Using the internet to promote continuing language use

Susan C. Kresin, UCLA

What will our students retain from our courses ten, twenty or even five years from now? Will the knowledge and abilities that they’ve worked so hard to develop gradually evaporate, leaving only a positive feeling for the language and culture, or will they continue to use and develop their skills even after their coursework ends? How can we, as language teachers, facilitate their becoming independent, lifelong language users? One resource is the internet, an easily accessible source of authentic materials. By acquainting students during the course of their studies with suitable materials and techniques for accessing and using these materials, we can turn our courses into springboards for continuing independent language use. In this paper I will discuss specific materials and methodologies that I have employed in Russian and Czech language courses at various levels, and suggest general principles underlying the use of internet materials to promote longterm autonomous language use. A handout will include an annotated listing of sample materials for Russian and Czech. I will focus on two areas:

1) Acquainting students with basic resources and showing them how to use them effectively and judiciously.
This includes familiarizing our students with sources of high quality online materials, and giving them explicit instruction on how to use fonts and internet-based tools, such as online dictionaries and language-specific search engines. In addition, given how much content, biases and degrees of accuracy vary on the internet, it is also essential that we help our students develop skills of critical thinking to apply when approaching the internet. Students in my first year Czech class were surprised to find that even directly parallel Czech and English sites often differ in tone and content. Students need to be made explicitly aware that information packaged for an English-speaking audience may differ considerably from material intended for native speakers, and to learn to recognize biases that may underlie both.

2) Using the internet to acquaint students with typical perspectives of native speakers.
What should students know, or be aware of, in order to have meaningful conversations and interactions with native speakers? How can the internet help us to actively combat the image of the “ignorant American” so commonly held by Central and Eastern Europeans, and facilitate our students’ forging meaningful and mutually respectful relationships with native speakers? Public opinion polls such as those found on or and other media sites are often straightforward enough for even beginning or intermediate students to understand. Familiarizing students with these materials as a regular part of coursework provides both a springboard for meaningful class discussions, and a view into the value systems, priorities and biases of native speakers.