University of Tasmania

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Foreign language learners' perceptions and practices of using social media platforms for vocabulary learning

posted on 2023-08-25, 00:22 authored by Alharthi, MMD

The purpose of the current study was to investigate the perceptions and the practices of Saudi English as a foreign language (EFL) adult learners regarding their use of social media platforms (SMPs) for vocabulary learning. A mixed-methods design was used, incorporating a questionnaire and interviews. The study surveyed 356 Saudi EFL adult learners and, of these, 20 were interviewed. Quantitative data were analysed using SPSS and qualitative data were analysed by thematic analysis. The study’s findings showed that Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, YouTube and Twitter were the most popular SMPs among Saudi EFL adult learners, whilst Instagram and Twitter were the preferred and most used SMPs for vocabulary learning. The study also found that Saudi EFL adult learners had been using SMPs for five years or more, and that they used SMPs for three hours or more every day. Most learners used SMPs for learning purposes and they accessed SMPs through their mobile devices. An interesting finding was that Saudi females use SMPs for vocabulary learning more so than Saudi males. Forty-one percent of learners interacted via SMPs in English, and 61% had set up their SMPs in the English version. Furthermore, in this study, all learners possessed adequate digital skills with which to access SMPs on their mobile devices at any time and in any place. The majority (65%) of Saudi EFL adult learners who used SMPs for vocabulary learning were aged between 18 and 27 years, and 79% were interested in learning general English at an English language school. Many of the study participants had been enrolled in these English language schools for a short period of only one month to six months. The study found that Saudi EFL learners were intrinsically motivated to learn English because they love the language, they want to improve their English language proficiency, or they want to travel and know that English is considered the universal language. Most Saudi EFL adult learners in this study used English when engaging in SMPs for vocabulary learning (77%). The study found that learners were self-motivated to use SMPs for vocabulary learning and that they used them outside the classroom, indicating that they were autonomous, self-motivated learners. Learners believed that they learned better through multimedia content (videos, photographs, illustrations and artwork). Moreover, learners showed that they used a variety of vocabulary learning strategies when using SMPs with more consolidation vocabulary learning strategies. Furthermore, study participants reported that when using SMPs for vocabulary learning, they also improved other English-language learning skills, such as their knowledge of grammar. Overall, it was found that x SMPs facilitated autonomous learning, which was preferred by Saudi EFL adult learners in Saudi Arabia.
These learners had positive attitudes toward using SMPs for vocabulary learning for several reasons. First, they perceived that SMPs have a positive impact on their vocabulary learning and their confidence in learning and using the English language. Furthermore, because of using SMPs for vocabulary learning, their language proficiency improved, and their range of vocabulary was extended. However, the study results also showed that the extent to which SMPs were perceived to have an impact on English language vocabulary learning is different for distinct groups. For instance Saudi females, more so than Saudi males, perceived that SMPs had a significant impact on their vocabulary learning. Also, those learners who indicated that they learned new vocabulary best through tweets and posts that included videos, conversations and interaction perceived that SMPs had a greater impact on their vocabulary language learning than those who did not. Moreover, when learners’ SMPs were in English, learners expressed the view that those platforms had a better impact on their learning. In addition, learners who engaged with SMPs in both Arabic and English perceived greater impact than those who engaged only with one language. Learners who used English only, and both Arabic and English when using SMPs for vocabulary learning, perceived a better impact than others. Finally, two factors that correlated with the perceived impact were found. These factors were a positive correlation between the perceived impact and the perceived motivation and a negative correlation between the perceived impact and the participants’ age.
Saudi EFL adult learners’ perceptions of the impact of using SMPs for vocabulary learning was affected by factors including gender, content of the posts on SMPs, languages used, age, the motivation to learn, and the participants’ environment. This study found that both gender and age were critical factors that affected the use of SMPs for vocabulary learning by Saudi EFL adult learners.
Second, multimedia strongly motivates learners to use SMPs as it gives them high exposure to new vocabulary and offers them various modes of communication as well as a personal presence, thereby catering better to their individual needs. However, learners aged 21–23 years seem to be more strongly motivated to use SMPs for vocabulary learning which could be explained by the fact that many have more free time as they may have just graduated and are looking for a job. A strong positive correlation was found between the perceived xi impact and the perceived motivation, indicating that the more Saudi EFL learners are motivated to use SMPs for vocabulary learning, the more positive is the impact.
There were also, however, several perceived challenges associated with using SMPs for vocabulary learning. Learners showed a high degree of awareness concerning their learning processes as they were able to acknowledge and identify the challenges they face, and described how they are dealing with such issues as time-wasting, distractions and boredom. Consequently, introducing digital literacy courses and offering guidelines for using SMPs for language learning can help learners gain the maximum benefit from these platforms.



  • PhD Thesis


xvii, ii, ii, 296 pages


School of Education


University of Tasmania

Publication status

  • Unpublished

Rights statement

Copyright 2022 the author. A published article comprises some parts of chapter 2. The article is: Alharthi, M., Bown, A., Pullen, D., 2020. The use of social media platforms to enhance vocabulary development in learning a new language: A review of the literature, Arab world English journal (AWEJ), special issue on CALL, 6, July, 318–331. The article is published under a Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license, ( The published article is located at appendix P.

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