An Assessment of the Application of Research from Second Language Acquisition and Related Fields to the Creation of Spanish CALL Materials for Lexical Acquisition

Posted: December 21, 2010 in CALL related linguistic

Barbara A. Lafford
Peter A. Lafford
Arizona State University

Julie Sykes
University of Minnesota

Despite the problems presented by lexical errors in second language (L2) communication, most computer assisted language learning (CALL) programs tend to focus on the acquisition of grammar points rather than on the development of the L2 lexicon. In addition, CALL vocabulary tasks are typically limited in scope and mechanical in nature, covering mostly basic lexical meanings and ignoring many implications of language-related research that points out the need to focus on the layers of meanings associated with lexical items in various cultural contexts. This article brings together findings from research in various research fields related to Spanish SLA (e.g., cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics, and sociolinguistics) in order to propose 10 design features (DFs) of CALL software that would apply these insights to the creation of various types of computer-based lexical acquisition activities. As the authors propose these principles, they review several examples of Spanish CALL lexical materials in terms of their application of current theory (SLA and related fields) to practice (the design of the software activities to teach vocabulary). To conclude, the authors discuss logistical barriers that complicate and inhibit the application of theory and empirical research to practice in the creation of Spanish CALL lexical materials.


CALL, Lexical Acquisition, Design Features (DFs), Second Language Acquisition


In the spirit of the interdisciplinary approach to the study of second language acquisition (SLA), as proposed by McLaughlin (1998), Kramsch (2000), and

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Atkinson (2002), this article brings together findings from research in various research fields related to Spanish SLA (e.g., cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics, and sociolinguistics) in order to propose 10 design features (DFs) of computer-assisted language learning (CALL) software that would apply these insights to the creation of various types of computer-based lexical acquisition activities. As we propose these principles we will review several examples of Spanish CALL lexical materials (stand-alone CD-ROM and DVD products as well as those that accompany textbooks, either CD-ROM or web based) currently on the market in terms of their application of current theory (SLA and related fields) to practice (the design of the software activities to teach vocabulary). In addition, we will discuss logistical barriers that complicate and inhibit the application of theory and empirical research to practice in the creation of Spanish CALL lexical materials.


The importance of the study of second language (L2) vocabulary acquisition is evident from research findings cited by Gass and Selinker (2001, p. 372): (a) lexical errors constitute most L2 errors, and (b) both learners and native speakers (NSs) view lexical errors as the most serious and disruptive obstacles to communication. These results are consonant with VanPatten’s (1996) concept of communicative value in his input processing model. Within this model, students pay more attention to meaning than to form in the input they receive; those items in the input with greater communicative value (nouns, verbs, and adjectives with lexical meaning) are perceived, comprehended, and converted to intake more easily than grammatical markers (e.g., past time preterite and imperfect verbal aspectual endings) that redundantly provide information already presented by lexical items in the linguistic context (e.g., past time = ayer ‘yesterday’). Results of research on computer-mediated communication (CMC) (Blake, 2000; Blake & Zyzik, 2003; Tudini, 2003; Smith, 2003) also show that learners tend to negotiate for meaning (lexical issues) rather than for form (syntactic and grammatical errors).

Despite the central role that the lexicon plays in second language acquisition, a cursory look at most CALL programs will reveal that the great majority of practice and assessment activities focus on L2 grammar rather than on L2 vocabulary. Unfortunately, this lack of attention to the acquisition of lexical items on the part of software authors and publishers (related, perhaps, to the relative lack of research on L2 lexical acquisition published to date1) has resulted in an abundance of mechanical CALL vocabulary exercises that focus on the lexical meaning of single word items (e.g., matching L1-L2 meanings, matching L2 lexical items with pictures, and fill-ins) and that do not often provide insights into the meaning of the lexical item in context as a reflection of perspectives, products, or practices (National Standards, 1996) of the target culture, nor into the organization of the L2 lexical schemata (word associations) in the minds of NSs of the target language.

Therefore, in order to bring CALL activities that purport to facilitate the complex process of lexical (vocabulary) acquisition in line with the insights of current


research, it is imperative that the decisions of software authors and publishers be informed by the work of scholars from many disciplines. The 10 DFs of lexical CALL activities proposed in this paper constitute a step in that direction.


The DFs proposed in this article are based upon several assumptions concerning the L2 lexicon: lexical codification, intra- and intersign relations, linear versus recursive models of lexical acquisition, lexical access and retrieval and controlled versus automatic processing of lexical items.

Lexical Codification

L1 and L2 lexicons are composed of codified lexical items at the word level or higher. A lexical item, or a lexeme, is “an item which functions as a single meaning unit, regardless of the number of orthographical words it contains” (Schmitt & McCarthy, 1997, p. 329). Multiword items (e.g., phrases, idioms, and proverbs) are often referred to as collocational structures, composed of items that often occur together (e.g., En boca cerrada no entran moscas. ‘Flies do not enter a closed mouth.’= ‘Silence is golden.’).

Intra- and Intersign Relations

The L2 lexicon is acquired through the establishing of intra- and intersign connections (de Saussure, 1916) within and among linguistic signs in the mind of the learner.

Intrasign relations

Henricksen (1999) proposes that lexical development involves the incremental mapping of various features onto an item via semantization/labeling and packaging. Semantization refers to intrasign relations, or the mapping (binding, Terrell, 1986) of meaning (signatum) onto form (signans). From a connectionist perspective (N. Ellis, 1994), this involves the strengthening and amplification of form-meaning connections. Packaging occurs when new features (e.g., pragmatic, sociolinguistic, contextual/dialectic, and metaphoric) and connotations are added to a lexical item whose denotative meaning has already been partially acquired. Most current CALL vocabulary activities involve the creation of these intrasign connections between form and meaning.

Intersign relations

The least studied aspect of the learner’s lexicon is the “depth-of-knowledge” dimension (Henricksen, 1999), or the structure of the student’s lexical knowledge, that is, how different lexical items relate to one another (intersign relations). Learners need optimal neurological networks to access lexical items efficiently, achieved through the creation of “intentional links” and “sense relations” between lexemes (see Aitchison, 1994). From a connectionist viewpoint, the L2 learner’s


mental lexicon is an “active network of meanings and phonological forms” (Goodfellow & Laurillard, 1994, p. 24). This neural network consists of links among informational nodes that vary in strength according to the nature and quantity of acoustic and conceptual features that they share (e.g., words in a given semantic field or derivational paradigm would have strong associations among them). When a lexeme is activated, the activation simultaneously spreads to other linked items (priming effects). For example, the activation of the lexeme rosa ‘rose’ could also activate ‘rosal’ ‘rose garden’ (Dell, 1986). Learners not only need to understand paradigmatic relationships among related L2 lexical items (e.g., synonyms, antonyms, and hyponyms) but also need to be aware of syntagmatic codified patterns (collocations formed by strong links between certain lexical items) in the target language. Since the production of an L2 lexical item depends in part on its activation by related items, CALL software should provide ample opportunities for learners to activate associated lexemes via form/meaning relations.

