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Joseph M. Terantino

Emerging Technologies: YouTube for Foreign Languages


Who are the Digital Natives? In 2001, Marc Prensky coined the term digital native to refer to a person who has grown up with digital technology. These digital natives have habits and interests that are drastically different from those of previous generations. With the advent of the Internet and digital technologies, what were once considered normal daily activities are now replaced by video games, socializing on the net, and text messaging. Consider that 93 percent of the teenagers in the United States go online, 73 percent of these teens use social networking Web sites, and 75 percent have a cell phone (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010). As these authors state, “The internet is a central and indispensable element in the lives of American teens and young adults.” (p. 5).

With these societal patterns in mind, there is a need to modify instructional methods and activities to take advantage of the unique interests of these students. What do the digital natives want? Much of what they want educationally relates to their growing interest in and use of Web-based technologies. Prensky (2001) presents the following list of digital natives’ wants for education:

  • 1.

    To receive information at twitch speed

  • 2.

    To be able to multi-task

  • 3.

    To have hands-on activities

  • 4.

    To have graphics before text

  • 5.

    To have random access to information

  • 6.

    To be networked socially

  • 7.

    To play games rather than do serious work

  • 8.

    To have frequent rewards

The problem with meeting these educational needs is the disconnect between what the digital natives want and what many teachers are able to provide. The remainder of this article will describe how utilizing YouTube videos for foreign language instruction may aid in bridging this gap.


After considering the basic premise behind YouTube and the specific needs of the digital native students, the next logical question is: can the use of YouTube videos in the foreign language classroom satisfy students and teachers?

The answer is yes. YouTube offers fast and fun access to language and culture-based videos and instruction from all over the globe. It provides an outlet for student and teacher-created videos, and most importantly, YouTube videos provide students with an opportunity to engage meaningfully in the target language.

From a research perspective, there are several advantages to using video clips educationally. Berk (2009) describes a review of theoretical and research-based studies related to the use of videos and the brain. He discusses how the use of videos has been found to benefit students by connecting to multiple intelligences, both hemispheres of the brain, and to the emotional sense of the students. He also refers to the “picture superiority effect”, which explains that concepts or ideas are more likely to be remembered if they are presented as pictures rather than words.

From a practical perspective, the idea of utilizing YouTube in language classes is similar to what Randy Pausch refers to as the “head fake” (Last Lecture), in which a parent or educator shifts the focus of an activity while simultaneously teaching the targeted content. The result for the students is learning without initially realizing that they were learning. The poignant part of this approach is that the students are more

Language Learning & Technology


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