You know that feeling that you can’t put into words? Like when your mind reels with an overwhelming realization. Or when you’re too tired to do anything except stare blankly. These sentiments, and thousands of others, are being expressed across various social media a GIF.
What was once just a snappy way to let visitors know your newfangled website was still under construction, the GIF has been embraced for its ability to compress not just a single image into a manageable file size, but also several frames of animation. Though these images are not high quality, they look fine online and load relatively quickly due to their small size.
These simple animations can be created using desktop software such as Photoshop or in any number of newer online services. (Google it.) So now, when you’re looking for the perfect way to express something like the feeling you get when you do something clever but no one is around to notice, you can do it with one perfectly succinct animated image.
How do these GIFs relate to ESL learners and ESL teaching? Well, if your students are venturing out into the wilderness that is the Internet, they are likely already encountering this form of communication. Do they understand it? Many of these animated images express universal sentiments such as surprise / exasperation, not wanting to hear what someone has to say, or that awkward moment when no one has anything more to say. But, as you can see from this list alone, some of the meaning is somewhat complex and layered. Also, many of the images are taken from popular culture which some students may not be attuned to as well as a native speaker.
But, perhaps we’re not giving our ESL learners enough credit. They could very well be communicating with GIFs regularly because they appreciate the ease with which they can communicate complex ideas which they may not have words for in English. Ask them. Or ask students to describe these emotions as a classroom exercise. You might be pleasantly surprised by what they say.
For lots more animated GIFs, visit reddit.com/r/reactiongifs.