Linear versus Recursive Models of Lexical Acquisition

Extrapolating from Gass and Selinker’s (2001) recursive model of SLA, we propose that lexical retrieval (output) is not merely the end product of a static linear model of vocabulary acquisition but, rather, constitutes an important part of the dynamic and recursive process of lexical acquisition. Unfortunately, the vocabulary learning model proposed by Goodfellow (1993) and Goodfellow and Laurillard (1994) is linear in nature (reception −> integration −> retrieval) and does not capture the recursive role of output (retrieval) in the acquisition process.2 Therefore, a recursive lexical model of vocabulary acquisition is needed to recognize that retrieval (output) plays a continuous role in the constant elicitation and reception of new forms, their integration (via hypothesis testing, positive and negative feedback, and negotiation of meaning) into the L2 lexical system and the facilitation of their future retrieval. CALL vocabulary activities are especially suited to work within this recursive model since they allow students to control the amount of input and feedback they receive on their output and the number of times they access or retrieve lexical items as they integrate them during the acquisition process.

Lexical Access and Retrieval

Lexical knowledge is best conceptualized as a continuum between the ability to recognize the meaning of a lexical item (lexical access) and the ability to use it productively (lexical retrieval). Snellings, Van Gelderen, and de Glopper (2002) propose that lexical access activities “should require only recognition of the words and their properties, whereas [lexical retrieval] exercises can be more demanding, involving actual production of the target words by learners” (p. 729).

Controlled versus Automatic Processing of Lexical Items

The speed at which learners go from reception to integration and retrieval of new lexical items depends on their access to controlled vs. automatic processing


(Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977) of the target forms.

In controlled processing, the response is not yet learned (automatized), and the stimulus must be temporarily held in working memory3 in order for memory nodes to be activated or created. Memory consists of associated nodes that are activated in sequence throughout the learning process. The optimum environment for controlled processing to take place would be one in which distractions are kept to a minimum and learners are able to take time to fully attend to the process. In addition, feedback on learner L2 hypotheses would be available to learners during this process so that they will notice interlanguage-L2 gaps and take the necessary time to modify their output. Automatic processing occurs when a response is routinized through practice by the activation of associated nodes. These activation patterns become a learned response that quickens over time and that is difficult to alter at a later date.

A continuum exists between controlled and automatic processing (Schmidt, 1992) along which the learner moves with more L2 practice. Self-paced CALL activities afford L2 learners the time they need for controlled processing of new L2 lexical items (time that they may not have in class), so that the forms in question may become automatized as a result of learner-controlled frequent practice of lexical access and retrieval activities.

Research Questions

Although we do not discount the hypothesis that some vocabulary learning may take place subconsciously and implicitly (see Krashen, 1989; Gass, 1999; Nation, 1999), in this article we adopt the position taken by Hulstijn (1992) and N. Ellis (1994) that the learning of vocabulary is enhanced by explicit instructional intervention. Therefore, the questions we will explore are the following:

• What DFs of second language learning software (based on research from the field of second language acquisition and related disciplines) would seem to facilitate lexical acquisition?

• To what extent do various examples of Spanish L2 CALL software reflect the insights of this research?

• What logistical barriers exist to the application of research findings from SLA and related fields to the creation of CALL materials?


In this section, 10 research-based DFs for the creation of CALL lexical activities will be presented along with an evaluation of selected Spanish CALL software products (textbook ancillaries as well as stand-alone products) vis-à-vis their adherence to or deviance from these features. The 10 DFs can be categorized under three basic themes: the importance of context, input issues and depth of processing in L2 CALL lexical activities. In this review, certain Spanish CALL programs and activities were selected for their ability to illustrate the application of these DFs.


The Importance of Context for Lexical Acquisition

DF #1: New lexical items should be introduced in authentic cultural, sociolinguistic, and pragmatic contexts.

Over the last several decades the conceptualization of the integration of cultural awareness into the foreign language curriculum has changed considerably. During most of the 20th century, the traditional dichotomy made by foreign language pedagogues of Olympian (literary and artistic accomplishments–Big ‘C’ culture) versus hearthstone (beliefs, behavior, and values–Little ‘c’ culture) culture (Brooks, 1971) relegated cultural awareness to a compartmentalized objective, isolated from the actual task of learning the target language. Kramsch (1993) objected to this view of culture as an “expendable fifth skill” and proposed that “if language is seen as social practice, culture becomes the very core of language teaching” (p. 8). Her view of “language as social practice” is also reflected in the national standards movement in which culture, consisting of “the philosophical perspectives, the behavioral practices and the products—both tangible and intangible of a society” (1996, p. 43), is integrated with the other C’s (communication, connections, comparisons, communities) to become an integral part of the language-learning process.

In order to foster awareness of the social practices in the target culture (C2), learners must observe and critically analyze how NSs of the target language engage in social practices within authentic C2 contexts (Hall, 1999); this in-depth analysis facilitates the mapping of new forms to new meanings and concepts within appropriate cultural, sociolinguistic, and pragmatic contexts and helps learners avoid making naïve assumptions of equivalence between the native and target cultural systems (Mantle-Bromley, 1992). Multimedia programs can potentially play a significant role in this effort, but the field of Spanish CALL software is strewn with products with technically outstanding visuals that do not take advantage of this opportunity (e.g., Rosetta Stone Spanish Latin America 1&2, TeLL Me More Spanish, Live Action Spanish Interactive: TPR on a Computer). In an attempt to cut costs and create a product in which “one size fits all,” publishers often use the same pictures of people, places, and things for teaching several different languages.4

A notable exception is Transparent Language’s Learn Spanish Now (CD-ROM) that introduces new vocabulary (e.g., points out the use of vale in Spain for ‘OK’) in scripted dialogues that take place in various Spanish-speaking countries (Spain, Puerto Rico, and Colombia) between the protagonist (a producer of commercials) and NSs from those regions in various pragmatic contexts. Other examples of Spanish CALL products that provide examples of authentic language use among NSs include Paradoja, a CD-ROM containing an authentic documentary of the Miss Universe Pageant in Peru in 1982 (including public commentary by Peruvians on the event—an “emic”5 approach to the target culture) and EuroTalk Interactive Advanced Spanish: Movie Talk Spanish, an advanced-level DVD containing a television episode from the target culture (Querido Maestro).

Sociolinguistic research over the last four decades also needs to inform applied


linguists, CALL developers, and consumers. Studies carried out on regional and social linguistic variation among native Spanish speakers need to be taken into account when deciding which dialects and sociolects to include in CALL programs.6 For instance, insights from recent work in Spanish L1 pragmatic variation across dialects (García, 2004, 2007a, 2007b) should also be incorporated into functionally driven CALL activities.

Unfortunately, very few of the CALL programs reviewed incorporated models of speech from several dialects of Spanish. On the other hand, some programs (e.g., Learn Spanish Now) deliberately create opportunities for learners to listen to speakers from various Spanish dialects. Moreover, in the video and textbook sections on diferencias dialectales in Impresiones: Textbook and Companion Website, for the first time in a first-year textbook, Spanish dialect differences are described and students are asked to actively and critically analyze them. These tasks are carried out to the website and CD-ROM that accompany the book. Nevertheless, we did not find Spanish CALL programs that focused on modeling and teaching speech acts per se, nor did we find any that commented on pragmatic variation among various regional varieties of Spanish.

Input Issues

DF #2: Learners use background knowledge to understand and access new lexical items.

Gass and Selinker (2001) note the important role that background knowledge plays in the apperception and comprehension of input. According to schema theory (Bartlett, 1932; Rumelhart, 1980; Carrell & Eisterhold, 1983) learners rely upon previously acquired structures of knowledge (schemata) to construct meaning from new texts. Whenever possible, CALL software should help establish new links between new L2 information (lexical items) and previous knowledge of target language vocabulary items within an authentic C2 cultural context (see DF #1).

