The Effectiveness of the Internet in the Foreign Language Classroom

Luisa Perez

Spanish instructor
Penn Valley Community College

This case study investigates the effectiveness of using the Internet in the foreign language classroom. The research study took place in an intermediate Spanish class at the college level and it involved 20 male and female subjects. Their ages fluctuated between 19 and 25. They were all Americans learning Spanish as a foreign language. The method used consisted of both oral presentations and a post test. For the oral presentations, the instructor divided the class into five groups and she gave each group a theme on Hispanic history to be researched in the World Wide Web (WWW). Results showed that students' presentations had a mean of 85% and a standard deviation of 5. An unannounced anonymous post-test was given on the same theme two weeks later after the oral presentation. The mean was 85.8 and the standard deviation was 4. Even though oral presentations and unannounced tests are stressful, students succeeded in both kinds of assessment. They had internalized the information found in the Internet. Motivation triggered by the acquisition of content knowledge through the new technology is one of the factors that influences success of this case study.

Pedagogically speaking, the Internet has much to offer to foreign language instruction. The amount of input a student can find is unlimited. It awakens the curiosity and learning inquiry. Not only can students expand their knowledge of other academic subject matters in addition to the foreign language but they can also learn the new technology. In other words, learning through the Internet is comprehensive. Also, the Internet gives a boost to academics because it promotes international research in disciplines of global interest (Bollag, 1996).

If you teach a foreign language, you also need to teach its culture, and you need to convince students that both areas--language and life in a foreign country--are genuinely relevant in today's world. One of the best sources for both materials and evidence of the vigor of non-American cultures, is the Internet. It is easy to teach our students how to navigate the WWW. And it is an unforgettable experience for beginners to enter museums and to visit popular tourist sites in a foreign country.

New technology promotes students to think critically, encourages self-directed learning, implements Constructivist theory, and provides a library on-screen (Armstrong & Day, 1996). It gives instant gratification and feedback, saves duplicating-costs, and even allows students to keep up with materials on the Web while they are unable to attend classes (DeLoughry, 1994).

This chapter presents research on the effectiveness of using of the Internet as a tool in the foreign language classroom. All the students in this class participated in the study. At the beginning of the course, the subjects were told that they had to give an oral presentation about Incan civilization from Peru and that in addition to the textbook, they could find more information in the instructor's Web page. Composed of 20 American students from ages 19 to 25, the class was learning Spanish as a foreign language.

I divided the class into five groups of five students and assigned to each group a different topic of the central theme, "The Incas." The first group had to inform the class about Incan history; the second group had to speak about the location where the Incas developed their civilization; the third group had to talk about Incan art and music; the fourth group had to ask questions as if they were tourists visiting the Incan ruins, "Macchu Picchu"; and the fifth group had to answer the fourth group's questions, assuming the role of tourist guides.

The students made their oral presentations in the classroom during class time designated in the syllabus. The grades which I gave the students indicate that the oral presentations, particularly in direct relation to the information learned due to Web page input, were satisfactory (see appendix). A test on the same theme, given two weeks after the oral presentation and without previous notice or notes, indicated that the students had stored this information in their long term memory. The test also asked the students if they had problems accessing the Internet. From the 20 subjects studied, 8 students had problems getting into my Web page, 11 did not have any problems and 1 subject had not tried because he obtained information from another source. Although the test was anonymous, I assigned a grade to each test. The test answers, grades, and a comparison with the oral presentation grades can also be found in the appendix.


I based oral presentation grades on content, foreign language performance, and use of visuals; the test grades were based only on content, because the students were told to respond in English.

Results showed that oral presentations as well as test were successful. Students were very motivated by using Internet information in foreign language. Also, they learned about other academic areas and foreign languages at the same time. It is important to note that the subjects had fun during their oral presentation. This factor prepared the appropriate "soil" for learning. Also the colored pictures and text on the screen triggered the students' motivation to internalize the information.

According to the statistical study, the mean for the oral presentations was 85/100 and the standard deviation (STD) is 5; the mean for the test is 85.8/100 and the STD is 4. In other words, the students were successful on both their oral presentation and the follow-up test. The results showed skewed means. However, it is known that oral presentations in a foreign language are very stressful for students and that an unannounced test is not easy. Therefore, I do not consider either of the two easy. The Internet provided a tool that motivated students to acquire comprehensible input. Inasmuch as motivation helps the student learn and retain the information for a longer time, the Internet is effective in foreign language teaching.

Discussion and Conclusions

For future research, instructors may find out if sending the students to the library for a research project brings better results than sending them to the Internet. Although this paper deals with the college level, it may be of interest to note that Internet also provides sound academic preparation in secondary-school. For college Spanish classes, using the Internet is an efficient way for students to learn the Spanish language, Hispanic culture, history, geography, art, literature, and even health-issues--authentic content--in addition to a universally applicable technical skill. The integration of these subjects and Web surfing in the foreign language curriculum forms links among different academic areas across the curriculum (e.g., political science, anthropology, journalism).

Providing fresh examples of authentic material is always challenging for foreign language instructors, and the Internet is a useful repository of true-to-life situations (i.e., it is material actually used by Hispanics), described in everyday language: in technical terms, the Internet provides contextualized, written, and graphic resources. Learning to use the Internet gives students access to authentic information, often of high quality, provides comprehensible input in diverse subject matters, exercises a technical skill applicable to other disciplines, and is free. These are all good reasons why instructors should take advantage of this tool by mastering WWW browsers. Current information on the subjects that instructors teach--as well as on pedagogy itself--is available on the Internet:

Many students have no prior computer-assisted instruction experience and are uneasy when required to use an unfamiliar technique. This objection is easy to answer. You convince students that learning to work with the Internet is a simple skill, applicable to other courses. Students (and teaching assistants) will need computer instruction at the beginning of the semester and constant help from computer technicians and each other. The supervisor should make arrangements for mini-courses at the beginning of the semester. I find that one of the most effective methods is to divide the class into small groups (usually five per group) in which one or two students already have expertise and who are willing to help their classmates. Students find this peer-teaching less threatening and quickly see how useful a skill they are learning.

