"Exploring the Use of Internet Materials for Foreign Language Learning"
UNIVERSITY of MASSACHUSETTS - AMHERST
This study explores the possibilities of using the internet as a way to increase second language skills for FL University
students. It examines the benefits and potential of using web searches and web forum reports, to create an in-depth knowledge
of a chosen cultural topic. The project allowed the students to explore their own area of interest, and to convey and discuss
relevant information through the L2. Thirty University students completed three activities with internet web searches, based
on the use of authentic materials from a chosen culture of the target language. After each activity they results were posted
on a web forum and discussed in class the next day. To assess each activity, surveys were, where student opinions were given.
The study also discusses pedagogical implications as to the benefits of uses for such internet technologies, and how
to go about creating and gathering such activities that will be beneficial and have a purpose/goal to fit into the curriculum
of the foreign language classroom.
The field of foreign language education is constantly in search for new ways to improve the language acquisition process.
The use of technology for that improvement has been increasingly calling attention to educators and researchers and claims
are being made as to the benefits of such technologies. With the contemporary views of communicative competence, teaching
and integrating culture into the classroom, has become increasingly important (Meskill & Osuna, 1998). The idea
of communicative competence intertwines with the idea of exposing our students to real language in real context, or the usage
of "authentic materials". Conveniently, with the internet’s world wide availability, web sites from almost any country
imaginable can be accessed and at your fingertips with the touch of a button, and allow our foreign language students to view,
use, comment upon, and absorb these "authentic materials". Yet because of its enthusiastic usage, internet resources are becoming
abundantly available, making the choice of which activity to use, how to assess each activity and which is most
beneficial to the learners, seemingly difficult (Brandl, 2002). In this paper I will give an overview of some issues in integrating
culture in the foreign language classroom and discuss the relevance and importance of the web searches, web forum postings,
and class discussions, in Vygotskian terms of the students’ cognitive development. In this study I would like to allow
students to develop their foreign language skills learned in class, and become more exposed in the subject matter. Through
more usage of the target language, and increased exposure outside of class time, I believe the study will elicit positive
feelings, and my students will become more interested in learning Spanish and gain in depth knowledge of a cultural aspect
that was not previously available to them.
Types of technology available right now to FL educators range from things as simple as emails (or even an overhead
projector) to things as complex as video conferences. There are various forms of technology we can integrate into our classrooms:
chat sessions, virtual cities, MOO’s, certain language learning programs (different forms of CALL and NBLT), but for
the purposes of our study, we will focus on web investigative searches and web forum postings. The important part of all this
available technology is what we do with it, how it benefits and helps our students learn, and how we structure it into
The implementation of technology in the FL classroom should increase effectiveness to achieve our objectives, should be
able to be used for our purposes, and be successfully integrated into the curriculum (LeLoup, J. W., & Ponterio, R. 2000).
In the case of this study, we will be dealing with web searches, so a few main questions for designing or finding a web search
activity for your class would be "how is the web search going to benefit my students?", "what can it do for them that the
textbook can’t?", "where can I find relevant material to incorporate into their lessons?" .
From a theoretical point of view, the benefits of integrating technology into the FL classroom are that it allows
a more learner-centered approach, more communication, empowerment and learning. It gives the student more freedom to explore
areas of language that interest them, hence increasing motivation to learn. Technologically implemented activities also bear
the possibility of bettering written and literacy skills for the learner, and also build skills using the computer. Preparation
time to write may decrease anxiety in many technological activities. Getting our students to write can encourage them to think,
and therefore develop ideas. Such activities outside of class, increases amount of usage and amount of thinking and leads
to more exposure (Knobel et. al, 1998).
In integrating web search activities into your class, you can start with a few simple rules. 1) Search engines are great.
Typing in a few key words may find you exactly what you’re looking for. 2) By choosing web sites for your class ahead
of time, you can tailor the activities for your students. 3) Choose web pages that deal with the needs and interests of your
students, can be integrated into the lesson’s focus, and are meaningful activities. 4) You can also focus on incorporating
eventual uses along with previous structures learned (Lafford, 1997). 5) The activities should also include clearly written
instructions, for what the students are required to do. Lack of, or poorly written instructions can alter the effect the task
has on the learner, and may not be as beneficial. While you may find some pre-made web sights where students can choose multiple
choice answers, you should opt for a more open ended task, because it is much better for assessing the students’ ability
to use the language (LeLoup,J. W. & Ponterio, R., 1999).
Unofficial sites, online discussions, and teacher developed sites run the risk of not being updated and sometimes "disappearing"
spontaneously from the web. Some good examples of sites that include the use of authentic materials would be: Official government
sites, community organizations, educational institutions, museums, commercial sites (ads, sales, services), and electronic
media (newspapers, magazines, radio, television), because they will usually contain up-to-date information.
