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Can Skype Help Teach English?

This morning, Microsoft announced it is purchasing Internet phone company Skype for $8.5 billion. Market analysts interpreted the technology giant's latest acquisition as an attempt to compete in the communications market with Google, Apple, and other rivals who have made big strides into the internet telephony market. There's no disputing Skype's popularity: Over 660 million users have signed up, and, on average, upwards of 25 million of those users are online at any given moment. One of the service's selling points is the ability to make cheap international calls, a feature that has been embraced by, among others, foreign-language teachers looking to teach students in other countries. But does learning via Skype affect language proficiency?

No, according to a 2006 master's thesis by Lin-Ying Chan of National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan. The study compared two groups of Taiwanese students, one using Skype for structured online discussions in English, the other unstructured discussions. Chan found that the structured group did not show significantly more improvement in proficiency than the unstructured group, and neither group showed evidence that Skype itself helped proficiency any more than students would have improved normally. However, the structured group did show a "more favorable attitude" towards learning English after structured discussions in Skype, suggesting that Skype could still be of some assistance in the classroom. Either way, one rule remains true: do not try to learn English on Chatroulette.