The Internet TESL Journal

A Book Review of
Untangling the Web: Nonce's Guide to Language and Culture on the Internet
By Carl S. Blyth, New York: Nonce Publishing Consultants, Ltd., 1999

Reviewed by L. M. Dryden
Owariasahi, Japan

What Dave Sperling did for ESL/EFL in his Internet Guide, Carl S. Blyth has done for all language learning. In Untangling the Web, Blyth provides a comprehensive survey of Net resources for teachers and students interested in learning languages from Albanian to Zulu. Blyth has taken his experience of using the Internet for language teaching in the French Department at the University of Texas, Austin, and has translated it into a wealth of tips and guided lessons for finding online resources for learning virtually any language and studying its culture.

Untangling the Web is a complete guide for those who want to use the Internet, in Blyth's words, "as a tool to foster their own language learning." The book aims to promote autonomy for language learners in three complementary ways: by making students aware of the incredible resources for language learning currently available on the Web, by showing students how to use these resources, and by helping students search the Net to find what they need to learn a language.

The book serves another admirable pedagogical goal of helping language learners grasp the social context of language, that is, to see the target language used within its own culture. Among many other things, the book explains how to harness the power of the Internet to make language learning "real" by enabling students to communicate in the target language with native speakers in ways "unimaginable only a few years ago."

Blyth divides his book into sections designed for Web users ranging from novices to experts. "Understanding Internet Basics" answers the most frequently-asked questions about the Internet, offering clear explanations of the World Wide Web, hypertext, HTML, URLs, and a host of other basic terms, as well as telling how to get connected to a service provider.

Individual students can use the book as a step-by-step tutorial for discovering Web resources for language learning, while teachers can take the book's "recipes" for Web exploration, along with its tables and other information, and convert them into lessons and teaching materials.

Throughout, Blyth offers a wealth of URLs that transport the reader to online tutorials and to sites for learning virtually any language. Screen shots richly illustrate the sites and supplement the book's lucid explanations. Clever icons, highlighted key terms, and even a "spider web" motif help to unify the book and support the reader's understanding.

Every chapter ends with a concise summary that restates the main purposes. This is followed in most chapters by an "On Your Own" section with activities that encourage the reader to apply the lessons of the chapter providing friendly reminders of the main points covered earlier, along with helpful steps towards becoming an independent language learner.

One can think of Untangling the Web as a collection of menus of resources for learning any of the plethora of human languages commonly spoken or obscurely studied. Here, one can rightly say, is God's plenty, a feast spread out for our use and enjoyment: Bon appetit!

Appendix 1

The Preface from Untangling the Web: Nonce's Guide to Language and Culture on the Internet

Reprinted with permission.

The Internet is a new and rapidly growing context for cross-cultural communication, and its potential impact on the study and teaching of languages is mind-boggling. For many American students, it is already more common to encounter a different language on the Internet than anywhere else. So it makes sense then to study a language in the context in which it is used, including the context of cyberspace. As a general introduction to language and culture on the Internet, this new, updated edition of Untangling the Web can be used profitably with any language textbook, regardless of the language or level. Untangling the Web was written to provide students with a specialized guide to the Internet as a sophisticated tool to learn a new language and culture.

When we began to explore computer technology as a means to enhance the teaching of foreign languages at the University of Texas at Austin, we quickly discovered that while many students were relatively computer literate and had surfed the Internet before on their own, most of them were unclear about how to use the Internet as a tool to foster their own language learning. Untangling the Web was created to bridge this gap. It has three main goals: (1) to introduce students to the incredible language learning resources that are currently available online; (2) to show students ways to use these resources in their own language learning; and (3) to help students learn how to search the Internet for even more language resources.

When integrated into the language curriculum, the Internet can help students grasp the social context of language use. More important, the Internet has the potential to enable my students to communicate in the target language with native speakers in ways unimaginable only a few years ago.

This book was written for everyone who wants to know more about the Internetıs applications to language learning. It shows you how to access a plethora of online language learning aids such as bilingual dictionaries, grammars, and test banks. Besides descriptions of pertinent language-oriented material on the Internet, tutorials have been included to give you essential hands-on experience. Chapter 1 includes answers to your most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the Internet. Chapter 2 explores the hows and whys of surfing the language Web in a step-by-step tutorial. Chapter 3 shows you how to search for and find the riches of the Internet. In Chapter 4, you will learn about the various online forums for communicating with speakers of other languages. And Chapter 5 gives you an overview of language resources currently available online. Whether you are a language student or teacher, my hope is that this book will help you realize what an amazing tool for language learning the Internet can be in the hands of a savvy user. I look forward to seeing you in cyberspace.

Appendix 2

To use these pages you must have a JavaScript-enabled browser.

Untangling the Web -- Activities and Links

Language Learner Links

Faculty Center

Educational and Career Center


The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. V, No. 3, March 1999