Twitter: Bite-Sized Language Learning

“We acquire language when we understand what we hear and read, when we understand what people are saying to us, not how they say it.” — Stephen Krashen

The importance of comprehensible input — that is, input which is at or just above a language learner’s current level — has been well established in the Second Language Acquisition (SLA) literature. Parsing copious amounts of input — whether via reading or listening — in the target language is how our internal linguistic system, and accordingly our language proficiency, grows.

This input can come from many sources: newspapers (online or traditional), movies, YouTube videos in the target language, novels, TV shows, conversations, lectures, etc. However, if your life is anything like mine, it can often be difficult to find time to read or listen to these kinds of extended texts on a daily basis.

So, where can language learners find an abundance of short, yet meaningful, input — the kind of input that fits into the brief moments of downtime in our daily lives? Enter Twitter. Anyone reading this article no doubt already knows the basics of this social network, but just in case: Twitter is a microblogging site which challenges users to express their thoughts and ideas in fewer than 120 characters. As a result, and importantly for our purposes, it hosts lots and lots of short, yet meaningful, messages (i.e., lots and lots of input).

Nobody can say they don’t have the time each day to read a few messages of a 120 (or fewer) characters each, right?

In addition to being short and easy to fit into daily life, Twitter offers (at least) a couple of other advantages. First, it allows you to create lists of users, so that you can organize your interests. This facilitates comprehension and language development in specific topic domains. For example, if you would like to develop your financial/banking vocabulary in Spanish, you could create a list of Twitter accounts of banks and other financial organizations in a Spanish-speaking country. In doing so, you would see a plethora of tweets like this:

Or maybe you’re interested in food (who isn’t??)..

These are just a couple of the nearly infinite number of lists you could make.

Another advantage is that Twitter allows for the possibility of interaction with brands and individuals. Many brands have dedicated social media people who will reply to questions, complaints, etc., providing language learners opportunities for output— admittedly somewhat limited output, but output nonetheless.

In closing, whether you’re already a proficient language user or you’re a novice looking to get started with a new language, Twitter can provide you a steady stream of topic-specific meaningful input you can fit into your busy life. Try it out!