The Internet: an introduction for language teachers
Graham Davies

This Web page aims to serve as an introduction to the comprehensive Module 1.5 (Introduction to the Internet) at the ICT for Language Teachers website: Have a look at my other article, The Internet: write your own Web pages, and my list of Favourite Websites. If you wish to make use of these materials feel free to do so, but please acknowledge the sources. See my Terms of Use.

Links checked 6 May 2012

What is the Internet?

The Internet is a computer network connecting millions of computers all over the world. It provides communications to governments, businesses, universities, schools and homes. Any modern computer can be connected to the Internet using existing communications systems. Schools and universities normally access the Internet via their own educational networks, but private individuals usually have to take out a subscription with an Internet Service Provider (ISP). They can then connect their computer to the Internet via a modem and their local telephone system.

What’s on the Internet?

The three Internet services of main interest to language teachers are:

World Wide Web

The World Wide Web is only part of the Internet, but many people treat both terms as synonyms.


Email is a system of sending messages via the Internet. Email facilities are part of the range of services provided by ISPs. It is also possible to transmit word-processed files, pictures, sound files and video files via email.

Discussion lists

Discussion lists (also known as forums) are a kind of communal email, whereby members of the discussion list can post messages to every subscriber and invite responses or initiate discussions. Three discussion lists of interest to language teachers are ALLNET, EUROCALL, and the Linguanet Forum

You can join these discussion lists and access the archives of messages sent in by their members at:

The World Wide Web

This is the most powerful and fastest growing Internet service, now known simply as the Web. The Web is accessed by means of a computer program known as a browser. The most widely used browser is Internet Explorer. Using a browser you can access websites all over the world and download pages of information. Most Web pages include pictures, and many include sound, animated graphics, video and links - known as hyperlinks - to other websites. You need to know the Web address, technically known as the Uniform Resource Locator (URL), of the website you wish to access.

The birth of the Web - the browser

The World Wide Web is a remarkable invention, dating back only to 1989 when Tim Berners-Lee’s brilliant flash of insight spawned HTML and the browser (Berners-Lee 1998). Seeking a solution to the problem of information continually getting lost while he was working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Tim Berners-Lee came up with the idea of the World Wide Web. As a newcomer to CERN, he found it difficult to find out what was going on. This is typical of many organisations, where information is structured like a web and details of past projects often get lost. The newcomer to an organisation gleans information haphazardly, through various documents and newsletters, gossip and discussions with colleagues in the corridor. The browser - the key to the Web - is essentially a simple idea, but its impact has been immense. Since the release of the first browser in 1993 it has been possible for the layman to get at information that computer scientists have been able to get at for years. In addition, the Web has opened up millions of new channels of communication.

It is assumed that if you are reading this module are already familiar with using a browser. If not, there is an excellent tutorial, Web Literacy, written by Bernard Moro, at the website of the Council of Europe's European Centre for Modern Languages (ECML).

Language courses and exercises on the Web

There are numerous sites on the Web which offer language courses and language exercises. An introductory selection is listed below. Other selected sites can be found at my Favourite Websites page.

Many more have been documented by Felix (1998) and Felix (2001).

Creating language exercises on the Web

Creating exercises on the Web is relatively easy. A Web authoring package known as Hot Potatoes has been developed by Martin Holmes and Stewart Arneil at the University of Victoria, Canada: This package consists of a suite of five Web authoring tools for language teachers - and it’s free! It enables the language teacher to create his/her own Web exercises in Windows or Mac format, e.g.

Disadvantages of the Web

It is clear that the breathtaking growth of the Web is leading to information overload. As Arthur C. Clarke put it: "Getting information from the Internet is like getting a glass of water from the Niagara Falls." Bush (1996) summarises the situation with the following opening quotation: "The Web is like one great big, wonderful library. You enter the front door, and there are all the books... piled in the middle of the floor!". In other words, the cataloguing system of the Web is non-existent. Search engines such as Google are a great help, but if you search for a common word or term you can end up with more references than you can cope with.

In a paper presented at the 1997 FLEAT III conference, University of Victoria, Claire Bradin expressed concern that many language teachers who are newcomers to ICT think that the Web is the only relevant manifestation of Information and Communications Technology (Bradin 1997). They assume mistakenly that "doing it on the Web" is the only way to deliver computer assisted language learning (CALL) and have little idea of CALL before the advent of the Web. The consequences of this belief are that the advantages of offline technology are often unknown to the new generation of language teachers, who are unaware that more elaborate and faster interactivity than that currently offered on the Web was available on microcomputers as long as 20 years ago. Interactivity on the Web is limited compared to the interactivity offered by CD-ROMs (Burston 1998:68-69). Accessing the Web at peak times (while the USA is awake) is S-L-O-W. Sound and video may take an eternity to download (Davies 1997:42-45). It is suggested that the reader of this article tries to access the following websites to find out for him/herself how long it takes to access the sound and video clips.

Finally, the Web can be addictive, often leading users to spend hours in aimless, unstructured Web browsing - or surfing - an activity which is open to question in terms of its learning outcomes:

Death of the printed word?

