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Much of recent research into second-language acquisition (SLA) has moved away from traditional, behaviourist theories to focus on the importance of input and interaction in the target language, the idea being that interaction and immersion simulate the environment in which native languages are learnt. Also, research suggests that training in grammar and vocabulary alone does not result in linguistic competence (Rüschoff & Ritter 2001). Long's interaction hypothesis (1996) stressed the importance of both 'comprehensible input' and 'negotiated meaning' in the acquisition of a second language, the latter being concerned with the role of 'interactional adjustments' by the native speaker in facilitating acquisition. Little (2007) draws attention to the importance of learner autonomy in three interacting principles for success in language learning: learner involvement, learner reflection and target language use.

Authentic contexts for communication are also a key factor. Chapelle (1998) points out that it's 'important that learners have an audience for the linguistic output they produce so that they attempt to use the language to construct meanings for communication rather than solely for practice'. She also stresses the importance of creating situations in which 'the learner is expected to attempt to use target language forms that may stretch his or her competence'.

Other approaches emphasize the importance of social interaction and collaboration in language learning (Vygotsky 1978). Learners practise in a social context (with teachers, native speakers, other students), and through that interaction, knowledge gradually becomes embedded in the learner's internalized mental resources (Swain 2000, cited in Little 2007).

Within this framework, a useful summary of the requisite conditions for successful language learning is provided by Egbert et al (1999), who drew on similarities in SLA research to come up with eight key factors:

  1. Learners have opportunities to interact and to negotiate meaning.
  2. Learners interact in the target language with an authentic audience.
  3. Learners are involved in authentic tasks.
  4. Learners are exposed to and encouraged to produce varied and creative language.
  5. Learners have sufficient time and feedback.
  6. Learners are guided to attend mindfully to the learning process.
  7. Learners work in an atmosphere with an ideal stress/anxiety level.
  8. Learner autonomy is supported.

This essay aims to show how Web 2.0 technologies can enhance language learning by facilitating many of the key characteristics outlined above: intput/output, social interaction, authenticity, exposure, feedback, and learner autonomy. Language learners have two communities of learning: the learning community in the classroom, and the target language community (Alm 2006). In many cases, communication occurs within the classroom, and is teacher-centred (especially if classes are conducted in a country in which the target language is not spoken). I hope to show how Web 2.0 applications can open up the classroom walls, and provide a broader range of opportunities for authentic and varied language interaction.

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