Linguistics and the Teaching of English as a Second/Foreign Language

Posted: December 20, 2010 in CALL related linguistic

CALL Mini-Course

Unit 1: Introduction to Computer-Assisted Language Learning.


In general CALL can refer to any language learning or teaching that involves the computer in a significant way. CALL can be

* one student on one computer with interactive software
* two or three students on one computer with interactive software
* students on computers interacting with other students (computer-mediated communication)
* students on computers working with web-based language content
* students interacting with one another and a teacher through a computer (online class)
* a teacher using a single computer and large monitor or data projector for class instruction
* and other options

CALL environments can be a classroom, a computer lab with the teacher present, a computer lab with students working independently, or students working at a public computer, at home, or elsewhere. The microcomputer has been a central element of this for the past few decades, although notebook computers, PDAs, and even cell phones are beginning to be utilized.

Computers in language teaching: tutor vs. tool. The field of CALL is split more or less into two camps: those who see the computer as a machine for delivering interactive language learning and practice material–the computer as tutor–and those who see it as a means for learners to experience the authentic language and communication opportunities and enhancements afforded by computers–the computer as tool (Levy 1997). It is of course possible, I would say preferable, to recognize these not as opposing philosophies but as end points along the same language teaching continuum that balances teacher-fronted and group work in a classroom. In other words, effective language learning can include elements of both. Consequently, in this introduction to the field I will try to strike a balance between them so that you come out of this able to recognize the potential advantages of using neither, one, or both for a given teaching situation.

Acronyms and attitudes. This field has gone by a number of different names as groups of practitioners have attempted to impose their own philosophies. CALL remains the generic term

* CALL: Computer-assisted language learning (the generic term); sometimes Computer-aided language learning
* CALI: Computer-assisted language instruction (more teaching oriented; less learner focused)
* CBLT: Computer-based language training (views elements of language learning as “training”)
* CELL: Computer-enhanced language learning (computer’s role is less central)
* TELL: Technology-enhanced language learning (accommodates more than just computers)
* ICTinLT: Information and Communication Technologies in Language Teaching (focuses more on tool use)
* NBLT: Network-Based Language Teaching. (focuses on computer-mediated communication and the web


CALL began in the 1960s with mainframe-based drills, especially those based on the University of Illinois’ PLATO system. It remained an insignificant alternative for language learning until the spread of the microcomputer into educational settings in the early 1980s. Early programs were written by teacher-developers on Apple II, IBM PC, and BBC computers, and were often distributed for free. Commercial programs, when available, were usually quite expensive but were generally more stable and technically sophisticated (though not as innovative). There was some work done with interactive laser disks during this time which provided the foundations for multimedia.

In the late 1980s and early 90s, the Apple Macintosh replace the Apple II in many educational settings and became a favorite among teacher-developers because of the support of HyperCard, a powerful but easy-to-use authoring program. The Mac had built-in sound, making it easier to work with than PCs which had incompatible proprietary boards competing with one another. Early Macs (and HyperCard) did not support color, however, so commercial programs continued to appear for PCs. The PC market was also dominant in most countries outside the US because the machines could be obtained much more cheaply than Macs.

During this period, the use of the computer as a tool increased as teachers developed innovative techniques for using email and word processors became integrated into writing classes. Some teachers helped students develop their own HyperCard projects or ones in similar applications developed for the PC, such as ToolBook. It was noted that building collaborative projects around the computer and using computer mediated communication (CMC) had a strong effect on some students’ motivations and seemed to make it easier for shy students to become involved. Some teachers built assignments around student interactions in multi-user domains (MUDs), the precursors of today’s chat rooms.

Two major changes came starting in the mid-1990s. One was the dramatic increase in commercial multimedia for language learning as CD-ROMs became standard in home computers. The other was the development of the world wide web. Because of the web and increased access to the Internet in general, the past five or six years have seen a major shift toward tool uses, and many newcomers to CALL define the field almost entirely in those terms.


Teachers interested in CALL can get involved in a number of different ways. Here are some possibilities.

* As researchers: into second language acquisition, human-computer interaction, what works for CALL
* As consumers of CALL software for class use or building web activities into course work
* As directors, helping students find and use supplementary CALL materials or web resources
* As managers of computer-mediated communication among learners in and out of class
* As software or web developers, either “from scratch” or adding new materials to existing templates
* As coaches to help students develop software, websites, and general computer literacy
* As CALL experts for your program, helping other teachers and administrators with CALL implementations
* As CALL professionals, consulting on external projects, doing software reviews for journals, making conference presentations, writing papers, interpreting and applying CALL research, and/or providing input to the field at large.


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