Guest Writer: Vocabulary Through Social Media With SayWhat

Today, it is my great pleasure to introduce our guest writer, Ivy Li. Originally from China, Ivy recently graduated from Columbia University with a master’s degree in TESOL, speaks three languages, and shares my interest in educational technology. A while back, she brought SayWhat to my attention and, having been involved in its development, she seems uniquely qualified to share it with you as well. I know you will not be disappointed. Take it away, Ivy!

Ivy LiThis era is flooded with social media. Facebook, Instagram, Vine—they are where people spend a good chunk of their leisure time. It might seem unproductive and meaningless at first glance, but what is it all about? Interactions. People from all over the world connect through a little smartphone to read or watch others’ posts and interact with one another.

Think of its potential for our ELLs. It offers authentic materials for learners. They can see how people actually talk, which is quite different from what is taught in formal textbooks. They can also join a topic freely and take their time to articulate themselves. True negotiations for meaning are happening here. Additionally, learners have less pressure than in face-to-face interactions, so they can express themselves more freely. Furthermore, social media is good at keeping up with current trends. The content and user interface often motivate students more than other multimedia. Plus, learners can use them any time, anywhere.

Unfortunately, information on social media is often too scattered to source appropriate content, which is why I want to recommend this new free app and website called SayWhat. It has all the awesome features of social media, with an add-on index. Simply put, it is like a video version of Urban Dictionary. Instead of written definitions, every phrase is explained by one or more videos made by other users who orally define the phrases and/or act them out.

TArntsen_7-2015(1)In the app or on the website, you can browse recently made videos as well as search for a particular phrase that you are curious about. You can even create a phrase that has not been added to the list and ask someone to define it. The videos are fewer than 10 seconds long and repeat automatically. Captions can be added as well.

Currently, SayWhat has a focus on slang, because slang is very often used among native speakers; however, it is almost never included in ELL materials. Another reason is that native speakers enjoy making videos of slang. See some fun videos below:


You Had One Job


There are a number of ways to use SayWhat in an ESL or EFL classroom, especially for students who cannot live without their phones. Undoubtedly, it is a fun way to present any vocabulary. This can be a go-to app when teachers want an example sentence with authentic context. They can also assign some videos for small groups’ self study as a pre-activity to familiarize learners with target words. The videos can also work as listening practice for learners. More advanced learners can research target words and make their own videos. This project can easily integrate the four primary language skills and help them step out of their comfort zone to practice speaking in front of a broader virtual audience.

Of course, do not forget its social media function. SayWhat gives learners the flexibility to learn at their own pace, ask for new phrases, express their opinions through likes or comments, and follow video producers that they like. They are not just learners anymore but part of a larger community where they can interact with video producers and other users. Their voice is valued, which makes everything more meaningful, and the English language is transformed from just another subject in school to something they want to actually use.

What do you think? Try it out and share with us some other ideas to utilize this new resource. Have fun watching or making videos!

About Tara Arntsen

Tara Arntsen
Tara Arntsen recently completed her Master's degree in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California. She currently teaches in the Intensive English Program at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She has taught ESOL in China, Japan, and Cambodia as well as online. Her primary interests are communicative teaching methods and the use of technology in education.
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