Teresa Almeida d'Eça

18 February 2001






Experience-based notes on email and email exchanges


Strengths of email

· an innovative tool to communicate with teachers and colleagues, family and friends

· a different medium from the traditional pen, paper and book

· the current means of communication: pervasive in the real world out side the four walls of the school

· strong student identification with it (because it implies using a computer?)

· simple to learn & use: low learning curve

· fast paced: high speed of message flow

· inexpensive: a (local) phone call away!

· informal: no constraint to contact people we don't know

· immediate: instantaneous delivery (messages are sent/received in seconds/minutes)

· interactive and authentic: it's a two-way means of communication - "an authentic voice speaks to a real person and expects an authentic reply" (Gaer, Susan in CALL Environments 71)

· convenient: asynchronous (no need to be tied up at the other end)

· useful: great to keep in fast, permanent and low-cost touch with family, friends, peers

· (quite) reliable/dependable

· (very) flexible and (extremely) versatile: multifaceted tool (permits attachment of files of any type) that is extremely powerful for language learning

· (highly) functional: can be used as a communication, information, business, commercial, advertising, marketing, educational, cultural means

· motivating & powerful tool to teach/learn English: around 80% of files and email are in English

· (relatively) safe: there's still some danger in sending certain types of personal info.

· (easily) adaptable to and (seamlessly) integrated into any curriculum and level

· a pervasive means of communication in the real world

· improves reading and writing skills

· often leads students to writing more and longer texts than in the traditional way

· students write for an 'authentic' audience and with a 'real' purpose

· broadens student audience: a one-to-one (student-teacher) audience becomes a one-to-several/many audience

· contributes to constructing knowledge in a 'meaningful' way: students produce (authentic) materials

· helps students acquire cognitive, social and technological skills necessary for academic and professional life

· enhances personal, academic & professional development

· nurtures high levels of enthusiasm ('have we got mail?'), commitment and participation among students and teachers

· nurtures sharing and collaboration

· overcomes time and distance/geographic barriers

· makes learning English become ALIVE through Authenticity, Literacy, Interaction, Vitality and Empowerment (Warschauer et al. 7)

· helps strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships

· can reduce (eventually abolish?!) use of paper


Limitations of email (exchanges)

· (last minute) technical problems/disruptions: system crashes

· limited number of computers calls for differentiated activities per lesson

· need for alternative 'emergency plan', because machines do have 'tantrums'

· language is usually more informal and tends to be more careless - less attention to correctness

· difficult to coordinate tasks in a 50-minute time slot: need for longer class periods

· noisier and more agitated lessons caused by healthy signs: motivation, interest and commitment

· one-to-one partnerships may easily break on one side and cause drop in motivation: better to form groups

· different school year calendars may complicate the process

· teacher/student work overload: after school time may be necessary


How email can be used to teach/learn English

· as a different, innovative and motivating means of communication (between close or remote partners, [non]native speakers of English) used among other things to interact quickly, informally and inexpensively

· to communicate with peers in different and distant communities and cultures

· as a means of communication that permits a faster flow of messages between partners

· to support the L2 in a powerful way in terms of information and communication

· to empower students and help make them more responsible for their learning

· to broaden linguistic and cultural horizons

· to open up perspectives

· to interact culturally and personally

· to improve the writing and reading skills in the L2

· to generate enthusiasm for reading and writing in the L2

· to provide a motivating means of learning

· to provide a means for using 'authentic, genuine' language

· to provide a means of 'learning with a purpose'

· to generate collaborative work

· to give students the flexibility to go beyond the content agreed on

· to get students to 'produce' their own materials (and eventually 'publish' them)

· to empower students with cognitive, (inter)personal and social skills such as negotiation of contents, peer correction, critical thinking, research, selection and organization of materials, interviewing

· to give students a real and wider audience for their work (especially when the project is published on the Internet)

· to allow students to 'voice' their ideas

· to demonstrate the growing relevance of the English language and the new technologies in today's world



· Egbert, Joy and Elizabeth Hanson-Smith (eds.). CALL Environments: Research, Practice, and Critical Issues. Alexandria, VA: TESOL, 1999.

· Warschauer, Mark et al. Internet for English Teaching. Alexandria, VA: TESOL, 2000.


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Link updated on 26Apr2012