D. Boothe1, C. Wickstrom2

1Boise State University (UNITED STATES)
2Educational Pathways (UNITED STATES)
English language learners from non-English speaking nations are confronting an increasingly challenging environment as they try to develop language skills to meet the competing demands of contemporary social media on one hand and those of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) on the other. Social media’s explosion onto the global scene has created the need for non-English speakers to in effect learn two diverging contextual and communication patterns within what is supposed to be a common language.

English, at least a form of English, dominates social media communications on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and a whole host of abbreviated format international social media platforms. Moreover, these platforms have developed communications mechanisms that do not even conform to normally accepted, conversational patterns of spoken or written English. The English of some social media platforms is informal, littered with special and unique abbreviations, grammarless, decidedly unstructured and abruptly short. The vocabulary is explicitly simple in most cases, consisting mostly of one and two syllable words. The introduction of the “emoji” graphics (now totaling over 2600 according to Unicode Standard, the emoji lexicographer) has added image elements to the phonetic root language vocabulary. The near total lack of punctuation, further complicates the process of learning to communicate effectively to other than a select audience or specific groups of people.

ICT (Information and Communication Technology) tools are growing in use in education and in language teaching in particular, with Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) becoming widely used to facilitate vocabulary and structural grammar development among English Language Learners (ELLs) at all levels. It has been noted that blogs and other web-based tools have significantly enhanced writing and reading skills.

The young non-native English speaking professional is simultaneously confronted with the increasing need to acquire skills in one or more forms of ESP, be it academic, occupational or both, to be a competitive member of the global economy. Simultaneously, the informal elements of social media ignore these demands and focus on a casual and frequently unconstrained set of language behaviors.

The results of this study indicate that ESOL students, particularly those developing ESP skills, are confronting what could logically be construed as two languages carrying the same name. This presentation and accompanying methodology explores the details and implications of this emerging phenomenon and is addressed by supporting materials, data, and recommendations addressing the challenges of diverging language pathways between social media and English for Specific Purposes. .