When schemata are composed of a series of events that prototypically characterize a set of actions (e.g., buying a plane ticket), the term “script” (Schank & Abelson, 1977) is used. The powerful effect of scripts on a learner’s understanding of a new text partially explains why the use of narratives has been so effective in the teaching of language (Bruner, 1996; MENO project); learners rely on their understanding of narrative structure to understand and predict the actions of the story and the meaning of unknown words.

Despite the importance of the use of background knowledge in the study of second languages, our review of Spanish CALL software found few vocabulary exercises that explicitly called upon learners’ prior knowledge to understand new lexical items or access and practice lexical items already acquired. However, the Quía website contains a vocabulary exercise from Imágenes, E-SAM & Electronic Workbook, in which learners need to draw on background world knowledge in order to retrieve the word (type) that categorizes a list of items (tokens). For example, learners are asked to come up with the word “supermercado” as the overall


descriptive term for the following list: Safeway, Piggly Wiggley. Nevertheless, while it is true that learners’ familiarity with these stores in their native (US) culture may help them to retrieve the overall concept of ‘supermarket’ = supermercado, this exercise could easily have been enhanced by including examples of supermarkets from the C2 (e.g., Corte Inglés [Spain] or Carulla [Colombia]) so that the learners begin to make C2 associations for that word. The use of narratives to teach Spanish can be found in Tesoros CD-ROM, Nuevos Destinos, Un misterio en Toluca and Encuentros en español.

DF #3: Learners are provided with multimodal input (dual coding of audio/video and written text/pictures) containing new lexical items to be acquired.

The effectiveness of multimodal input in language learning environments can be explained by Mayer’s (1997) generative theory of multimedia learning, based on Wittrock’s (1990) psychological generative theory and Paivio’s (1971) dual coding theory. The latter theory proposes that a learner possesses two symbolic systems: one dealing with verbal information and the other specializing in nonverbal information (e.g., objects or pictures). Dual coding theory proposes that the two systems are interconnected and that representations in one system can be activated by those in the other system. Thus, multiple (auditory and visual) pathways of retrieval of new vocabulary words are established due to the simultaneous engagement of auditory (echoic) and visual (iconic) memory. Dual coding theory also allows learners to process new L2 forms more deeply and to associate them directly with images from the target culture, instead of merely linking the target form to an equivalent L1 form. Research on the use of L2 captions (Markhan, 1989; Garza, 1991; Smith & Shen, 1992) has shown the effectiveness of multimodal input (simultaneous presentation of new L2 lexical items in oral and written [captions] modes) in foreign language teaching contexts.

Several examples of Spanish CALL software exist that incorporate multimedia presentations of new vocabulary items. For instance in its Mira ‘Watch [and hear]’ mode, Live Action Spanish Interactive: TPR on a Computer provides learners with short video clips that illustrate new lexical items in a given context (e.g., in the “cleaning the house” lesson a man is seen carrying out various housecleaning chores). However, learners can also choose the Mira y lee ‘Watch and read’ mode and see the written text of the same auditory phrases they have already heard given as TPR commands (e.g., Barre el piso. ‘Sweep the floor.’) while the video is playing.

In addition, Rosetta Stone Spanish Latin America presents new vocabulary by associating a spoken rendition of the new word with a picture of the item in questions which can also be accompanied by a written representation of the word. Instead of relying on L1-L2 translation associations for new vocabulary, this program proposes to teach via a dynamic immersion method in which students learn “naturally,” the same way they acquired their native language, “by directly associating words—written and spoken—with objects, actions and ideas that convey meaning,” (Rosetta Stone Spanish, 2003b, p. 2) without depending on “translation, lengthy explanations of grammar, or memorization drills” (p. 2). In fact, explicit


grammar explanations do not appear until Level 3. Although this approach is partially supported by language-related research (e.g., the value of multimodal presentations to teach vocabulary without the use of L1), the idea that it is beneficial to withhold all explicit grammar explanations at beginning levels of adult second language learning is not supported by research in the field.

The potential use of DVD technology (with L2 written captions to accompany the video) to exploit the use of multimodal presentations in foreign language teaching contexts has just begun to be realized. As mentioned earlier, EuroTalk Interactive Advanced Spanish: Movie Talk Spanish, an advanced-level Spanish DVD CALL software product, is based on a C2 television program. Although its use of full motion video can be very motivating for students, the high-end technical requirements to run this software (Ledgerwood, 2001) may put this program out of reach of many foreign language students.

DF #4: New lexical items are made salient in the input.

The idea that saliency of L2 lexical items in the input facilitates their acquisition is based on Schmidt’s (1993) noticing hypothesis, which states that learners must attend to (notice) items in the input before they can be integrated into the L2 system. Gass and Selinker (2001) have incorporated this notion into their model of second language acquisition by making a distinction between “apperceived” (noticed) and “comprehended” (understood) input. Even though the research carried out on the effectiveness of enhanced input (e.g., written input in which certain lexical items have been highlighted with a different color or font) has been inconclusive,7 Chapelle (1998) proposes highlighting (enhancing) certain parts of the input in multimedia instructional materials to promote noticing (apperception) by learners. VanPatten and Leeser’s (2006) review of the literature on textual enhancement points out that the research on this topic has focused on the highlighting and acquisition of grammatical forms and that enhancement of those forms in the input may be only effective when accompanied by explicit instruction on the grammar point in question. It is clear that more research on input enhancement needs to be carried out, and expanded to include the study of the acquisition of enhanced lexical items.

A good example of the use of enhanced input to highlight new vocabulary items can be seen in TeLL Me More Spanish. In the section containing compartmentalized culture capsules in the form of written texts, keywords in the cultural passage appear at the top of the reading passage and are also highlighted in black within a blue text. Other examples of software with enhanced input features include En busca de esmeraldas, a network-based activity in which the instructions given to learners for the simulation (see DF #10) present important information in another color (blue) and larger font size [here, underlined] (Necesitas llegar hasta el edificio y tomar el ascensor de la derecha), and Learn Spanish Now (CD-ROM) in which the text for the phrase currently being uttered by a person in the video dialogue is automatically highlighted in blue and contrasted with the rest of the dialogue script that appears on the screen.


DF #5: Learners are encouraged to use a variety of resources to help with the understanding of new words in context (e.g., dictionaries [L1 vs. L2], glosses, and pictures).

Although research has shown that vocabulary is often acquired incidentally through guessing from context while reading (Lee & Wolf, 1997), the use of various resources to facilitate lexical comprehension (e.g., dictionaries and glosses) is effective in helping learners understand the meaning of a text (Laufer & Hill, 2000). Some scholars (Luppescu & Day, 1993; Knight, 1994) have noted a positive effect of the use of dictionaries on textual comprehension, even though the look-up process may adversely affect their reading speed (Lantolf, Labarca and den Tuinder, 1985). However, Hulstijn, Hollander, and Greidanus (1996) found that incidental vocabulary learning is much higher when L2 readers have access to the meanings of words through marginal glosses than through a dictionary. Several scholars (Chun & Plass, 1996; Lomicka, 1998; Laufer & Hill, 2000; Al-Seghayer, 2001) have since found multimedia glosses (combinations of text, picture and video) to be more effective for incidental vocabulary learning than glosses in just one mode (textual, visual, or audio). (See DF #3 for a discussion of the positive effects of multimedia on L2 acquisition.)