Internet assignments require more time than traditional homework. Instructors and students alike experience frustration with faulty machinery, overloaded systems, and inaccessible sites. The only solution to these problems is to give the class sufficient lead-time for assignments by providing a careful syllabus.

It is inconvenient or undesirable to work on campus in the computer labs. Depending on the equipment available and the situation (e.g., an inner-city college night class), this objection may be serious. The only easy solution is for students to acquire a personal computer and modem, which many students already have or intend to purchase. (Schement, 1995). But it may be possible for the instructor to use the Web in class often enough to teach the techniques. The instructor may take the students to the computer lab twice a semester so that they may feel more at ease using the WWW.

Ultimately, institutions must provide Internet workshops so that instructors may keep abreast of the new technology. There must also be good technical support for faculty and staff using the World Wide Web for teaching purposes. Depending on the equipment and expertise of the instructor, the teaching activity in a language class may undergo a ninety degree role-turnover after the Ithernet is hooked up in the classroom. Faculty needs to get involved in this new trend since the Internet provides greater and equal access to educational material from the real and entire world.


Armstrong, K. & Day, P. (1996). Librarians, faculty and the Internet: Developing a new information partnership. Computers in Libraries 16 (5): p. 56.

Bollag, B. (1996, June 28). Better Internet access sought for researchers around the world. Chronicles of Higher Education A, pp. 14-16.

DeLoughry, T. (1994, May 11). Stamp of approval. Chronicles of Higher Education A, pp. 16,20.

Schement, J. R. (1995). Tendencies and tensions of the Information Age. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.


Did you have problems getting into my page?

no problems
did not use it

What did you learn from your research study?

Question 3 Post Test Post test grade Oral Presentations
I learned history
What I remember most is Macchu Picchu which is in Cuzco. Macchu Picchu was the capital of the Incas' empire 80 80
I learned history & geography
The total population of Peru is 21 million people. the capital is Lima. The Incas started the Indian civilization. The climate is warm and cloudy. 85 70
Culture, music & history
There are 21 million people in Peru. The capital is Lima. The Incas started the Indian civilization. The climate is varied, warm and cloudy. 86 80
From the orals presented I learned about the historical sites of Peru, Macchu Picchu and other Peruvian architecture. 70 90
Peru is home for the Inca culture. Having established a great civilization hundreds of years ago, they built pyramids the same size as the Egyptians did. The Spanish conquered the Inca culture around the mid to late 1500's. Very good companies are in Peru 90 90
History & geography
The Peruvian culture has been in existence for many years. They were very smart and advanced for their time. They could build many buildings and temples to worship their Gods. 88 80
Peruvian history
I learned that Peru has a bicameral legislation and that the president is elected to a five year term. I also learned that "El Camino del Inca" is the most famous hiking route and Peru is very rich in Indian history. Population is 21, 560,000 and 90 90 80
Geography & Natural Resources
I remember sites (Macchu Picchu), music and history. I especially liked the story of how Cuzco was founded (throwing a gold cane into the air and wherever it fell was the capital of the empire to be founded. 91 75
Geography & Culture
I learned that the Incas were very spiritual people, who lived with nature. They had councils and spiritual messengers. I learned a lot about the art of the culture. They had a great architecture and they built wonderful monuments. Population wiped b 98 100
History, touristic attractions & Peruvian culture
The Peruvian culture consisted of many unique cities and monuments, Macchu Picchu for one. The music was mostly folkloric and the people played a lot of wind instruments. 90 100
Incas civilization
The Incas were around in the 400's (WRONG). They constructed buildings that are still somewhat intact. They were religious people. They worshipped the Sun and thought that the rulers descended from the Sun. 88 75
Culture, history & music
Macchu Picchu is very nice to visit. It has animals, flowers and a long tourist path. Lima is the capital of Peru. The majority are Roman Catholic. 80 80
I found lots of general information about Peru. Its geography, mountains, coastline and tropical rain forests. there was information about the Incas and the way they lived, Macchu Picchu, etc. I don't remember a lot of details but there was plenty inf. 90 85
Peruvian history and culture
The Incas developed medicine, grew medicine plants. Peru has a republican government. The music is salsa. They speak mostly Spanish. 90 80
geography, politics & history
The Peruvian culture has a lot of history. Many of the descendants of the Incas have carried the Inca culture. 76 80
Their culture was very advanced for their time. They also had a hierarchy system that respected authority. As horticulturists, they were successful. 88 85
Technology and relevant information
There are many different tribes of the Andes: Wari, Huarpi, Moche, Inca. (This student meant "there were and he was confused about the Pre Incas civilizations with the Incas) I know a great deal more about Peru, but it would take a long time to write 78 88
History & geography
Peru has a strong history with native indians. They built fortresses that still stand today. Music is a strong part of their culture. Their culture has similarities with other Spanish cultures. 80 78
Peruvian culture
The Incas used cultural rituals to worship, had major landmark, statues that are important 90 84
History, art, music, religion, climate from Peru
I did my presentation on Macchu Picchu. It was an ancient city built by the Incas. It is still in great condition for being as old as it is. it is on a high mountain surrounded by jungles. 88 90
History & culture

This student only took one test.80

This student only took one test. 100

This student only took one test. 100

This student only took one test. 90

MEAN 85.8 MEAN 85


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