As previously mentioned, many official web sites all good examples of "authentic materials" from the target culture.
The issue of integrating authentic materials and the cultural contexts of the language being learned, as a part of the foreign
language classroom has become increasingly studied because of contemporary views stressing the importance of communicative
competence and its need for diverse cultural understanding. Many claim that culture plays an intrinsic role in understanding
a language. To be exposed to "authentic materials" (real language in real context) is key, and has also been viewed as the
closest thing to being able to study abroad (Meskill & Osuna, 1998). Authentic materials gives the students the opportunity
to be exposed to the target language’s culture in a variety of up-to-date, interesting and exciting ways, a common downfall
of many text books (Kinginger, 1998).
In a study done by Lafford and Lafford (1997), culture has been described in three different ways, all of which the internet
grants us access to and seem to be a vital source in sharing with our FL students:
-Informational Culture can deal with information, history or geography of a specific country or group.
-Behavioral Culture deals with the daily routines of a society, traditions, customs...etc.
-Achievement Culture may deal with accomplishments of a society, in the areas of the arts, literature, laws...etc.
With these views of culture and its different aspects, we can be further aided in the decision of what types of web activities
we have our students complete, and how we go about implementing them into the curriculum.
So then what is the best way to carry out these activities? How are the web searches going to be even more beneficial to
our students, and really get them to learn? Many researchers feel that learning is a social process that will occur through
the interaction with others. So can we get our students "to learn" through using the internet? According to Russian psychologist
Lev S. Vygotsky, for learning to occur, one has to be aware or conscious of the processes going on. Vygotsky (1978) introduced
the concept of the "Zone of Proximal Development" (ZPD) which can he defined as "the distance between the actual developmental
level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving
under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers". He believed that what children could do with their peers,
was more of a measure of their mental development, than that which they could do alone. Using technology as a tool to embark
upon some of Vygotsky‘s concepts, and the in-class review of the web forum postings, is an excellent way to foster these
In order for some of these social processes, or cognitive development to happen, we should know how to integrate these
technologies into our classroom. We will take into consideration a few points from a Vygotskian point of view. In order to
reach the Zone of Proximal Development (where cognitive development will occur):
-the learner needs to be able to engage in a dialog with peers and representatives of the target culture.
-the learner has to be made aware of specific linguistic items occurring in texts and discussions.
-the activity should use authentic materials since they contain relevant linguistic forms.
-Grammatical structures need to be addressed according to their linguistic function.
(Alm-Lequeux, 2001, p. 2-3)
Through the use of web searches, the students will gain access to "authentic materials" in the target language, and be
able to post their findings in a web forum for review in class. The review of the material found, and the focus on specific
grammatical structures and vocabulary, under the supervision of the teacher, and help of classmates, will allow the students
to enter Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, thus enhancing students’ cognitive development. Kern (2000)
emphasizes the fact that while students may be engaged in what they are doing at the time, whether it be an email in the target
language, a web posting, grammar drills...etc, what is actually needed is the creation of Vygotsky’s zone of proximal
development, where an analysis can take place under guidance of the teacher and support of the classmates. Here a discussion
can take place so that the results produced by the students can be "examined, interpreted, and possibly re-interpreted." Here
the focus can be on communication, the specific grammatical structures, vocabulary, or simply a cultural aspect in itself,
but the interaction can lead to a cognitive change.
Collaborative activities using such technologies, as the web searches and web forums allow the students to work together
and learn with each other and may increase the fun factor. Teachers have been increasingly using computers collaboratively
in their foreign language classrooms, which is consistent with the idea of communicative language teaching. Through the internet,
the they can easily communicate and work together on group projects, explore and find out interesting facts on their target
language’s culture, or even create web pages, providing an in-depth focus on a topic of their interest, while they use
and develop their target language skills.
The study involved thirty undergraduate students, in a beginner level Spanish class. They were given three web based
activities to complete, using specified web pages previously chosen by the teacher. For each activity the students chose to
focus on one of four countries that were featured in their course book that semester, and later use their cumulated findings
to present a final group project at the end of the semester. The activities were later assessed and evaluated by both the
students and teacher through questionnaires to report opinions and comments to investigate the potentials of these activities.
The three activities each required that the students search a given web page for each specified task, post their results
in a web forum created for their section, respond to one of their classmates postings, and then hold a discussion in class
focusing on grammar points and structures (usually corresponding with the lessons from the course book). The first activity
was to create a three day weather report for a city in their chosen country, the second activity was to find a food recipe
from the target language’s culture and plan a meal, and the third activity was to create an itinerary for visiting their
chosen country and what sights they would like to see, etc.
