Which of these are examples of computer-assisted language learning (CALL)?
- High school Spanish learners e-mailing college Spanish learners in Spanish
- Teams of elementary school students doing a vocabulary matching exercise on the computer
- Malaysian students using a self-access computer lab to complete software- based spelling activities in English
- Teachers creating multilingual Web pages so that the parents of their ESL learners will understand what is happening in class
- A Russian language teacher explaining a grammar point using presentation software
If you say they are all examples of CALL, you are right. What exactly is computer-assisted language learning? Very specifically, CALL is software tools designed to promote language learning (ICT4LT, 2001), but CALL can be looked at in broader ways, too. Twenty years ago, Levy (1997) described CALL as a field that covers “the search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning” (p. 1), and this definition still applies. Most simply, it means using chip-based technology to support language teaching and learning in some way. This definition applies to all languages, skill areas, and content.
Educators regularly introduce new terms to describe CALL, demonstrating that they are still exploring its boundaries and clarifying its components. Labels include computer-enhanced language learning (CELL), the more general technology-enhanced language learning (TELL), and specific applications such as computer-based language testing (CBLT) and computer-supported reading instruction (CRI). There are other ways to look at CALL, too. It began as software run on mainframe computers to provide learners with drills and other language practice. Since then, CALL has come to include many different technologies: laptop computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), digital audio recorders, wireless Internet access, local area networking, virtual environments, and more. It has expanded from using individual drill software to using the Internet and even virtual reality as a medium to support native and nonnative speaker interaction.
Some authors have attempted to explain CALL by dividing its processes and software packages into categories. For example, some have described CALL according to what students do (fill in the blanks, tutorials, word processing, virtual or augmented reality), some according to the language skills that it addresses (listening software, reading software), others by where it is used (home, office, school, lab), and yet others by the philosophy that underlies its use (e.g., Warschauer, 1996, categorized it as behaviorist, communicative, or integrative). Each of these definitions and categorizations is useful and correct in its own way. Fortunately, in this confusing assortment of terms and tools, three themes emerge:
- CALL is focused not on technology but on language learning. The words enhanced or assisted indicate that technology only facilitates the language learning process. Effective CALL educators avoid putting technology ahead of learning in their classrooms (in other words, they try not to be technocentric in their thinking). A clunkier but more accurate term for using technology in language learning might be language learning with, through, and around technology, reflecting the true position of language in such activity.
- CALL occurs in many contexts and with many diverse participants. Therefore, practitioners need to be prepared to meet a variety of needs.
- CALL pedagogy can be grounded in theory and practice from a number of fields, especially applied linguistics, second language acquisition, psychology, and computer science.
Why so much fuss over defining CALL? Like the computer, the book and the chalkboard are important tools in language learning classrooms, but educators do not hear about book-enhanced language learning or chalkboard-enhanced language learning. However, when these tools were first introduced, they also caused controversy. Books, for example, were thought to damage memory. It is only natural that a tool as new, complicated, and powerful as the computer would cause an even bigger fuss. When teachers and learners have accepted computers as just another learning tool, as they have accepted the book, practitioners in the field will worry far less about how to define CALL. In the meantime, this text defines CALL with a set of practical guidelines to help teachers and learners understand and implement CALL in language classrooms.