Social media for informal minority language learning: exploring Welsh learners’ practices

Jones, Ann (2014). Social media for informal minority language learning: exploring Welsh learners’ practices. In: Proceedings of ECSM 2014, pp. 226–233.

Abstract

Conole and Alevizou’s social media typology (Conole and Alevizou, 2010) includes amongst its ten categories media sharing; conversational arenas and chat; social networking and blogging. These are all media with which language learners are increasingly engaging. Social networking tools, in particular, which encourage informal, social communication have been identified as suitable for supporting language learning, and their use is growing quickly.

This paper reviews research on using social media for informal language learning. It will then discuss a small qualitative case study of Welsh learners’ practices in using such resources. Welsh is a minority UK language spoken by around a fifth of the population of Wales. Unlike a majority language there is no need for English speakers in Wales to learn Welsh in order to communicate with Welsh speakers as all UK Welsh speakers are bilingual. Nevertheless there is great interest among adults in Wales and from Welsh families across the UK in learning Welsh. However there are two particular challenges: the small numbers of speakers (around 611,000), and their very uneven distribution. These two factors make it difficult for learners outside Welsh speaking “hotspots” to hear and practice Welsh.

Social media has the potential to support Welsh language learning by providing resources wherever the learner is (particularly if they live in a non-Welsh speaking area) and by supporting web-based learning communities. The study reported here is concerned with the extent to which this potential is being exploited in practice. It employed interviews and a small survey to study the practices of learners at all stages of their language learning. It was found that learners at different stages made different use of social media, with beginners browsing to make contacts and gather information; and advanced learners setting up practice groups, leading sub-communities and sourcing and providing resources both on- and off-line.

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