Using English as a second language online: digital interactions and their implications for language learning and teaching

Moffat, Andrew D. (2020) Using English as a second language online: digital interactions and their implications for language learning and teaching. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The growth of internet connectivity has made online communication ubiquitous and unremarkable. For speakers of English as a second language (L2), this computer-mediated communication (CMC) may present opportunities for engagement with the language which may be otherwise lacking in their offline context. Such exposure to the language in naturalistic interaction would undoubtedly have implications for their relationship to the language and any formal instruction of it in which they might be involved. For language teaching not to take such implications into account is to risk a failure to make classroom learning relevant to the lives and needs of learners, and to miss the opportunity to exploit the learning benefits of this communicative use of the target language.

This thesis explores the use of L2 English in the diverse array of communicative contexts facilitated by Internet connectivity, and the relationship of such activities to formal language learning. The aims of this research were: to provide evidence of the scale of L2 English CMC among a broad range of English users in a broad range of contexts; to better understand the kinds of language L2 English users can expect to encounter and use online; and to explore the implications of these studies for language teaching.

A mixed methods approach was adopted, and a theoretical framework based on activity theory underpinned the analysis of the data by conceptualising the dialogic inter-relations between classroom learning and L2 English CMC. A questionnaire-based survey distributed via the online Cambridge Dictionary received over 10,000 responses, providing data attesting to the English language CMC activities of L2 English users all over the world, and insights into the communicative difficulties they experience. A corpus analysis of two language corpora together comprising data taken from seven different forms of CMC examined the nature of the language that L2 English users are likely to encounter in their online interactions.

The results from the two empirical research phases reveal a widespread use of CMC in L2 English, varying with age and geographical location; a frustration with the capricious nature of online language, and a perception of native-speaker privilege; and a language that indicates the emergence of a new phenomenon in human communication: conversation without speech.

Building on the findings of these empirical investigations, the thesis proposes an approach to the closer integration of CMC activities in English teaching practices. The activity theory framework is used to demonstrate the inter-relations between classroom learning and online language use, and explore how best to enhance learners’ participation online and maximise and exploit the learning-related benefits of such activity. Drawing on the concept of language awareness, the resultant set of recommendations seek to preserve the independence and authenticity of online interactions, whilst enhancing noticing and incidental learning. By supporting learners in their L2 English CMC interactions and drawing them into the classroom, the classroom methodology proposed in the thesis aims to kick-start a self-reinforcing cycle of empowerment and language development.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Adolphs, Svenja
Lang, Alexandra R.
Keywords: Second Language Acquistion, Informal Language Learning
Subjects: P Language and literature > PE English
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of English
Item ID: 60191
Depositing User: Moffat, Andrew
Date Deposited: 24 Jul 2020 04:40
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2020 04:40

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