Language ego is a real phenomenon. A concept coined by Guiora (Brown, 2000) “language ego” is a learner’s second identity as they come to see themselves picking up a second language. One of the most vitally important responsibilities of an ESL teacher is to ensure that students’ language ego is well protected.
Conventionally, in physical classrooms, due to the existence of face-to-face communication, learners might experience more fragility and defenselessness with their peers. I have personally experienced the sheer fear and anxiety that the physical interaction and presence of others with their eyes placed all on one person can create. However, through online platforms of teaching and learning, I have noticed that learners feel safer and more secure about their language ego, and I have seen improvements in learning.
Below I’ll share some reasons why I believe online classes can improve learners’ language ego. Then I’ll discuss what might happen when learners, who have developed their language ego virtually, are back to the real world of physical communication.
Online learning can hone language ego for the following reasons:
- When physical interaction is eliminated, there will be less peer pressure. Less peer pressure makes learners feel more in control of their senses and emotions. When they feel more in control, language retention and language absorption happen more efficiently.
- In online learning, if put on the spot, learners have access to lots of resources which can instantly give them the information they require so it reduces the risk of making silly mistakes. This eliminates the fear of being exposed as incompetent or clueless.
- Online learning provides an opportunity for exercising two skills at the same time: language learning and information technology (IT). When students see themselves competent in handling both skills, it can positively affect their confidence, which is the cornerstone of creating a well-grounded identity. Moreover, as teachers we can congratulate our students on how well they can manage technology while learning English. We can also make one further move and ask our students to help us with technology. By applying this technique, they may realize that even teachers sometimes struggle with learning new things, and teachers can demonstrate an example of learning with confidence.
We also need to be realistic about whether this virtual version of language ego is indeed real and whether it will transfer to the real world! As good as it is for our learners to progress in keeping their language ego safe and protected in the virtual world, there might also be a fear of developing a virtual identity in a virtual world without knowing how that identity will carry to the real world, where face-to-face communication with others is the norm.
We need to be conscious that this version of language ego is not just a fantasy and isn’t going to fade into the air. But how can we be sure?
Brown, H. D. (2000). Principles of language learning and teaching (Vol. 4). New York: Longman.