The reasons for incorporating the searches were as follows:
-expose the students to authentic materials (the language in context).
-to increase outside class time.
-get the students involved more actively in class discussions.
-center the learning around their findings and interests (hopefully increasing motivation to learn more).
-decrease class anxiety with preparation time.
-improve literacy and writing skills with web forum.
The results of the study were assessed through perceptions of the teacher and students through survey form. Each activity
was assessed independently, focusing on students opinions of the sites, tasks, and how relevant/beneficial each activity was
for their ability to use the target language and cultural knowledge. The following survey given was based on a questionnaire
in a study developed by Meskill and Osuna (1998):
Please rate each of the following on a 1-5 scale, where (1) is "strongly disagree," (2) is "Disagree," (3) is "No opinion/neutral,"
(4) is "Agree" and (5) is "Strongly Agree."
I am Comfortable using the internet for Web Searches.
I feel that my language skills have somewhat improved due to this activity
I feel I have increased my cultural knowledge because of this activity.
I feel that the activity would be helpful in a real life situation.I am interested in
learning more about the country I chose because of this activity.
I feel the web forum helped better prepare me for class discussion.
The instructions were clear and easy to follow.
The site was easy to access.
I found it easy to navigate and find information on the site.
The information on the site was relevant and useful.
I enjoyed using this site for the activity.
I found the information interesting.
The activity took less than an hour to complete.
I liked posting my findings in the class forum.
I think posting our findings in the web forum is a good way to learn.The forum was easy
to access.I liked reviewing the web forum postings in class.
Please describe what you liked most about this activity:
Please describe what you liked least about this activity:
Have you ever taken Spanish before?:
no; one semester; one year; two years; three years or more; other please specify.
Results and Discussion:
The results of the surveys completed after each activity, represents the percentage and amount of students that agreed
to the previous questions. The remainder of the data mostly resided in the "neutral/no opinion" category, where the highest
percentage given, was only 27% (8 students) claiming to have no opinion on whether Activity #2, (choosing foods to prepare
a meal) would have been helpful in a real situation or not. While many of the students did report being interested in the
different foods from other cultures and enjoying the practice and learning of the food vocabulary, the highest percentage
of disagreement for any one activity, also resided in Activity #2. Sixteen percent of the class (5 students) did not
feel that it increased their cultural knowledge. Some of these students felt it was "a waste of time" because they "no longer
remember the foods they chose" for the activity. Three comments were made on the difficulty in comprehension of the website,
as "hard to interpret", "hard to find translations for", "some of the recipes were difficult to follow", and "I wasn’t
familiar with how the words were used". This level of complexity for a student may be discouraging and yield such results
as the feeling of lack of knowledge increase.
The activity that that received the highest ratings overall and no negative comments, was Activity #3 (researching the
country they chose and it’s cities and sights to see). Students found this activity to be the most work, yet most helpful
for their final presentations. It rated higher than both other activities in enjoyment, interest, and increase in knowledge,
and students were appreciative to be able to combine this activity with their research for their final group project. The
fact that the information posted on the web could later be used in assessing a major grade for the course, may have contributed
to the students’ overall feeling of usefulness and interest. Activity #3 rated highest on what they viewed as increase
in cultural knowledge (see Figure 1), implying that the students’ overall view of "culture" is more related to geography
and important monuments and things of a country, or "Informational Culture", which may be an interesting topic for future
A very important part of this study was the use of the Web Forum and class discussion, trying to integrate Vygotsky’s
principles of the Zone of Proximal Development in order to increase the students’ learning. After each posting was completed,
an in-class discussion was held to allow the students to vocalize their results in the target language, make corrections,
and evaluate and understand some of the grammatical structures. Opinions of the Web Forum were favorable, where no less than
70% of the class agreed to any one question on the relative enjoyment, ease of use, and educational value of the postings
(see Figure 3). Students claimed to enjoy "looking at other people’s work" or "comparing answers". An average of 82%
of the students thought posting their findings on the web forum were a good way to learn. The in-class review was our way
of reinforcing the learning of the subject they chose for each activity. An average of 79% of the students felt they were
better prepared for class discussion because they posted their results on the web forum and an average of 81% of the students
liked reviewing the postings in class. If we go back to where we discussed the integration of these technologies in the FL
classroom, and recall the four aspects of social learning process where cognitive development occurs, and Vygotsky’s
ZPD can be reached (Alm-Lequeux, 2001, p. 2-3), you will see that the web postings in class discussion, touches upon all four
of those aspects:
-the learners were able to engage in a dialog with peers about the target culture and in the target language.
