A (CALL) refers exclusively to learning languages in general

A Critical Review of Computer-Assisted Language Learning


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Recent advances in multimedia technology have emerged computers widely in the process of English teaching and learning. With the increasing spread and development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in human lives, technology provides lots of opportunities for language teachers and learners to benefit from it. Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) refers exclusively to learning languages in general terms. It means the use of computers to help learn languages. CALL is a young branch of applied linguistics and is still establishing its directions. Using the computer-based methods and techniques as well as new media for language learning and teaching is in the center of attention in CALL. Although CALL has different forms in different context based on the economic and educational situations of that context, almost in all situations the main purpose is applying technologies in education in order to meet the demands of learners and teachers.

At the end of the 20th century, the internet and the web-based communication have changed the use of computers for language learning. Computers are no longer a tool for storing and displaying information but also a tool for information processing and communication. Language learners by the means of Internet and their smartphones can simultaneously communicate with others or speakers of the target language all over the world.

In spite of the importance of using computers in education, we should consider an important point. Computers cannot replace teachers and teaching cannot be done just by computers. Teachers are a basic requirement of teaching and computers are just tools. Good teachers have a responsibility to use the most advantageous and available tools such as computers.



CALL Definition

Levy (1997) defined Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) as “the search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning” (Levy, 1997, p.1). Although this definition just refers to applications of the computer, CALL includes a wide range of information and communications technology (ITC) applications and approaches to teaching and learning foreign languages, from the “behaviorism” drill-and-practice programs to more recent using of CALL in Web-based classes and online courses. It also expands its field to the use of interactive boards, Computer-mediated communication (CMC), language learning in virtual worlds, and mobile-assisted language learning (MALL).

The Brief history of CALL

CALL’s origins back to 1960s, when PLATO project was founded at the University of Illinois. It was an important starting point is in the early development of CALL (Marty 1981). Up until the late 1970s, CALL projects were used mainly in universities. The use of the call required students to be present to universities and this was an important constraint. The arrival of personal computers (PC) and a wide range of computer users led to a dramatic increase in CALLs projects. The majority of Early CALL functions was limited to drill and to practice exercises. As the technology advanced, interactive uses of CALL as well as an increase in the integration of various media into the computer system was started. Throughout the 1980s, CALL widened its scope, by applying communicative approach and a range of new technologies. The popularity of CALL constantly increased as multimedia developed and technologically advanced. CALL systems equipped with audio and video support and created interesting and attractive presentations. With the advent of the Internet, a new platform for CALL systems has evolved. Therefore, a move from CD-ROM-based CALL to online Web-based CALL appeared and enabled students to have more connectivity and interactivity with other students or teachers. CALL has now established itself as an important area of research in higher education.

A considerable amount of literature explored the role of computer technology in teaching and learning languages. Warschauer famously identi?es three phases of CALL: Behaviouristic, Communicative, and Integrative (Warschauer, 1998). The aim of this review is to investigate the beginning and development of CALL by introducing its projects during three major times, the 1960s and 1970s, the 1980s and 1990s.

CALL in the1960s and 1970s

In the 1950s and early 1960s three schools of thought were predominate in language teaching: pedagogically audiolingualism, psychologically behaviorism, and linguistically structuralism. Main elements of Behaviorism, stimulus, response, and reinforcement that derived from Skinner book, Verbal Behavior (1957), had a significant effect on language classes and especially in language laboratories. Audiolingual method started in the United States in the late 1950s. It emphasized the use of target language in spoken form and the students expected to learn language through a process of habit formation by mechanical practices. An important influence at that time was programmed instruction. Skinner had an important role in advancing this type of instruction. He advocated the use of teaching machines. The basic principle of an instructional machine was active responses by students and immediate feedback by the machine that was according to the opinion of behaviorists. Computer programmers soon found that drills and practice exercises that were the underlying principle of audiolingualism are programmable on computers. PLATO and TICCIT were two important projects that emerged those days.



The PLATO project

The ?rst application for language teaching and learning by computer was Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations (PLATO) system, developed in 1959 by the University of Illinois. Plato that had a number of innovating features provides interactive instruction for a large number of students. It supports communication between its users in the forms of exchanging note files and talk, a kind of restricted email system, between two users when both of them were simultaneously signed to the system. Plato did not seek to address all the language needs of its users, especially in speech production. It just provides language learners with a large amount of mechanical vocabulary and structure drills. This intelligent system provided feedback to learners and included an intelligence spelling and grammar checker (Ken Beatty 2010).