There is a great deal of talk at present about the death of the printed word. While it may be true to say that motion pictures and TV have had a negative effect on people’s reading habits, the Web has probably had the opposite effect. The Web consists largely of texts, an increasing number of which are enhanced by photographs, sound and video. Using the Web is a very efficient way of locating a text, but few people read more than a couple of paragraphs from the screen. Most download and print the located text so that they can sit in a comfortable armchair and read it in the normal way. In other words, most people are continuing to read from the printed page as they have done for centuries. Reading large chunks of text from a TV or computer screen is any case tiring and inefficient. It has been estimated that reading from the screen is 25%-30% slower than reading from the printed page See Section 3.3 of Module 3.2 (CALL software design and implementation)at the ICT for Language Teachers website under the heading Writing for the screen:

Exploiting Internet resources offline

Downloading websites

The slowness of accessing the Web at peak times can, however, be overcome by downloading Web pages in advance so that they can be used by learners offline. Tools such as WebWhacker enable you to save Web pages, including text, graphics and HTML links, directly to your hard drive, so you can view them offline at highly accelerated speeds: However, beware of copyright restrictions on downloading other people's sites. You should always check the terms of use at a website before downloading it in whole or in part. The terms of use of most websites are usually located at the foot of the homepage, e.g. here.

Finding what you want on the Web - just as finding what you want in a book, on an audiocassette tape or on a videocassette tape - is only the first step. Having found a suitable text or picture, the language teacher has to decide what to do with it. See Walker et al. (2000).

Building up a text corpus

It is possible to make use of the Web to build up a corpus of authentic texts. The corpus can then be accessed offline with a concordance package such as MonoConc, enabling:

The above suggestions derive from Tim Johns, University of Birmingham, who pioneered the concept of Data-Driven Learning (DDL), which is also known as Classroom Concordancing. For further detailed information on DDL and Classroom Concordancing see Module 2.4, Using concordance programs in the Modern Foreign Languages classroom, at the ICT for Language Teachers website:

The hybrid approach: blended learning

At present, a hybrid approach - usually known as blended learning - makes more sense. Matthew Fox (Southampton Institute) conducted a pilot study during the 1990s, in which an Internet-based course in French was delivered to local business users (Fox 1998). The course was delivered in distance-learning mode, whereby students communicated with their tutors by email, the Web, telephone and videoconferencing. But the core materials that the students worked with were also supplied on CD-ROM. This enabled them to do exercises involving the playback of sound recordings offline, so that they did not have to experience the long delays that would have occurred if they had accessed the recordings via the Web.

Creating exercises offline

There is no question that the Web is an excellent source of authentic materials. Using texts gleaned from the Web, it is easy to develop sets of meaningful exercises offline. A variety of text-reconstruction exercises - linked to images, sound recordings and video clips, if required - can be created with Camsoft’s Fun with Texts package. Gap-filling and multiple-choice exercises - including pictures and sound - can be created with Camsoft’s GapKit package. This flexible package works on the same principle as Fun with Texts: i.e. all the teacher has to do is find a suitable text and convert it into a set of exercises. Demos of both these packages can be downloaded from:

For further information on authoring tools see Module 2.5 (Introduction to CALL authoring programs)at the ICT for Language Teachers website:


Berners-Lee T. (1998) The World Wide Web: a very short personal history:

Bradin C. (1997) The Dark Side of the Web (summary only):

Burston J. (1998) "From CD-ROM to the WWW: coming full circle", CALICO Journal 15, 1-3: 67-74.

Bush M. (1996) "Internet mania: World Wide Web technology: What's hot and what's not!" Multimedia Monitor, February 1996, Phillips Business Information Inc.

Davies G. (1997) "Lessons from the past, lessons for the future: 20 years of CALL", in Korsvold A-K. & Rüschoff B. (eds.) New technologies in language learning and teaching, Strasbourg, Council of Europe: 27-51.

Davies G. (2000) The Internet: write your own Web pages, Camsoft Web publication.

Davies G., Hickman P. & Hewer S. (1994) Style guidelines for developers, TELL Consortium, University of Hull..

Walker R., Davies G. & Hewer S. (2008) Introduction to the Internet. Module 1.5 in Davies G. (ed.) Information and Communications Technology for Language Teachers (ICT4LT), Slough, Thames Valley University [Online]. Available from:

Felix U. (1998) Virtual language learning: finding the gems among the pebbles, Language Australia, Melbourne.

Felix U. (2001) Beyond Babel: language learning online, Melbourne: Language Australia. Reviewed at:

Felix U. (2003) (ed.) Language learning online: towards best practice, Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger (now taken over by Taylor & Francis).

Fox M. (1998) "Breaking down the distance barriers: perceptions and practice in technology-mediated distance language acquisition", ReCALL 10, 1: 59-67. Available at:

Walker R., Davies G., Saarenkunnas M., Kuure L. & Taalas P. (2008) Exploiting World Wide Web resources online and offline. Module 2.3 in Davies G. (ed.) Information and Communications Technology for Language Teachers (ICT4LT), Slough, Thames Valley University [Online]. Available from:

Wolff D. (1997) "Computers and new technologies: will they change language learning an teaching?". In Kohn J., Rüschoff B. and Wolff D. (eds.) New horizons in CALL: proceedings of EUROCALL 96, Dániel Berzsenyi College, Szombathely, Hungary: 65-82.

© Graham Davies 2012. This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Creative Commons Licence