Commentary: digital language and learning in the time of coronavirus

Alice Chik*, Phil Benson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/opinion

12 Citations (Scopus)


This commentary was written in Australia in April and May 2020 during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. This special issue on ‘Digital language practices: Media, awareness, pedagogy’ is therefore particularly timely when most of the world has to suddenly switch on digitally. The research reported in these studies is a tour de force in which researchers start their queries from the digital spaces they are interested in. Each study in this collection highlights how everything is done differently digitally – people read, write and communicate differently online, and organisations need to respond differently online. The studies in this collection show that the young people in the studies understand that perfectly and have adapted according. The collection of papers certainly speaks to the core national, social and economic issues we have faced in the last four months. This may sound intuitive, but our COVID-19 experiences teach us that digital adaptation is almost a best-kept secret. We have learned that we are not prepared for a global-scale epidemic, not medically, not mentally, and not economically. What we have also learned is that although technology is more important than ever, we have not taken people's digital practices as seriously as we should. Coronavirus (mis)information is spreading faster than the virus, and there is no stopping conspiracy theories and ‘miracle cures’ being populated online. Their reproduction numbers are higher than 1. With the first cases recorded in China, the rise of racism and xenophobia is not limited to the street as incidences of online attacks have also risen. Government surveillance, through contact tracking apps, for instance, begs for a new public understanding of algorithms. While governments around the world are trying to tell the stories of coronavirus for public consumption, whether it is about the use of ‘war metaphors’ (e.g. in the UK) or the language of science (e.g. in Germany), they are not necessarily giving out the stories in languages other than the dominant national language. Companies also are having a difficult time with storytelling – how to move from chanting ‘we're all in this together’ to selling new cars or bigger TVs now? Media and governments have trouble with learning at a distance as schools are temporarily switched to online delivery. Online learning became ‘homeschooling’ with various ministers saying students have ‘lost’ education rather than being educated differently. Technology has been adopted without giving too much consideration to young people's digital practices. However, morning TV shows are constantly showing glimpses of these discarded practices – the latest TikTok challenge, a viral tweet, or a YouTube sensation – as ‘positive’ or ‘uplifting’ stories.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100873
Pages (from-to)1-4
Number of pages4
JournalLinguistics and Education
Early online date16 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


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