HOT@ ETAI – Day 2: English Teachers Association of Israel

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education

I am presently attending the ETAI (English Teachers Association of Israel) “Linking Through Language” conference in Jerusalem. (Click here to see the first-day report.) One of the keynote speakers was David Crystal, a renowned linguist. His keynote plenary lecture was called “Myths and Realities of English on the Internet.” As an educator interested in both language and technology issues in education, I found his talk engaging and interesting.

Since the theme of the conference is “Linking Through Language,” Crystal opened up his remarks by referring to the Internet as “the language linker par excellence.” After hearing his talk, I think he would agree with Tom Preskett’s article from April 8, 2010, Social Media Doesn’t Threaten Literacy! Among other things Crystal pointed out that in order to text using abbreviated words, one needs to know how to spell the word to start with so you can leave out the proper letters. He also cited anecdotal evidence from teachers showing that students do not carry over these habits into formal writing to a large degree.

Because he is a linguist, Crystal also talked about the evolution of the Internet, not just socially and technologically but also as a linguistic medium. He pointed out that emails tend not to be as informally written as they were early on and that Twitter requires one to create concise statements. One interesting linguistic shift in Twitter is that the prompt has changed from “What are you doing?” which provokes an inwardly directed response, to “What’s happening?” which provokes an externally directed response.

Crystal also said that communication on the Internet is more about writing than speaking, even though we refer to “chats” and “online discussions.” However, it is enhanced writing. We can add hyperlinks; we can have pop-ups and news feeds; we can change and edit at will; it is more dynamic than a book printed on paper. This dynamism offers many possibilities for the classroom if we will take advantage of them.

In his closing remarks, Crystal presented a comparison of two models for us as educators to consider. The old model or mindset is that books are central and the Internet offers wonderful supplemental materials. However, the new model, which is the model that our students are beginning to use and will be operating under, is that the Internet is central and books are supplemental. He concluded that as educators we need to make that shift so that our students’ education is relevant to and has value for them and the world in which they live.

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