Every one of the Spanish CALL CD-ROM and DVD software programs we reviewed provided the learner with at least a bilingual (English/Spanish) dictionary function. The Learn Spanish Now CD-ROM not only provides learners with an L1 gloss of the word in question, but also includes an L1 translation of the entire phrase in which the word is found in order for learners to understand the meaning of the word in a particular context. The Tesoros CD-ROM provides pictures (drawings) to accompany the L1 glosses for L2 vocabulary words, while EuroTalk Interactive Advanced Spanish: Movie Talk Spanish offers only still shots from the DVD video (accessed by clicking on the word in question) to accompany words in the vocabulary list. The Ciberteca CD-ROM provides a variety of options for glosses: text (English and Spanish definitions), picture, and video glosses for students with different learning preferences (visual vs. audio).

Depth of Processing

DF #6: Learners engage in deep processing of new lexical items:

a. New lexical items are introduced and repeated in several different contexts for learners’ deeper processing of lexemes and collocations.

b. Learners engage in complex lexical access activities that require applying mental effort and making inferences, rather than just providing simple, discrete-point L1-L2 lexical associations.

The levels of processing framework (Craik & Lockhart, 1972) proposes that deep-level processing of semantic information leads to better long term memory retention of the material. Due to the limitations of working memory and the “phonological loop” (Baddeley, 1986), “the component of working memory responsible for the temporary storage of verbal information,” (Gathercole & Thorn, 1998,


p. 145), learners can hold only a certain amount of information at a time; if pressured by time or circumstance, a new lexeme will leave learners’ working memory before it can be processed, leaving only a trace of the item with no precise form to retrieve. Wingfield, Lahar, and Stein (1989) propose that the durability of a memory trace depends on the attention paid to it when first heard and how deeply it was processed.

Connectionist theory (N. Ellis, 2002) proposes that depth of processing is related to the frequency of a lexical item in the input. Frequent processing of lexical items leads to the strengthening of intra- and intersign associations in the neural network and helps to establish those associations in the long-term memory of the learner. Moreover, Snellings et al. (2002) propose that “repeated exposure may reduce the cognitive effort involved in lexical retrieval in L2 contexts” (p. 728), perhaps then allowing learners to expend their cognitive energies on processing new lexical or grammatical information. N. Ellis (1994) and Wesche and Paribakht (2000) also affirm that the deep processing of vocabulary items (e.g., multiple exposures to a new lexical item in several different tasks) enhances lexical acquisition.

Another determinant of the depth of processing of a lexical item is explained by the mental effort hypothesis (Hulstijn, 1992); when learners expend more mental effort processing new lexical items, they retain the material more effectively. For instance, N. Ellis (1994) affirms the facilitating effect of inferring a word’s meaning from context (a skill that requires mental effort from the learner) on lexical acquisition. In addition, Hulstijn (1992), Watanabe (1997), and Nagata (1999) found that multiple-choice glosses (in which the learner had to weigh options to guess the meaning of a word in context and, therefore, processed the word more deeply) were more effective than single glosses that just provided the meaning of the glossed item.

Several of the Spanish CALL software programs we reviewed presented and worked with new vocabulary items within a given activity, but not often did we find a conscious effort to recycle and reuse the same vocabulary in different activities either within a whole lesson or in other lessons. Often, vocabulary activities were compartmentalized (like the culture “capsules” already mentioned) and were not integrated or recycled into multiple lexical or grammatical activities in various lessons.

A notable exception to this generalization includes the presentation and processing of vocabulary in Live Action Spanish Interactive: TPR on a Computer, a program that recycles the same vocabulary by working with video clips of people performing a series of actions (scripts) as a response to a TPR command (e.g., Siéntate en tu escritorio. ‘Sit at your desk.’ in an office context). Learners can strengthen new intra- and intersign relations that obtain between the new lexical items presented in the commands by replaying the same video clips in several different modes (mira = learners watch/hear video clips of actions; escucha = learners match oral cue to picture from video clip; interactúa = learners click and drag new lexical items according to oral cue; mira y lee = learners see video clip and the written text of the oral cues; ordena = learners put elements of the “script”


in order using the same oral cues and pictures). Other examples of software that spiral and recycle and reinforce vocabulary in several lexical access activities include Rosetta Stone Spanish Levels 1&2, Caminos Multimedia CD-ROM and Learn Spanish Now.

An example of a Spanish CALL activity that requires mental effort can be seen in the Quía activity for ¿Sabías qué? in which learners first listen to an oral description of a situation (e.g., a student just did poorly on an exam) and then they hear Ignacio sacó una mala nota en un curso importante. ‘Ignacio received a bad grade in an important course.’ They have to make inferences about how that person is feeling by choosing between está deprimido ‘he is sad/depressed’ and está contento ‘he is happy.’ Since neither the word deprimido nor contento appears in the oral script, learners must use mental effort to make an inference about the student’s state of mind.

DF #7: Learners focus on relations among L2 lexical items (synonyms, antonyms, hyponyms, items in same semantic field, etc.) for expanding depth of knowledge and understanding of L2 collocational possibilities in lexical access and lexical retrieval modes.

Several scholars have noted that the focus on associations among lexical items can strengthen intersign relations (Henricksen’s [1999] “depth of knowledge”). Thus, creating L2 word associations aids memory, access and retrieval of these lexical items, and helps to create L2 lexical schemata in the minds of learners.

In light of the facilitating effect of word associations on L2 lexical acquisition, learners should be given ample opportunities to access and retrieve lexical items in activities that promote the categorical arrangement of that material. For instance, both vocabulary grouping access activities (Allen & Crozier, 1992) and semantic mapping retrieval activities (Morin & Goebel, 2001), in which learners productively associate related words in schematic form, have been shown to facilitate lexical acquisition and retrieval.

Furstenberg, Levet, English, and Maillet’s (2001) report of the Cultura project in a CMC environment demonstrated that learners need to be made aware that associations between a word and related items in their L1 may differ greatly from the L2 associations related to an “equivalent” word in the L2. In order to make sure the L2-L2 associations that learners make are similar to those made by NSs and are not based naïvely on L1 associations (DF #1), care should be taken to present the L2 words together in authentic L2 cultural and pragmatic contexts. Ife, Vives Boix, and Meara (2000) and Lantolf (1999) note the facilitating effects that extended periods of living/working in the target culture have on the organization of a learner’s lexicon along NS lines. However, multimedia CALL activities that present lexical items in authentic C2 contexts can begin to make novice, intermediate, and advanced “at home” learners more aware of NS L2 word associations.

Although lexical association activities are not frequently found in Spanish CALL programs, a few programs do provide this opportunity for the strengthening of L2 intersign relations. For instance, the Avance! online activities provide production/retrieval exercises that have students create sentences that explain the


relationship between various lexical items: given the words infancia y vejez, students are asked to create sentences like La infancia es la primera etapa de la vida y la vejez es la última. ‘Infancy is the first stage of life and old age is the last.’

The TeLL Me More Spanish program lets students group words according to conceptual (words and topics) or formal (words and functions) properties but simply presents lexically grouped words in an alphabetical list within a given category in the glossary. In addition, Live Action Spanish Interactive: TPR on a Computer contains video scripts in which antonyms are highlighted (e.g., in the oficinista setting, learners are presented with both Aflójate la corbata. ‘Loosen your tie.’ and Arréglate la corbata. ‘Fix your tie.’).

