Aisha Walker

Thinking onscreen

Language Skills in a Digital Age

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This is the presentation that accompanied my keynote at the Tunisia TESOL Second International Conference.

Digital technologies are not only tools that we use ‘to do things’ but also provide important sites for communication and literacy. In the digital age much of our day-to-day personal and professional communication is mediated by technology, for example: email; social media such as Facebook or Twitter; ‘video’ games and online/mobile messaging and telephony. We read online: newspapers; blogs; Wikipedia and we write emails, blog posts and status updates. We talk and we listen not only to individuals but to online radio, YouTube videos and to podcasts. We use digital tools for shopping, banking, travel and, not least, for learning. When using digital tools we may be communicating with people that we know but there are many circumstances in which digitally-mediated communication takes place between strangers. The ways that we use language in these digital settings may be different from the ways that language is used in face-to-face or paper-based contexts and this has implications for the teaching of language. In addition, in online settings, several language skills may be used within one interaction as when speakers switch between speaking and writing chat messages during a Skype call. In this talk I considered whether there are new or different language skills needed for digital-age learners and what the implications may be for teaching.

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