Digital technology has opened so many doors for language learning, from the creation of learning-on-the-go apps like Duolingo to video platforms that allow learners to converse across the globe in the target language. Especially in an era when foreign language proficiency exams are exceedingly important in the global economy, learners are finding a variety of creative ways to improve and prepare for testing. Chat-based platforms like WhatsApp are one of the easiest and cheapest ways to connect with learners to practice language acquisition. But is using WhatsApp really that effective for students preparing for a formal academic language examination? Researchers in Turkey recently decided to conduct a case study to find out.

In order to illuminate the pros and cons of utilizing WhatsApp to prepare for national language exams, the researchers interviewed 29 participants engaged in this practice. Though only half of the participants reported their age, all that did were between the ages of 21 and 30. At the time of the study, all participants were enrolled in a language exam prep course that had been using a WhatsApp group formed by the instructor for the past six months. The WhatsApp learning community was intended to reinforce activities conducted in regular class, and the instructor shared questions, materials, examples, and links with students this way.

After participating in the WhatsApp learning community for six months, each participant completed an open-ended questionnaire asking for participant perceptions of WhatsApp’s contribution to the foreign language learning process. The researchers coded answers, looking specifically at what participants said about WhatsApp’s effects on their motivation, their perceptions of WhatsApp’s role in their language learning, and the roles played by learners and teachers in a mobile learning environment.

Findings revealed that many students perceived Whatsapp to be beneficial to learning because of its ability to provide instant feedback and offer opportunities for further practice. The fact that WhatsApp can provide learning at nearly any time and place meant that many participants valued its continuity, accessibility, and support of active participation. Because of these things, the use of WhatsApp was perceived to increase learner satisfaction and motivation to learn foreign languages, reduce learning anxiety, and support learner-teacher interaction.

However, the most frequently cited weaknesses of using WhatsApp for language learning were that it was often too text heavy, led many participants to engage only passively, and failed to ensure deep learning. To remedy these problems, participants suggested integrating more multimedia, increasing opportunities for learner activity (beyond just a select few people carrying on regular conversation), and remembering that WhatsApp alone can’t provide comprehensive language education.

As this was just a small case study, more research needs to be done to clarify how pervasive these trends are, especially considering the fact that this study only collected student perceptions rather than test scores. Hopefully it will open the door for further research to help us better understand the role of communication technology in language learning.

Saritepeci, M., Duran, A., & Ermiş, U. F. (2019). A new trend in preparing for foreign language exam (YDS) in Turkey: Case of WhatsApp in mobile learning. Education and Information Technologies, 1-23.

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