Even though paradigmatic word associations are treated in several Spanish CALL programs, syntagmatic word collocations (e.g., formulas and language “chunks” [idioms, proverbs]) are almost totally neglected.8 Connectionist theory emphasizes the important role that the acquisition of word sequences plays in the SLA process. For instance, N. Ellis (1996) proposes that “the attainment of fluent comprehension and production, in both native (L1) and second (L2) languages, involves the acquisition of memorized sequences of language” (p. 93). Weinert (1995) emphasized the importance of collocational formulas for reducing cognitive processing and as a strategy to facilitate production.

Although our review of Spanish CALL software did find some programs that provided multiple opportunities for students to access short chunks of material (e.g., TPR commands in Live Action Spanish Interactive: TPR on a Computer and directional phrases [a la derecha ‘on the right’] in En busca de esmeraldas), we found no exercises that explicitly asked learners to reconstruct collocations. However, CALL activities could easily be created that require students to match the first and last part of an L2 collocation, such as a proverb: Camarón que se duerme … se lo lleva la corriente. ‘The shrimp that sleeps is taken away by the current.’ = ‘You snooze, you lose.’

DF #8: Learners produce new L2 lexical items (in isolation and in context) in oral and written modes numerous times in various contexts for deeper processing.

The importance of production in the process of second language learning is assumed by most scholars in the field. For instance, Swain (1985), while acknowledging the role of comprehensible input (Krashen, 1985), proposed that comprehensible output serves “to provide opportunities for contextualized, meaningful use, to test hypotheses about the target language, and to move the learner from a purely semantic analysis of the language to a syntactic analysis of it” (p. 252).

Another function of output is to help learners develop automaticity (and increase control over previously internalized forms). As mentioned earlier, learners progress from controlled to automatic processing of forms via frequent practice (access and retrieval) with these items. Payne and Whitney (2002) contend that in second language production “controlled processing appears to play a central role in lexical access and articulation in a second language, at least until a high level of proficiency has been achieved” (p. 12). One advantage of CALL is that it can


serve as a language “simulator” by providing retrieval activities and feedback on that output to allow for controlled processing of new lexical items at the learner’s own pace. As a result of frequent L2 output practice with these activities, the learner’s production of lexical items becomes more automatic, and fluency is increased.

Although most of the vocabulary activities we reviewed in Spanish CALL software only involved access (recognition) of lexical items (e.g., click and drag, multiple choice), several programs provide opportunities for learners to actually produce new vocabulary items. For instance, the Quía activities for Dicho y hecho contain a crossword puzzle in which learners use L2 cues (Están en el cielo. ‘They are in the sky.’ Son blancas y grises. ‘They are white and gray.’) to activate the L2 target term nubes ‘clouds.’ The use of L2 clues in this retrieval activity allows for contextualization and is very effective in establishing L2-L2 word relationships via mental effort and deep processing. Also, feedback is given implicitly while learners are working since the crossword puzzle forms are dependent upon one another.

Although most programs do require students to retrieve lexical forms in production activities, they do not often provide opportunities for them to produce the same newly acquired L2 lexical items in oral and written modes numerous times in various contexts. An excellent example of a program that recycles new vocabulary in various lexical access and retrieval activities is Learn Spanish Now. In addition to introducing new vocabulary through the use of video-clip-scripted conversations among NSs in authentic C2 settings, several vocabulary access and retrieval activities are offered that focus on the deep processing of the same lexical items, e.g., word and sentence dictations (accompanied by wave forms), crosswords in which students fill in the crossword puzzle with words that are left out of written accounts of the line of dialogue from a video clip from the original dialogue, word unscrambling exercises accompanied by the video clip in which the words are said in their correct order, ‘plug-n-play’ in which learners click and drag appropriate words into the written script of the video clip that simultaneously plays, ‘vocabulous’ (in which students are presented with a sentence containing a blank ” , soy Andrés González” that students can fill in using cues from the video clip containing the phrase Hola. Soy Andrés González and the L1 translation of the whole phrase ‘Hello, I’m Andres Gonzalez.’). Of the programs we reviewed, Learn Spanish Now constitutes the best variety of access and retrieval Spanish CALL lexical activities for the same vocabulary items presented within authentic Hispanic contexts.

DF #9: Learners receive feedback on hypotheses about new L2 lexical items to assist with noticing of learner lexical errors (the interlanguage-L2 gap) and error correction.

a. Learners need multiple chances to correct errors and to negotiate meaning.

b. Feedback is graduated, contingent, naturalistic, and varied.


The importance of communicative interaction in the acquisition of a second language has been noted by various scholars over the past few decades (the interaction hypothesis developed by Hatch, 1978; Gass & Varonis, 1994; Long & Robinson, 1998). In Gass and Selinker’s (2001) recursive model of language processing, the negotiation of meaning (or form)9 assists in the conversion of input to intake; this negotiation takes place in order to bridge communication gaps that occur in interactions between learners and expert L2 speakers.

Research shows that negotiation between NSs and nonnative speakers (NNSs) typically focuses on lexical meaning, rather than on morphological aspects of words (Tudini, 2003; R. Ellis, Tanaka, & Yamakazi, 1994). However, even though de la Fuente (2002) reports that the research studies regarding the effectiveness of negotiation on vocabulary acquisition have reported contradictory findings, her own study found that negotiation was important for the comprehension and acquisition of L2 vocabulary.

In addition, in order to have the learner exert mental effort (DF #6) for deeper processing of the L2 material, learners should have multiple chances to correct their errors. As learners continuously make hypotheses, get feedback, and modify their hypotheses in CALL lexical access and retrieval activities, they become more aware of the forms in question and the role they play in the target language system. Furthermore, feedback on both oral and written output is necessary for the development of both types of production skills. Finally, learners should have a chance to produce modified output (R. Ellis & He, 1999) in order to reinforce correct forms during the controlled processing activities.

While in a classroom setting, learners have easy access to interlocutors (instructors or other students) with which to negotiate meaning, CALL environments present certain limitations to the amount and type of interaction that can take place. Although asynchronous and synchronous CMC does allow L2 learners to interact with each other or with an instructor to negotiate meaning (Chapelle, 1998; Blake, 2000; Payne & Whitney, 2002), this is more difficult to achieve in stand-alone CALL environments in which learners are interacting with a CALL software program instead of with another human being. Nevertheless, all of the Spanish software products that we reviewed did, at least, provide learners with feedback on their L2 hypotheses in lexical access and retrieval activities.

The Spanish CALL software reviewed provided mostly immediate, discrete-point positive and negative feedback, which can easily be programmed and thus allow the computer to serve as a tireless, efficient, and inexpensive tutor. For instance, the ancillary Quía-based activities we reviewed for several textbooks uniformly provided immediate explicit correction of learners’ incorrect choice (e.g., the click-and-drag activities that allowed the correct answer to “stick” to the targeted space while disallowing this for incorrect choices).

Within a sociocultural framework based on the work of Vygotsky (1978), Aljaafreh and Lantolf (1994) also propose that feedback to learners be graduated and contingent, that is, instead of immediately providing the correct answer, interlocutors can provide small hints to learners when necessary, so that learners can draw upon their own resources to correct themselves within the Zone of Proximal


Development. Ideally, feedback should also be naturalistic and varied, to emulate interlocutor reactions to learner output in real-life interactions with the L2 and to prevent learners from disengaging with the exercise if feedback always uses the same phrases (e.g., “Try again”).

