Looking at another picture of some friend 10 years ago vs. today, I wonder “Why now?”. Well, of course. That’s when social media started to change our lives.
This inspired me to write about social media from the perspective of an introverted, highly sensitive and anxious language learner.
There are a lot of great articles about using social media for language learning out there. Here, I would like to address in particular the benefits and struggles that we as quiet learners can meet when adding social media to our language tools.
What can you use social media for?
When your feed is flooded with your target language, it gets easier to keep daily contact with it even on busy times. Feeling brave? Write someone
For community and support
I like to say that we’re introverts, not hermits – we get lonely, too. Some of us don’t have language-geek friends in real life, so the internet can become the place to go to connect with a community and nerd out about languages.
For tips and study advice
Many language learners share their own experience, tips and study methods online. If you are not an experienced learner, or if you have a doubt or a question, you can look for advice and for an answer on social media. And of course, you can share your own tips and help someone else out.
To find a language exchange partner
Once you start hanging out in the language learning community, you might meet someone who speaks your target language – and maybe is learning a language that you speak. Could this be the chance to start a language exchange?
To join a challenge
Language learning challenges are an effective way to make noticeable progress in a short time. Whether you write a sentence or record yourself speaking, with or without prompts, you will be encouraged to practice regularly and have the support of a lovely community.
The benefits of using social media for language learning…
For us introverts, social interaction can often become… too much. Especially when we need to come up with an answer straight away, our brain doesn’t always collaborate.
In this sense, we can benefit from asynchronous communication. We can take our time to think about an answer or postpone replying if at that moment we’re running low on energy.
We get access to the whole world
Depending on where we live, it might be difficult to meet someone who speaks our target language. Not to mention those dark days when even making our way down the stairs seems like an impossibly hard task.
On social media we get access to almost every corner of the world – all while being at home in our pyjama. We have way more chances to meet some like-minded folks who speak our target language.
We can create our own support network
Most people I met in the language learning community are lovely. A lot of fellow introverts share their victories and struggles on social media, so you won’t have to be worried to be the only one. When we find the right balance, being part of an online community allows us to create a support network while still having enough me-time.
… and the d
ownsides of using social media for language learning
Getting distracted and wasting time
It’s no secret that social media can suck up a lot of our time if we let them. Who has never regretted an afternoon spent mindlessly scrolling through their feed? And with that often come negative feelings towards ourselves and self-loathe. By using social media as a part of our language learning set of tools, the risk of falling into the black hole is real.
Another common downside of social media is feeling overwhelmed with messages, notifications, comments. After a long day, having to reply to this and that can be draining for an introvert or an HSP.
On the other hand, if we get no likes, no comments, no notifications at all, then we might start convincing ourselves that we’re boring and uninteresting…
Unreal expectations and comparison
Rationally, we know that “Instagram life” is not real life. Authenticity is rare on social media. Even so, it’s difficult to completely escape the dangerous comparison game that slowly starves our self-esteem. This person’s pronunciation is flawless, that person’s notebook is sooo pretty, and that other person has been studying for 6 months and speaks much better than you after a year… Feelings of inadequacy start creeping in.
So how do we keep anxiety and overwhelm out of the picture when using social media for language learning?
Set solid boundaries
First of all, if you are just starting to use social media for language learning, pick only one platform that suits you best and see how things go.
On Facebook, you can have conversations with people who share your interests in a group. Twitter is great if you like short and condensed communication. Instagram is perfect if you like visual content together with writing.
You are also in charge of how much you want to share. You can keep any level of privacy that feels comfortable and fits your personality – you don’t have to show a picture of yourself or your full name either.
Limit the amount of time
To avoid falling into the endless scrolling, set some rules about the amount of time you’re going to spend on social media. You can plan for example to check it for 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes before dinner, or for one hour twice a week.
If you still find yourself compulsively checking your accounts, consider installing a plugin that blocks certain websites or apps. Turning off push notifications is also a good idea – you decide when to use an app, not the other way round. Or delete Facebook and Twitter apps from your phone altogether and decide to only access the websites from your computer.
Don’t worry about missing out – rarely what happens on social media can’t wait for a couple of days.
