Using Skype in Language and Literacy Programs

Skype is a free program. You set up a “Skype account” and download the program. Then, you add contacts, much like you would do in your e-mail program. Only you don’t e-mail using Skype. You talk or have a video call.

You and the other party, or parties, all need to have Skype installed on your computers. There are no tricks and no gimmicks. Think of it sort of like Hotmail or Gmail, but for voice and video calls.

Skype allows you to:

  • Voice and video calls to anyone else on Skype
  • Conference calls with three or more people
  • Instant messaging, file transfer and screen sharing

Why do I love Skype? Well, first of all, the basic service is free as long as you’re talking computer-to-computer. They also have really, really inexpensive plans were you can be on your computer and call to a regular land-line.

Here are some examples of how I use Skype:

Personally: Our family is spread out all over the place. We use Skype to talk long-distance, for free. The most amazing thing we do is with my Dad and step-Mom. They live in a remote area in Northern Ontario. Last year, my brother and his wife had a baby girl. Every Sunday night, everyone gets on Skype for a visit. My Dad gets to see his little grand daughter every single week and can watch her growing up. It’s connects our family in deeply meaningful way.

We like Skype so much in our house that we got Skype-enabled handsets that look and act just like a regular phone. We also use Skype now for computer-to-phone calling in our house and we really like it.

Professionally: I have used Skype for long-distance business. Last year, I had a consulting client in Sweden. Instead of doing phone coaching, we had our meetings via video call on Skype. It was much better than the phone, as we got to see one another and doing business was much easier (and less expensive).

Here’s another example of how I’ve used Skype in my work. Last week I was scheduled to give a webinar to a group in Tennessee. They called me at the last minute to say that the e-learning platform I’d been planning on using wouldn’t work for them. I asked if they used Skype. They said yes. We quickly exchanged user names and logged on. I gave the webinar using the screen sharing feature to go through the slides I’d prepared. At the end, they were super-happy with the presentation.

How can you use Skype in a language or literacy program:

Connect with your students: If students have Skype accounts, you can connect with them before they arrive, taking the time to connect with them and answer questions. From a relationship marketing point of view, this creates a super opportunity to create a personal bond with your students.

1-to-1 tutoring: I was giving a workshop on marketing to a group of literacy coordinators yesterday. One coordinator who works in a rural area commented that she has a hard time matching tutors with learners sometimes, as they are supposed to meet in public places, but it just isn’t convenient given the rural area in which they live. She’s obliged to match tutors and learners of the same gender, but said she had more female tutors and male learners, so it created a problem. I asked if her learners had technology literacy. She said that many of them did. I suggested that she introduce them to Skype to tutors and learners could be matched and each of them would work from their own homes.

Give information sessions and presentations: Skype has a screen-sharing feature that is brilliant for giving presentations. You can show PowerPoint slides and go through an entire presentation, just like I did with my clients last week. This is super for pre-arrival orientations, information sessions and other presentations you might give to prospective learners.

Skype is an amazing tool to help you connect with family, colleagues and learners.

Check out my research article on this topic:

Eaton, S. E. (2010). How to Use Skype in the ESL/EFL Classroom. The Internet TESL Journal, XVI(11). Retrieved from


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


2 Responses to Using Skype in Language and Literacy Programs

  1. Fred says:

    How interesting. In a way, some of what you describe happens when I leave my 2 year old speak with her grandma (who can’t really speak English).
    In fact I made a sweet little film about it for a doc festival.
    Feel free to share.


  2. susiedec4 says:

    You are an inspiration and thanks for sharing. I hope to join the webinar.

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