Some UA international students have supplemented their traditional English learning strategies with social media-based tools. These include short videos like TikToks and Instagram Reels, in which content creators teach English words and concepts.


Many UA international students have found that short videos on social media are an entertaining and effective tool to advance their English skills.

Featuring names such as "Reels" and "Shorts," social media platforms including TikTok, YouTube and Instagram have sections of their apps devoted to snappy, often humorous 15- to 60-second videos that users can scroll through quickly. Many creators who make language-learning content have seized upon these engaging mediums.  Such clips can introduce advanced English expressions and idioms that are challenging to many international students.

Larissa Rocha, a graduate student from Brazil, said using video clips to learn English has helped improve her level of proficiency. Rocha thinks visualizing concepts in an engaging, humorous or conversational way can be an effective strategy for those with some background in the target language to improve their linguistic skills, she said.

“Social media clips like Reels can be more beneficial for learners if they discuss these clips with their peers inside and outside the classroom," Rocha said.

Cindy Rauth, the academic coordinator for the UofA’s English Language and Cultural Studies program, thinks social media clips are a great way to learn English, because humor is a pivotal part of the practicing process. Learning a language is an unfamiliar and often stressful experience, and entertainment and fun are important in enhancing that experience, Rauth said.

“Language learning is challenging, partly because your language is a part of your core identity, and so learning something that challenges who you are can feel threatening and can be resistant,” Rauth said. “Language learners can be reluctant to expose their vulnerabilities and when humor is involved that can reduce stress and fear factors.”

Humor can help lower a learners’ defenses and make them more able to engage easily with the materials, Rauth said. It can also make learning more enjoyable and create positive associations in memory.

Jiaying Chen, a Chinese doctoral student, thinks social media content introduces a fun, modern way for international students to enhance their English learning outside the classroom, she said.

“Reels are useful in learning English because students can see directly how to use the English advanced words and expressions in a scene, but I do not think it is a good idea to use those short videos in the educational syllabus,” Chen said.

Rauth also thinks employing social media as a tool makes sense for young people, who are already heavily engaged in online spaces, she said.

“I see a lot of people going on their phones when they are bored and browsing online, so I think that could be really useful because while they are waiting, they can look at those videos”, Rauth said.

Although social media is growing in popularity among language learners, some international students prefer other online and in-person methods for learning English.

Laura Mariana Echávarri Ibarra, a graduate student, said she prefers listening to conversations, podcasts and music, using language learning apps, watching movies and reading.

“I feel like I am losing my patience when I see reels of people trying to teach English or any other language,” Ibarra said. “When I look at Instagram, TikTok or YouTube reels, I feel they are not relevant or appealing for me. Also, it is easier to hear podcasts in English while I am driving.”

Chen thinks social media videos can be one small tool in language learners' arsenals, but they are not a substitute for more comprehensive learning aids, she said.

“For me as an international student, I prefer a complete process of learning, not just short videos,” Chen said. “(Although) they might be a helpful tool in the process.”

Rauth thinks social media clips like Reels, Shorts and TikToks could be helpful tools to introduce in her classroom and encourage her students to share with one another, she said.

“I could share them with my students so students on the bus or hanging out in the line can look at those funny videos,”  Rauth said. “I would recommend them to my students because I think it is a great way to keep learning.”

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