An example of a program offering graduated and contingent feedback is Nuevos Destinos. In the multiple-choice written comprehension activities, this program provides a simple spoken no or trátalo otra vez ‘try again’ to a wrong answer and then proceeds to give an oral clue (based on the narrative already seen and read) to learners so that they can make the correct choice. If learners still do not choose the right answer on the next try, the original text containing the information required to answer correctly is provided, along with another spoken phrase hazlo de nuevo ‘do it again.’ This provision of progressively more explicit feedback clues instead of explicit correction also requires students to exert mental effort for deeper processing.

Even though most feedback in the Spanish CALL software programs is given to access (e.g., matching or clicking and dragging such as in Quía activities) or predictable written retrieval (output) activities (e.g., fill ins or dictations) the most innovative types of feedback are seen in oral activities. The Learn Spanish Now program provides feedback (wave forms [amplitude] and pitch [frequency] curves) on the pronunciation of repeated phrases so that learners can check their own production against that of the model. In addition to allowing self-monitoring, Learn Spanish Now also uses speech recognition software to give students general feedback on the quality of their pronunciation using an analogue meter with three categories (keep practicing/good job/wow!). The Rosetta Stone Spanish Latin America: Levels 1&2 software allows learners to record their voice and compare this “voiceprint” (consisting of pitch, emphasis [syllable stress], and form [high and low sounds] indicators) to the NS model.

An excellent example of speech recognition in Spanish CALL software is the program TeLL Me More Spanish that not only gives feedback (wave forms and pitch curves) to students on their pronunciation of lexical items, but also goes beyond asking students to simply repeat known phrases and requires that students make intelligent choices. For example, the program presents a picture of an object (e.g., pair of pants) with three possible words with which it could be labeled (e.g., los vestidos ‘dresses,’ los pantalones ‘pants,’ and los trajes ‘suits’). In the picture/word association section of the vocabulary workshop, learners merely click on the right word to select it, but, in another activity (picture/word association of the oral workshop), learners actually pronounce the word that corresponds to an image and the computer gives them feedback to indicate whether the correct form was pronounced. If students pronounce the correct form, it turns green; if they pronounce one of the two other forms or grossly mispronounce the correct form, the forms turn red. If students pronounce a form not on the list, the phrase “I do not understand you” appears in red at the top of the screen. In the dialogue activity in the oral and lesson workshops, TeLL Me More Spanish also provides opportunities for students to interact orally with the program and have the computer provide appropriate rejoinders to their choice of answers to its questions.10 Thus, students’


responses control the direction of the conversation with the disembodied voice of a NS removed from any particular social context.

Going a step further, Learn to Speak Spanish requires learners to interact with an image of a NS on screen who looks directly at them and asks a realistic question (e.g., a waiter asks “What would you like?”) within an authentic C2 cultural context. Learners reply to the stimulus question by orally recording one of the two predictable choices (lobster or wine). Thus, these two CALL programs (TeLL Me More Spanish and Learn to Speak Spanish) use speech recognition to move the dialogues along in accordance with the answers given by learners. These high-end speech recognition capabilities (using voice commands to control the direction of the activities in CALL programs) constitute the kind of cutting-edge CALL technology that will open the eyes of instructors and administrators to the possibilities of simulated communication that CALL can provide.

Another limitation of CALL software is the lack of ability of these programs to respond to spontaneous learner output that does not “match” anything that the programmers have anticipated. Therefore, instructors should have students seek out opportunities to use CMC to correspond with each other using new lexical items in various creative contexts. One example of Spanish CALL software that does involve real CMC communication with another interlocutor is Un misterio en Toluca. In this program, students participate in information gap activities with another learner through CMC in order to complete the exercises and solve the mystery. Although not involving CMC, En busca de esmeraldas encourages students to interact and speak with each other in the L2 to find a missing document during a computer simulation exercise (see discussion in DF #10).

DF #10: Learner engages in task-based activities to practice (access and retrieve), reinforce and integrate new lexical items into his/her interlanguage system.

Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) (Long, 1985) requires students to focus on the completion of practical real-world tasks rather than on isolated vocabulary lists or on decontextualized linguistic structures. Willis (1996) defines a task as “a goal-oriented activity in which learners use language to achieve a real outcome. In other words, learners use whatever target language resources they have in order to solve a problem, do a puzzle, play a game or share and compare experiences” (p. 53). The tasks learners are asked to perform in TBLT should be relevant to their needs as defined by their roles in a given learning scenario.

A focus on task (over text) as the level of analysis and the notion of “learning by doing” (based on the principle of situated cognition11 [Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989]) constitute 2 of the 10 methodological principles (instructional DFs) for CALL proposed by Doughty and Long (2003). As in real life, students engaged in the performance of tasks focus on meaning and often utilize both receptive (listening and reading) and productive (speaking and writing) skills. Through interaction with others in the performance of collaborative tasks, learners are motivated to form and test hypotheses (to convert input into intake) and receive valuable feedback that will help them integrate new material into their L2 systems in simulated real-world C2 contexts.


An excellent example of Spanish CALL that incorporates TBLT in a simulation environment is En busca de esmeraldas, developed at the University of Hawaii by González-Lloret. In her 2003 article, she explains the program in great detail and shows how it incorporates all of Doughty and Long’s (2003) 10 methodological principles and Chapelle’s (1998) developmental principles for multimedia CALL. The En busca de esmeraldas program involves students in a 3-D computer simulation of a real-world task in which they are hired to find a document in an office at the University of Hawaii. The students have the option of accepting or rejecting the job in writing (electronic letter). If they accept the job they are given (oral or written) instructions by a Spanish NS which they follow to find the document (a hidden map). The students are given the options of working as individuals, listening to or reading the directions given to them as they navigate a 3-D simulation through an office building, or in pairs, communicating in Spanish. Since one student has the instructions while his/her partner navigates through the building, this activity constitutes an information gap activity that helps to promote negotiation of meaning among interlocutors (Pica, Kanagy, & Falodun, 1993). Although the program contains state-of-the-art technology (3-D computer simulations), it is unfortunate that this high-tech simulation could not have taken place in a university in the Spanish-speaking world, where learners could have acquired directional phrases in a more culturally authentic context (DF #1).

As mentioned earlier, Un misterio en Toluca, an Internet-based murder mystery, asks students to adopt the identity of a person in the town where the murder occurred and engage in specific tasks (using evidence found in police reports and city hall records on the accompanying web site) in an information gap activity. Students communicate with each other via e-mail to look at all the evidence and solve the mystery.


Our review of several Spanish CALL programs has revealed various levels of application of available research from several related fields (e.g., second language acquisition, cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics, and sociolinguistics). In our review, we noted a wide variety of quality among programs as well as within a given program. Often it seems as though the activities were created in piecemeal fashion, with several people working on various parts of a CALL program without communicating with each other about the overall purpose or cogency of the activities.

