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Computer-assisted language learning

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Computer-assisted language learning (CALL) is an approach to language teaching and learning in which computer technology is used as an aid to the presentation, reinforcement and assessment of material to be learned, usually including a substantial interactive element.


Early CALL favoured an approach that drew heavily on practices associated with programmed instruction. This was reflected in the term Computer Assisted Language Instruction (CALI), which originated in the USA and was in common use until the early 1980s, when CALL became the dominant term. Throughout the 1980s CALL widened its scope, embracing the communicative approach and a range of new technologies, especially multimedia and communications technology. An alternative term to CALL emerged in the early 1990s, namely Technology Enhanced Language Learning (TELL), which was felt to provide a more accurate description of the activities which fall broadly within the range of CALL. The term TELL has not, however, gained as wide an acceptance as CALL.

Typical CALL programs present a stimulus to which the learner must respond. The stimulus may be presented in any combination of text, still images, sound, and motion video. The learner responds by typing at the keyboard, pointing and clicking with the mouse, or speaking into a microphone. The computer offers feedback, indicating whether the learner’s response is right or wrong and, in the more sophisticated CALL programs, attempting to analyse the learner’s response and to pinpoint errors. Branching to help and remedial activities is a common feature of CALL programs.

Wida Software (London, UK) was one of the first specialist businesses to develop CALL programs for microcomputers in the early 1980s. Typical software of the first generation of CALL included Wida's "Matchmaster" (where students have to match two sentence halves or anything else that belongs together); "Choicemaster" (the classic multiple-choice test format); "Gapmaster" (for gapped texts); "Textmixer" (which jumbles lines within a poem or sentences within a paragraph); "Wordstore" (a learner's own private vocabulary database, complete with a definition and an example sentence in which the word to be learned is used in a context); and "Storyboard" (where a short text is blotted out completely and has to be restored from scratch). Wida's packages continue to be popular and are now merged into one general-purpose, multimedia authoring program known as "The Authoring Suite":

Storyboard-type activities, also known as "total cloze" activities, have been popular for many years. The concept originated from Tim Johns, subsequently modified by John Higgins. A variety of total cloze programs have appeared over the years, including "Copywrite" (part of the "Fun with Texts" package), "Quartext", "Eclipse" and "Rhubarb".

Other CALL activities in the early days of computer use in schools included working with generic packages such as word-processors, which revolutionised text production assignments by enabling language learners to continually revise and have peer reviewed what they are writing before printing out the final version of their composition.

Current CALL software has embraced CD-ROM and DVD technology, and there is growing interest in Web-based CALL (see Felix 2001), whole-class teaching with interactive whiteboards, and the use of blogs and podcasts.

Pedagogical and methodological considerations

Fascinated by the new technology in the early days of CALL, many teachers focused on technological issues, neglecting pedagogical and methodological questions and not realising that innovative pedagogy and methodology were required to integrate satisfactorily the use of computers into the foreign languages curriculum. A point of criticism which could easily be refuted was the claim that students tended to be isolated from their classmates when working in a computer lab - the "battery chicken" syndrome. It was soon discovered that using computers in language classes could promote team work among students and, if planned well, could also encourage them to use the target language to communicate in front of their computers, thus increasing the time they spent practising their oral skills. See:

Piper A. (1986) "Conversation and the computer: a study of the conversational spin-off generated among learners of English as a Foreign Language working in groups", System 14, 2: 187-198.

Whole-class teaching, which was a feature of early CALL - because schools could only afford one computer per classroom - is now making a comeback with the introduction of interactive whiteboards.

An approach to CALL that can be considered innovative is the use of concordance programs - dubbed Data Driven Learning by Tim Johns. This approach dates back to the early 1980s and is now widely used, especially by teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). See Module 2.4 at the ICT4LT website, Using concordance programs in the modern foreign languages classroom:

Generally speaking, however, CALL pedagogy and methodology continue to lag behind the technology.

A recent approach has been to see CALL in relation to other technologies in society, and to stress the possibility that computers may only become fully effective in language teaching and learning when they have become "normalised". Normalisation of CALL, in this analysis, will be achieved when we use computers every day in language teaching as we use pens and books, without excessive expectations and without undue fear. Normalisation could therefore be seen as potentially a valuable aim and agenda for the profession (Bax 2003).

The current situation

The ICT4LT website contains a wealth of information on CALL that describes the current situation in CALL. The site was set up with the aid of European Commission funding, aiming to provide a comprehensive set of ICT training resources for language teachers:

For exploring language learning environments such as the Moodle LMS (learning management system), there are communities such as Moodle for Language Teaching:

Further reading

  • See the ICT4LT Resource Centre for a select bibliography on CALL:
  • See also EUROCALL's CALL bibliography. This is a comprehensive list of CALL publications, including other bibliographies on the Web.
  • ATALL (Autonomous Computer-Assisted Language Learning) ATALL Wikibook. See also Littlemore J. (2001) Learner autonomy, self-instruction and new technologies in language learning: current theory and practice in higher education in Europe. In Chambers A. & Davies G. (eds.) ICT and language learning: a European perspective, Amsterdam: Swets & Zeitlinger (now taken over by Taylor & Francis). David Little has also published widely on learner autonomy in the context of CALL, e.g. Little D. (1991) Learner autonomy: definitions, issues and problems, Dublin: Authentik
  • Bax S. (2003) CALL - past, present and future, System 31: 13-28
  • CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) journal, Taylor & Francis, Abingdon, Oxfordshire: (formerly published by Swets & Zeitlinger).

