Best Practice

Language Teaching with Twitter

Since January of this year, I’ve been experimenting with the use of Twitter in the teaching of the Irish language as @Gaeilge_Chruinn (which translates as “correct Irish”).  It can be quite difficult for students to access information about their most common errors, and this Twitter project is an attempt to address the gaps in their knowledge in an accessible manner.

Language learning is an incremental process, and with this in mind I decided that an average of one tweet per weekday would permit students to make gradual progress without any great difficulty. The tweets explain grammatical and syntactical points, as simply as possible, in English. I’m not particularly adept with tech – in fact this is my first foray into the world of social media – but the images I use to illustrate the tweets are easy to create: they are simple (cropped) screenshots of Word documents, in which I use colour and differences in font size to direct attention to the key words of the points being made.

As far as I can judge, the account seems to have proven useful to some learners of Irish. The account’s analytics indicate that tweet “impressions” (that is, one person, viewing one tweet, on one occasion) are rising steadily, and currently stand at around 7,000 per month. This is a flawed metric, however, in that it’s impossible to gauge how useful any given tweet was (or indeed how many people scrolled past it without looking at it properly!). Informal feedback suggests that the account has some reach outside UCC: I’ve been told that it is being used by some students in other colleges, as well as by others who are learning Irish as a hobby.

I think this platform has some potential for providing more advanced grammatical exercises as well, and I intend to set up a second Twitter account (with the handle @Cruinneas2) to investigate this possibility. To this end, I’m currently building a bank of sentences that are based on commonly misused grammatical structures in Irish; each daily tweet from @Cruinneas2, then, will include an “either / or” option to test the student’s knowledge. The answer plus an explanation will be provided in a link. If the student then wishes to practise this construction further, there will be an available bank of practice sentences, sorted by hashtag within the Twitter account.

The hashtags, in particular, will require careful thought: perhaps the sentences will need to be graded in order of difficulty, so that students aren’t immediately overwhelmed by being required to tackle the more difficult aspects of these constructions first.

I think that many students’ heavy use of social media and smartphones can be used to the advantage of the language teacher, and my hope is that this approach will allow students to work independently on identifying their own weaknesses. One major advantage of an approach such as this is that the student can create a personalised learning experienceignoring the grammatical points they already understand, and repeatedly practising the ones that trip them up – so I hope that the accessible nature of the Twitter platform will encourage students to take independent steps towards improving their understanding of the language.