Updated: Feb 26
Tiktok is a fun, addicting app that you can literally waste hours on, but can you use it to improve your English language and cross-cultural communication skills? -- Yes, kind of.
Social media has been a go-to tool for language learners for years. And with each new technology comes a period of exploration and apprehension. I usually wave on the side of caution and wait to see if something is a fad before I jump in. It took me a long time before I got on Instagram. But I think we can all agree at this point that TikTok is here to stay.
So, since it’s not going anywhere the next logical question is, how can it be used for good?
Tiktok is a fun, addicting app that you can literally waste hours on but can you use it to improve your English language and cross-cultural communication skills? -- Yes, kind of.
Tiktok is a platform that allows users to create and share video content.
As you use it more the algorithm will learn your taste and send you videos you will like.
Reasons I love TikTok:
There are people from all over the world
You can set time limits and restrictions so you don’t spend hours on it
You can have a private profile
It’s easy to follow accounts and hashtags
Auto replay and pausing
Duet: add to another user's video by recording your own video alongside the original as it plays
Stitch: add to another user’s video by recording your own video after the original plays
Fyp: For You Page is the homepage where TikTok sends videos it thinks you will like
Understanding Sarcasm and Irony
Most examples in textbooks for English learners are dry and unrealistic. The classic example used is Chandler from Friends, who is quite an over-exaggeration of everyday speech
Practice with Lip-syncing
Most people think of Tiktok as a dance app but there’s so much more to it. One of the biggest (and longest-lasting lasting) trends is lip-syncing.
Lip syncing is a fun way to practice pauses, facial expressions, and body language. You’ll become more aware of the small details of English.
Set your account to private and you don’t have to worry about anyone ever seeing your videos. If you want a public account then save your TikTok videos as drafts or private.
Want to push yourself even more? Usually, with lip-syncing, you can only hear the original speaker, but a newer trend is to hear both the original speaker and you. That means you have to speak clearly and with precision. It’s great for practicing intonation and pronunciation. And don’t be surprised if you spend an hour trying to imitate a short 15-second clip.
Validate your struggles
Ever feel like you are the only one who worries about your language skills? Tiktok is an effective tool in hearing other people’s perspectives. Creators often poke fun at their struggles which can be uplifting. It’s a wonderful feeling to know you aren’t alone. Connecting with others who feel the same can validate your feelings and help you feel like less of an outsider.
Captions make listening easy
There’s nothing more frustrating than watching something 26 times because you can’t quite understand a word or two they are saying. Well, luckily, most creators on Tiktok use captions.
Of course, listening practice without captions is wonderful but the trend on TikTok is to talk fast (even faster than normal conversation) so the captions are good to confirm you understand everything they are saying
But... it won’t help your slang
In the age of technology current slang has become a fast-moving target. What’s popular today is considered old-fashioned in months, sometimes even weeks.
It’s simply not worth the effort to learn slang that will be out of fashion so quickly. So don’t stress if you hear new slang like ‘cap, bet, and fire.’ It’s really only generation Z who uses these phrases and that’s people under 24 years old.
The only way I’d recommend learning slang on Tiktok is on pages specifically for English learning, @linguamarina is a great account to follow.
TikTok’s algorithm is designed to keep you scrolling. This means that after just a few hours you will be sent video after video that appeals to your interests and humor. You can quickly get sucked in and forget about the time. I fully admit there have been times I've got to bed, open Tiktok for 'a few minutes,' and found myself watching for an hour or more.
Remember to take breaks and put the phone down. Luckily, TikTok has limits you can set for yourself so you never waste too much time on it.
Gen Zers can be a little mean
Okay, maybe that’s a generalization. And this is truly just my opinion. Generation Z (people born between 1997 and 2015) have developed a culture of making fun of one another, and they love to target anything and anyone they deem uncool. I find their humor a little mean and off-putting at times. I have no interest in getting into a war of words with a teenager so I mostly watch TikToks and don't make them
So, I wanted to include this little word of caution. If you are self-conscious you don’t have to make public videos. You can enjoy the app by posting private videos and watching others.
Some of the current trends explained
Tell me you are ____ without telling me you are _____
This trend includes showing or explaining a part of your life without explicitly stating it. It’s a good exercise in language. Many include visual jokes and sarcasm.
What’s a video that lives rent-free in your head
The phrase “lives rent-free in your head” means something you think about often. This is a saying only used on Tiktok and it is already quickly losing popularity.
Here's one with lots of sarcasm
A few of my favorite accounts
Tiktok starting out as a dance and lip-syncing app but over the years, and especially during 2020, it has grown to become a great social media tool to practice language, discover aspects of other cultures, and connect with people around the world.
Even if you have no plans to go viral or become TikTok famous, you can use Tiktok to build cross-cultural skills, just don’t give up on other types of practicing.
Comment below: Do you think TikTok can be educational or only entertainment?