  • Chapelle C. (2001). Computer applications in second language acquisition: foundations for teaching, testing and research, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Cheon Heesook (2003) The viability of Computer Mediated Communication in the Korean secondary EFL classroom, The Asian EFL Journal Vol 5, 1:
  • Davies G. (1997) "Lessons from the past, lessons for the future: 20 years of CALL". In Korsvold A-K. & Rüschoff B. (eds.) New technologies in language learning and teaching, Strasbourg: Council of Europe. Also on the Web at:
  • Davies G. (2005) "Computer Assisted Language Learning: Where are we now and where are we going?". Keynote paper given at the UCALL conference, University of Ulster, June 2005:
  • Davies G., Bangs P., Frisby R. & Walton E. (2005) Setting up effective digital language laboratories and multimedia ICT suites for Modern Foreign Languages, London: CILT:
  • de Szendeffy J. (2005) A practical guide to using computers in language teaching, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Egbert J. & Hanson-Smith E. (eds.) (1999) CALL environments: research, practice and critical issues, Alexandria, VA: TESOL.
  • Felix U. (2001) Beyond Babel: language learning online, Melbourne: Language Australia.
  • Fitzpatrick A. & Davies G. (eds.) (2003) "The Impact of Information and Communications Technologies on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and on the Role of Teachers of Foreign Languages". This is a comprehensive report commissioned by the EC Directorate General of Education and Culture.
  • Fotos S. & Browne C. (eds.) (2004) New perspectives on CALL for second language classrooms, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Jarvis H. (2005) Technology and change in English Language Teaching (ELT), The Asian EFL Journal Vol 7, 1:
  • Language Learning and Technology: A specialist CALL journal available only on the Web:
  • Levy M. (1997) CALL: context and conceptualisation, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • ReCALL: The Journal of EUROCALL, now published by Cambridge University Press - login at Back numbers are available at:
  • Son J.-B. (ed.) (2004) Computer Assisted Language Learning: concepts, contexts and practices, Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.
  • Warschauer M. (1996) Computer-assisted language learning: an introduction. In Fotos S. (ed.) Multimedia language teaching, Tokyo: Logos International.
  • Warschauer M. & Healey D. (1998) Computers and language learning: an overview, Language Teaching 31:57-71.
  • Wenger E. (1998) Community of practice: learning as a social system.

Professional associations

  • APACALL: Asia-Pacific Association for CALL.
  • CALICO: US-based professional association devoted to CALL. Manages a regular annual conference.
  • JALTCALL: Japan-based professional association devoted to CALL. Coordinates an annual conference and the JALTCALL Journal.
  • PacCALL: Professional CALL association in the Pacific: from East to Southeast Asia, Oceania, across to the Americas.
  • PacCALL Australia: Australian Chapter of the Pacific CALL Association
  • EUROCALL: Europe-based professional association devoted to CALL. Manages a regular annual conference.
  • IALLT: US-based International Association for Language Learning Technology. IALLT is a professional organisation dedicated to promoting effective uses of media centres for language teaching, learning, and research. Manages regular conferences.
  • Learning Technologies Special Interest Group The Learning Technologies Special Interest Group of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. This UK-based group runs a variety of events and produces a regular newsletter.
  • TESOL Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, CALL Interest Section.
  • WorldCALL: A worldwide association devoted to CALL and embracing other leading professional associations. The WorldCALL 2008 conference will take place in Japan.

Professional journals

Journals dedicated to CALL

  • CALICO Journal
  • Teaching English with Technology (IATEFL Poland)
  • CALL-EJ On-line (online journal)
  • Computer Assisted Language Learning: An International Journal
  • CALL Review The International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language Learning Technologies Special Interest Group's regular newsletter
  • IALLT Journal (International Association for Language Learning Technology)
  • JALTCALL Journal (Japan Association of Language Teaching - Computer-Assisted Language Learning Special Interest Group)
  • ON-CALL (Australia) Archives only - now incorporated into CALL-EJ:
  • Language Learning and Technology (online journal)
  • ReCALL (European Association for Computer-Assisted Language Learning)

Journals that regularly include CALL articles

  • System

See also

  • Autonomous Technology-Assisted Language Learning (ATALL) Wikibook
  • List of Educational Software
  • Intelligent computer-assisted language instruction (ICALI)
  • Electronic flashcards
  • Memory
  • Mnemonics

External links

  • Langwidge - Various experiments on using software for language-learning.
  • Languages ICT - Languages ICT Website: A website for people interested in ICT and languages, maintained by CILT and the Association for Language Learning.
  • Graham Davies's Freestuff - Links to free materials and articles on CALL by Graham Davies, Emeritus Professor of Computer Assisted Language Learning.
  • gradint a program for self-study of foreign languages (cross-platform; requires data to be added)
  • Heavner a wiki like language learning system.
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