-the learners were made aware of specific linguistic items occurring in texts and discussions.
-the activity used authentic materials which contained relevant linguistic forms.
-grammatical structures were addressed according to their linguistic function.
On the down side, one student did state that they "sometimes find it embarrassing to share their work with the entire class".
This was something that was overlooked in the study and could have been easily avoided with the use of aliases. The students
could submit a name for the professor to know, and post their work accordingly, using the alias. In this respect, the student
would be completing the assignments and receiving credit, yet not have to "share" their work with the entire class due to
the anonymity the alias would provide.
Only a maximum of 3% (1 student) strongly disagreed to some of the questions posed on the website to the relevance and
interest of the content for Activity #2 and the enjoyment of using the weather web page for Activity #1. Comments made such
as: "Make the website more presentable", or "my computer is terrible" may have contributed to those responses. Still, the
majority of students agreed with all questions presented on the surveys, implying that the study did indeed elicit positive
feelings, and most students were in favor of and enjoyed the aspects of the web searches and forum postings.
Not surprisingly, the highest scores were received in the assessment and opinions of the websites used (see Figure 2),
with a mean of 90% of the students agreeing to the questions presented on ease of use, presentation, enjoyment, relevance...etc.
Students comments stated "it was different, something new and interesting" and that they liked "learning things about a country
that aren’t in the book". These were two main aspects the study was based upon: Through an increase in exposure to the
language and access to things not available in their text, we hoped students would become interested in the subject matter
and improve their language skills. An average of 75% of the students, agreed to being more interested in learning more about
their country because of the activities presented and an average 76% of the students claimed they believed their language
skills increased because of the activities.
This study used the implementation of web searches, web forum postings, and in-class review as a means to integrate authentic
materials into the classroom, increase motivation, and improve language skills. The positive results of the surveys may encourage
researchers and educators to continue exploring this topic and making advancements in the area of integrating such technology
in the classroom. Through the principles of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, the in-class review of the web
forum postings, allowed students to reach a cognitive change. The study shows that most students were in favor of and enjoyed
the aspects of the web searches and forum postings as indicated by the results in the surveys. The study also implies that
the Internet contains many valuable resources that can be implemented into the Foreign Language Classroom
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Actividad #1 "El Tiempo"
In Spanish you will create and present a 3-day weather report for a city in your chosen country. Go to the following website
1. List the cities and their temperatures (Fahrenheit) in order from highest maximum to lowest maximum.
2. Decide what activities you would like to do and clothing you will bring depending on the weather.
3. List the cognates that you found.
4. List words not similar in English, but that you understood from the illustrations.
5. List words that you did not understand.
6. Respond to ONE of your classmates postings, stating things you would also like to do in that city, what you might
need to bring... get creative!
Actividad #2 "COMIDA-Prepare a meal!"
1. Using the following website, decide what types of foods you would want to put into a three course meal that you
could serve at a dinner party: http://cocinamexicana.com.mx/cocinamex.html
2. Click on the "MENU" link for ideas for each of the three courses.
You can choose from:
Antojitos; Mariscos; Carnes; Huevos; Sopas; Bebidas; Aves; Salsas; Verduras; o Postres.
3. Click on each sub section and then once inside, choose a specific dish, and the recipe will pop up (ingredients
and how to make it)
4. Make sure you know what the recipe is, and what it means, yes that’s right, GET OUT YOUR DICTIONARY!
5. Post the recipe up on the web forum with the translations next to each Spanish word (using your dictionary and VISTAS
chapter 8) This will also help you out, and your classmates who are reading it! If there are some words you can’t get,
ASK, write it down and bring it into class. Try your hardest though.
Por Ejemplo: You might decide to create a meal with the first course being "Sopas", the second course, "Carnes" , and
the third course, "Postres". (You might want to give them some "Bebidas") Get creative with it! Be prepared to use your dictionary
and book to find out what some of the words mean. After choosing your foods and posting the recipes in the web forum, be prepared
to discuss in class some of the dishes you all created!
Buen Aprovecho! ________________________________________________________________________
Actividad #3: Ciudades y Turismo
Here is a list of possible websites for each of your countries! Feel free to use them or other cites you have found!
1. From the internet, you will look for THREE (3) things that you would like to see or visit when in the country you
chose. They can be monuments, restaurants, ANYTHING you find on the web! Post them on our web forum in a list with a description
of what it is.
2. Once you decide on the three things you will go see, create an itinerary of your day(s) in the country (IN SPANISH!),
what times you will see each thing, when,...etc. be creative in your itinerary and post it on the web forum (Make sure everything
is organized and can be followed by others).