Most of the ancillary web-based (Quía, Hot Potatoes) vocabulary exercises utilize traditional discrete-point activities (e.g., click and drag, multiple choice, matching, fill ins, dictations, word groupings) with explicit correction feedback. These types of web-based activities are very common, in part because they are easy and inexpensive to program and create (without video, animation, or multimedia), do not require high-end user hardware capabilities, are self-correctable, and focus on isolated lexical items at the word or phrase level. This emphasis on short segments of language is not surprising since most web-based ancillaries accompany first- and second-year language-teaching texts where learners are


working at the novice and intermediate levels on the ACTFL scale. In addition, these exercises focus mostly on the forming of intrasign (form-meaning) connections rather than intersign relationships (word associations) and require lexical access (recognition) more often than lexical retrieval (written or oral). It should also be noted that these activities are mainly used to practice vocabulary already learned in class using the textbooks for which they serve as ancillaries.

The multimedia stand-alone programs we reviewed were able to present new vocabulary to learners using visuals (pictures and videos). However, many of the really high-end, technologically sophisticated programs that used full-motion video, 3-D computer simulations, and/or speech recognition neglected to present and practice the new material in task-based activities or in authentic C2 contexts (TeLL Me More Spanish, Rosetta Stone Spanish Latin America, Live Action Spanish Interactive: TPR on a Computer, En busca de esmeraldas). In fact, several companies save money and sacrifice authenticity by using a “cookie cutter approach” to the production of L2 software, in which the same pictures or videos are used in programs to teach several different languages.12 In addition, only a few Spanish CALL programs actually incorporated CMC communication or NNS-NNS oral interaction to negotiate meaning as an essential part of the activities (Un misterio en Toluca, En busca de esmeraldas).

Thus, although language-related research is readily available, the insights from this scholarship do not seem to be implemented on a grand scale by commercial language learning software developers. The question then arises: What logistical barriers exist to the application of research findings from SLA and related fields to the creation of CALL materials?

Barriers to Application

We propose that barriers to the application of language-related research to CALL products are fundamentally related to three factors: (a) failure to draw upon specialized intellectual capital, (b) commercial publishers’ bottom line, and (c) lack of end-user access capabilities. In this paper we are defining specialized intellectual capital as the wisdom found mostly in the form of active SLA researchers who are avid readers of language-related research. The applications of the insights of such scholars is seen in innovative CD-ROM programs such as Learn Spanish Now by Transparent Language and by two CD-ROM programs developed and distributed by McGraw-Hill, Tesoros and Nuevos Destinos.13 The influence of informed scholarship is also seen in the En busca de esmeraldas program, a small-scale project created at the University of Hawaii by scholars well versed in language-related research.

However, evidence of the use of such specialized intellectual capital is sometimes not as evident in Spanish CALL products created by companies that are not normally in the foreign language textbook publishing business and appear to lack intimate ties with SLA scholars who could provide insights into possible pedagogical implications of language-related research. For instance, Fairfield Language Technologies’ Rosetta Stone Spanish Latin America, and Auralog’s


TeLL Me More Spanish, have outstanding technical infrastructure (e.g., excellent graphics, videos, pictures, and speech recognition software), but these products do not incorporate a number of the aforementioned research-based insights (e.g., the need for culturally authentic, task-based activities) that informed SLA scholars might have given them.14

One major factor contributing to the dearth of available intellectual capital is the lack of recognition that CALL software development receives from institutions of higher learning during the faculty tenure and promotion evaluation process (Garrett & Liddell, 2004). All too often, Assistant and Associate Professors are not rewarded professionally for the number of hours invested in the creation of good, research-based CALL materials. Thus, although more foreign language teachers are incorporating Internet technologies and other CALL materials into their teaching, not enough sound, state-of-the-art online instructional materials are being produced by scholars in SLA or applied linguistics since they need to conform to more traditional expectations regarding “good scholarship” (articles published in refereed journals) at their home institutions.

Another barrier to the application of research insights to CALL development has to do with the publishers’ “bottom line.” Textbook publishers often make pedagogical decisions based on financial factors rather than on research findings. For instance, several major publishers hire foreign language instructors to create discrete-point exercises in Quia or in Hot Potatoes. These web-based CALL activities are inexpensive and easy to produce, but they are limited in their ability to use multimedia or deal with creative output from students. The creation of ancillary CALL materials is mostly limited by publishers to true-false, multiple-choice, fill-in, and matching formats without any “bells and whistles” such as intelligent (adaptable) feedback. These features might require more complex platforms that (a) would require more company support and (b) might not be accessible to or affordable by many potential end users. Thus, CALL features that have been empirically proven to be effective (e.g., multimodal/multimedia presentations of NS interchanges in authentic cultural contexts, audio and video clips, picture/video glosses) would render the software product too expensive for many institutions to adopt. By keeping the CALL activities simple, publishers are able to offer Internet-based ancillary activities to customers with a minimum investment of the company’s time and money.

The type of feedback offered by most CALL programs is also rather limited due to the cost of researching and developing prototypes of materials incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) capabilities. These capabilities (AI and NLP) could make feedback more graduated and contingent (e.g., providing metalinguistic information for students to self-correct a particular error) or could deal more effectively with open-ended spontaneous student speech. As a result, student feedback is usually confined to accepting or rejecting anticipated preprogrammed answers.

This lack of ability to deal with spontaneous student speech is also a limitation with most speech recognition foreign language software. Even technologically sophisticated programs such as TeLL Me More Spanish, Rosetta Stone’s Spanish


Latin America Levels 1 & 2 and Learn Spanish Now still respond to students’ pronunciation of predictable, short phrases or words by providing wave forms and intonation patterns or by indicating that the student has correctly identified a lexical item. Even the programs that allow students to control the direction of the program orally (e.g., TeLL Me More Spanish and Learn to Speak Spanish) give students only preprogrammed choices to do so.

Foreign language publishers’ “bottom line” makes them reluctant to develop prototypes for CALL programs containing “bells and whistles” (e.g., multimedia or more sophisticated software incorporating artificial intelligence) when those programs are only ancillary activities to textbooks or are used to teach languages that do not attract a large number of students. However, some publishers are willing to take risks and create more cutting-edge stand-alone prototypes and invest more heavily in these activities in CD-ROM or DVD formats to be used for large first- or second-year language programs (e.g., Spanish, where there is likely to be a return on their investment). Nevertheless, as we have seen, sometimes publishers sacrifice cultural authenticity for the ability to recycle their visuals to teach several languages (see DF #1). We would, therefore, encourage more publishers to work with foreign language instructors to seek outside grant money in order to develop research-informed, culturally authentic software prototypes that can be tested in the marketplace and eventually developed into quality software products (e.g., McGraw-Hill worked with the Annenberg Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the WGBH Educational Foundation to create Nuevos Destinos, and the Tesoros was jointly funded by the Junta de Castilla y León and Boecillo Editora Multimedia and is distributed by McGraw-Hill).

Working collaboratively and seeking funding to develop prototypes would also facilitate the creation of more multimedia software with artificial intelligence components for helping students reach advanced levels of proficiency. Advanced learners need to be exposed to advanced-level authentic materials (e.g., target culture films or television) and need to produce and receive feedback on their production of extended spontaneous paragraph-level discourse. However, at present, this is only feasibly accomplished through interaction with NSs or instructors via CMC and face-to-face interactions. In addition, the high cost of copyright permissions to incorporate clips from contemporary films make it very difficult for publishers to utilize them in CALL programs. Perhaps seeking out foreign language films that are currently in the public domain or that come from countries with more liberal copyright laws than the US would aid this endeavor.