Look for what you like…
While for beginners being able to recognize two words in a sentence is a huge accomplishment, when our level increases we need more challenging materials. Then, looking for just any content in our target language doesn’t work anymore. Search for specific topics or hobbies you are passionate about instead. It will help you learn relevant vocabulary and connect with natives who like the same things – maybe you’ll find someone to practice with or even a friend.
…and avoid stressful topics
On the other hand, avoid explosive political discussions (unless that’s your thing…) and follow the always wise rule “don’t read the comments”.
In the past couple of years, the continuous exposure to negativity on social media has been causing me a great deal of anxiety. While I have always been engaged in the political debate, I need some boundaries to avoid feeling stressed and overwhelmed by bad news.
To protect yourself, make the most of the social media settings. On all of them there are ways to mute accounts or people and on Twitter you can also mute words and hashtags.
Join challenges – with your own rules
I mentioned challenges as one of the ways to engage and learn on social media, but remember that you can always make your own rules.
For example, I know that while I’m good at keeping daily contact with my target language, I am utterly terrible at doing one same thing every day for 30 days. That doesn’t mean I can’t join a monthly challenge like the #languagediarychallenge on Instagram or the 30-day speaking challenge. I know I probably won’t post every day, but if I post half of the days, or even once a week, it’s still better than nothing.
Let’s try to have a glass-half-full kind of attitude and to look at what we did, not what we haven’t done.
Limit the amount of advice you read
The internet swarms with language learning advice, and that is convenient. Often, when we are afraid of doing something, we spend a lot of time on guides and how-tos – it’s a form of procrastination.
No one has the only one magical true way to learning a language in no time, though.
Different strategies work for different people with different situations and goals. Preparing for a test, learning for a holiday, or aiming at reading a novel in your target language in two years, are goals that bring with them opposite needs.
If you are looking for a specific answer, ask other learners. If you feel like someone’s tips don’t resonate with where you are and your goals, move forward (even if that someone is me 😉 ). Try to spend more time doing and less reading how to do.
Be mindful about public accountability
I always felt a bit ambivalent about making my goals public for accountability. While telling everyone about your plans can be a source of motivation, putting pressure on yourself is not necessarily beneficial, especially if you tend to struggle with anxiety. Instead of being inspired and pumped up, you might end up overwhelmed, as if everyone was staring at you underachieving. Goodbye self-confidence, hello imposter syndrome…
Consider which goals you feel like sharing and to what extent – there are also some situations in which it’s better not to share your goals at all.
Remind yourself that you always have the right to:
Reply late or reply briefly
The way we communicate these days, with the expectation of being constantly connected and available, is immensely anxiety-inducing. Thanks for that, blue WhatsApp ticks. Still, social media messages and comments can easily wait for a day or two.
Not reply at all
I like to get back to anyone who takes the time to write to me, although there are exceptions. I’m looking at you, creepy guys sending “Hey gorgeous” messages. If you have a profile that screams “I’m here to learn and talk about languages” and someone sends you something completely unrelated or that makes you feel uncomfortable, just ignore it.
Unfollow or mute someone
You know that person from high school that only posts sexist jokes and racist rants? Go ahead and mute or unfollow them. No need to ever see them pop up in your feed again. There is enough toxicity in the news and everywhere else.
Share imperfection and mistakes
Your notebook might not be a work of art and there might be a few mistakes in your exercises – don’t let that stop you. Share what you did, ask for feedback. It’s about time we break the circle of flawless posts that make us all feel inadequate, anyway.
Decide not to share at all
Keeping your practice for yourself is also your right. When you write in your notebook knowing that you might share it later, your mind gets wrapped up in a ton of thoughts that are not useful for your studies. The attention shifts from practising the language to make it look “good enough”. If you notice that the sharing phase takes all of your attention, take a break from sharing.
A never-failing rule: be kind and patient
Social media are not only a place to go to when you need something – but
Cheer for others before expecting them to cheer for you and give something whenever you have the chance.
Taking an active role in social media, engaging in conversations instead of passively lurking and scrolling away, can make a remarkable difference in your experience.
Most importantly, remember that you are in charge of your own experience on social media. Keep a constant check on yourself and if something doesn’t feel quite right, reflect on what you can do to change that. Never assume that you should be doing something just because everyone else is.
What are the benefits you get from using social media in language learning? And what are the things you struggle with? How do you cope with that?
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