMC has attracted a lot of attention because of its potential to break down Krashen’s (1982) acquisition/learning barrier. According to Krashen, there is a qualitative difference between the subconscious process of acquiring, or ‘picking up’ a language, through interaction with native speakers and the conscious process of learning a language in a classroom through focused activities. While acquisition results in learners ‘knowing how’ to use the language, learning results in learners ‘knowing about’ the language – and apparently it is not possible for learned knowledge to become acquired knowledge.

Chat – text vs oral

The potential to provide students with opportunities to engage in acquisition particularly applies to synchronous voice chat – the type of chat which allows learners to engage in real-time conversations with native speakers.

Consequently, research has focused on comparing chat and face-to-face conversations to assess whether chat provides learners with the right conditions for acquiring language. Does it provide opportunities to negotiate meaning, for example?

Research by Lee (2001) confirms that chat does indeed allow learners to engage in these forms of interaction. In fact, it has been observed that in text-based chat, learners are more likely to focus on form than in face-to-face communication (Warschauer, 1997).

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