Thus, even though professionals in the field of foreign language teaching and research (Byrnes, 2002) tell us that functional professional L2 proficiency is needed for our citizens in the 21st century, publishers serving the US market are faced with financial barriers and often do not see a large return on their investment in creating advanced-level software for upper-division university classes, which have fewer students and normally have no laboratory component. However, since the linguistic marketplace (e.g., the fields of translation and interpretation for commercial, defense, legal, and medical purposes) demands that tomorrow’s workforce reach high levels of advanced L2 proficiency, educators and publishers


must find ways to work with the public and private funding organizations to create prototypes of more advanced level CALL software.15

The third major factor creating barriers between research findings and their application is the lack of end-user access to high-end technology to use technologically sophisticated CALL software. This lack of access is due to a lack of end-user resources, support costs, and compatibility issues. Publishers know that not all institutions of higher learning have state-of-the-art computer labs dedicated to the learning of foreign languages. In addition, many students attending state universities may not have high-end computer resources at home, either. As a result, publishers tend to create materials in platforms requiring the lowest technological common denominator (web-based) in order to sell more of their product to large state university foreign language programs with thousands of students in lower-division language courses. Even though more and more institutions are upgrading their computer capability and have machines that can support DVDs containing foreign language video, the technology is now moving toward streaming media environments. Even if universities do have the high-end media server hardware necessary to provide audio and video streams, the licensing to provide interactive (two-way) audio and video can cost several thousand dollars per year.

Another factor that affects student access deals with the compatibility of hardware and software platforms. Instructors sometimes find that there are audio and video hardware driver and configuration issues to overcome when trying to play CD-ROMs, DVDs, or streaming media in both Macintosh and PC environments. Web-based activities are easier to access, but problems sometimes occur with differences in browser versions, Java versions, video player plug-ins, and the ability for some machines to handle QuickTime, RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, which are always prompting users to install a newer version or a security upgrade. Therefore, to minimize support issues, some publishers prefer to create activities with minimal platform requirements (e.g., no animation, audio, or video). In addition, creativity in CALL development is sometimes constrained by publishers who require strict discrete-point formatting (e.g., true/false, multiple choice, fill ins, and matching) of web-based activities in order to maximize the compatibility of CALL activities and course management programs such as Blackboard and WebCT. Thus, publishers want to minimize investment in developing complex CALL materials but still want control over what is produced.

To conclude, the gap between language-related research findings and practical application of those insights to the development of Spanish CALL software seems to be the result of a lack of resources: specialized intellectual capital, the high cost (for publishers and consumers alike) of creating technologically sophisticated and culturally authentic language learning programs, and the lack of availability of high-end hardware and expensive licensing contracts for educational institutions. In order to remedy this situation, there needs to be more communication between researchers in language-related fields and software developers that enables them, for example, to apply for curriculum development grants to develop cutting-edge prototypes of CALL software grounded in language-related research. In addition, universities can volunteer to be beta test sites so that their language students at


all levels can benefit from cutting-edge technological innovations in CALL software. Informed university administrations should also be willing to supplement income from lab fees to help pay for support contracts for high-end CALL software grounded in the latest research from language-related fields.

Although it is true that software development that incorporates language-related research findings is a costly, major undertaking, the informed market demands it, publishers need to plan for it, and educational consumers need to budget for it. Referring back to the title of this article, this “bridging of the gap (trecho)” between research (lo dicho = ‘what is said’) and implementation (lo hecho = ‘what is done’) is necessary in order for Spanish CALL software products to be truly effective in facilitating the second language acquisition process.


1 See Lafford, Collentine, and Karp (2003) for a critical review of research on Spanish L2 lexical acquisition.

2 Readers are invited to compare VanPatten and Cadierno’s (1993) linear model of SLA (input −> intake −> developing system −> output) with Gass and Selinker’s (2001) recursive, nonlinear model, in which output plays an important role in the conversion of apperceived input into comprehended input and input into intake via the use of communication strategies and hypothesis testing (apperceived input −> comprehended input −> intake −> integration −> output [output re-enters the model between apperceived and comprehended input and between input and intake]).

3 Payne and Whitney (2002) define working memory as “an individual’s capacity for temporarily maintaining verbal and visual-spatial information in memory and for performing judgment or executive functions based on changing conditions in one’s immediate environment”(p. 9). SLA research (Gathercole & Baddeley, 1989; Papagno, Valentine, & Baddeley, 1991) shows that verbal working memory capacity predicts L2 vocabulary development.

4 This tendency was also noted by Spinelli and Siskin (1992) for other foreign language materials.

5 The “-etic” vs. “-emic” dichotomy was characterized by Pike (1967) in the following manner: “the etic viewpoint studies behavior from outside of a particular system, and as an essential initial approach to an alien system. The emic viewpoint results from study behaviors as from inside the system” (p. 37).

6 Numerous sociolinguistic studies have been carried out over the last three decades on linguistic features that distinguish the ways in which male and female native Spanish speakers from various socioeconomic backgrounds and age brackets communicate. See, for example, Silva Corvalán (2001) and the proceedings of the Asociación de Lingüística y Filología de América Latina and Hispanic Linguistics conferences.

7 See Leow (2001) and VanPatten and Leeser (2006), for a discussion of the effectiveness of enhanced input.

8 Nesselhauf and Tschichold (2002) found this same lacuna in EFL CALL.


9 Lyster (1998) distinguishes between negotiation of meaning and negotiation of form. While Pica, Holliday, Lewis, and Morgenthaler (1989, p. 65) propose that the latter has a primarily conversational function “to resolve communication breakdowns and to work toward mutual comprehension,” Lyster and Ranta (1997, p. 42) suggest a more didactic function for the negotiation of form: “the provision of corrective feedback that encourages self-repair involving accuracy and precision and not merely comprehensibility.” Since the computer is very good at comparing student-generated forms to a model answer and is extremely limited in its ability to provide conceptual feedback to spontaneous student output, CALL programs are probably more useful for negotiating form than meaning.

10 For a detailed review of TeLL Me More Spanish see Lafford (2004).

11 Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1989) discuss the principle of situated cognition as follows: “The activity in which knowledge is developed and deployed … is not separable from or ancillary to learning and cognition … . Situations might be said to co-produce knowledge through activity. Learning and cognition … are fundamentally situated” (p. 32).

12 It is essential to establish an important distinction between stand-alone programs and CALL activities that are ancillaries to textbooks. The programs which stand alone must contain many more essential DFs since they are the only means of instruction. On the other hand, the discrete-point web-based ancillary textbook activities may only focus on more mechanical techniques of lexical development after the new items have been presented and practiced in class or in the regular textbook activities.

13 While Tesoros CD-ROM is essentially a stand-alone course, the CD-ROM for Nuevos Destinos is meant to serve as an ancillary to a video series and printed materials.

14 To their credit, Rosetta Stone has shown increasing interest in getting feedback on their products from informed SLA scholars in the field (personal communication from company representatives at the 2004 CALICO conference).

15 Two CALL programs that do serve the advanced level market are Rosetta Stone Spanish Latin America Level 3 (still in Beta mode at the time this article was written) and EuroTalk Interactive Advanced Spanish: Movie Talk Spanish, which have been discussed earlier. However, both programs seem to be aimed at the business and professional market rather than universities (e.g., Rosetta Stone is widely advertised at airports and in flight magazines, and Ledgerwood’s (2001) review of EuroTalk Interactive Advanced Spanish notes its focus on learners who are business professionals and tourists.


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