Is learning English via webcam effective?
A webcam makes live one-to-one conversations across countries and continents feasible for English learners, but is the method really effective?
Let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages.
- The trainer can be located almost anywhere in the world (subject to time differences!), so native speakers should be easy to find.
- It’s ideal for intensive speaking practice.
- It is cheaper than onsite training for learners and companies.
- There is less “wasted” time – travelling, parking, arriving early to set up equipment etc.
- Session times can be kept to a minimum (I recommend 30-60 minutes).
- The software can be free (e.g. Microsoft’s “Skype”).
- Many learners simply prefer not to use this form of learning.
- A reliable, fast Internet infrastructure is required; poor quality pictures and sound will have a detrimental effect on the whole experience.
- Companies may not allow the software to be installed on their networks – the IT manager needs to be on board.
- Trainees need to have basic proficiency already (A2) or else it will be very difficult to maintain a conversation for a substantial time.
- Some technical knowledge is required to install the microphone, webcam and software and troubleshoot problems.
- I find that it best works with one to one; I would not recommend it for groups or multiple learners in different locations.
- Listening and writing practice is limited. There is the ability to type words and sentences and some software includes a virtual whiteboard.
I have personally trained English learners of all ages using solely a webcam, even tech savvy teenagers! For enhanced speaking practice, I find it can be really effective and it is not as intrusive or time-consuming as turning up at a learner’s place of residence. For companies, combining it with other forms of learning may be a cost-effective and more varied solution than the classic tuition model.