The TICCIT project

Time-shared, Interactive, Computer-Controlled Information Television (TICCIT) was initiated in 1971 at Birmingham Young University. This project combined television technology with the computer. Since it was able to combine text, audio, and video for the first time, it can be named as the first multimedia program. The difference between TICCIT and PLATO is that specific instructional framework, which dictates the actual form of the hardware, software, and courseware is built into the system (levy, 1997). One of the most important innovations of the TICCIT system was the architecture of its instruction. The goal of this arrangement was to place moment-to-moment control of instruction in the hands of the learner. A special keypad was provided for learners. This provided keys for each instructional display type as well as for other administrative and navigational functions. Using these keys, a learner could navigate freely through the displays provided within a segment and manage the instructional session itself. Help and Advice keys were provided, and computer-chosen instructional sequencing was available if the learners chose.

English teaching features of the first phase of CALL, is grammar translation and audio-lingual method.  Richard and Rodgers (1994) have argued that GMT has been the dominant method of teaching foreign languages in Europe since the 1840s to the 1940s, and in modi?ed form, it has been continued in some parts until today. In Second-Language Acquisition, the Grammar Translation approach appeared to work to a limited extent in early programs such as PLATO because the learner would have to adapt to the materials by creating personal learning strategies beyond those offered by the teacher or suggested by the learning materials. At that time, computers had the task of delivering instructional materials to learners.

 Taylor (1980) note that the role of the computer was the same as a tutor and the delivered materials were repetitive language drills, vocabulary, grammar and translation tests. The most prominent system of this era was PLATO which was based on a behavioristic learning pattern. Dina and Cironei (2013) State the advantages of repetitive language drills are as follows:

 1. Everyone at every time can access the same needed learning material to learning.

2. Students can access the same material repeatedly and receive immediate and non-judgmental feedback every time

3. Language materials present for everybody, without timekeeping and deadlines and offer the choice to study in their own strategy.

With all the advantages that computers created in this era, but they were still based on the same mechanic exercises. The question was whether this method could properly make that communication which is the ultimate goal of language teaching.  


CALL in the 1980s

The second phase of the CALL was based on communicative approach. In the 1980s, many experts had rejected behaviorism in language teaching both theoretically and pedagogically. Therefore, the communicative approach of teaching, as a reaction to behavioral approach, was prominent in the years the 1970s and 1980s. During this period, computers also have changed from the mainframe computers into microcomputers. Therefore, personal computers were more available and it was possible for anyone to use them at home or at school. The high speed and storage capacity of personal computers made it possible for computer programmers to go beyond behaviorist models of instruction that commonly used on less powerful computers and generally depended on textual exercises. Communicative CALL corresponded to cognitive theories, which emphasized that learning was a process of discovery, expression, and development. Under the influence of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), advocators of communicative CALL stated that computer-based activities should focus more on using forms (Underwood, 1984). Software developed in this period, included text reconstruction program and simulations. In communicative CALL, the focus was not so much on what students did with the computer, but rather what they did with each other while working at the computer. Warschauer (1996) stated that during the ‘communicative CALL’ there was three main use of computes:

1. First, there were a variety of programs to provide skill practices, but in a non-drill Format. In these programs, the process of ?nding the true answers unlike the drill and practice programs involves a considerable amount of student choice, control, and interaction. In this model, the programs were designed in order that learners learn the language to communicate and that they probably learn to communicate best through the process of communication itself (Littlewood, 1981).

2. The second role of the CALL for communicative activities includes using the computer as stimulus. In this role, the goal of the CALL is not just finding the right answer, but rather to stimulate students’ discussion, writing, or critical thinking. Since this role is not inherent to the CALL and it can be obtained by another means without a computer, so it is hard to find evidence that this period is part of the CALL communication phase.

3. The third communicative role of call is using the computer as a tool. In this role the programs instead of providing any language material, empower the learner to use or understand language. Word processors, spelling and grammar checkers, desktop publishing programs, and concordances are examples of using the computer as a tool.

This, though useful, is clearly not particular to CLT. The computer acts as a tool for manipulating language or analyzing it, not for communicating in it (Bax, 2003). How is it possible to consider an activity as communicative? Higgins and Johns (1984) stated that the courseware, which was based on text reconstruction and consisted of variations on cloze exercises, were communicative.

With the emergence of the communicative approach to language teaching some experts questioned the matching of methodological demand with the technological capabilities. Stevens said that CALL methodology was out of step with current ideas on language teaching and learning (as cited in levy, 1997).

On the other hand, Dunkel (1991) did a major research on CALL. Some of his most important findings on the effectiveness of CALL is as follow:

1. Meaningful CALL practice is both possible and preferable.

2. The way that CALL is designed in encouraging the development of language learning can result in more learning.

3. Learner differences can have effect on learners strategies and attitude in CALL.

4. Students tend to demonstrate a more positive attitude toward CALL written by their teacher.

CALL In the 1990s

In the early 1990s, criticisms began with the cognitive view of communicative language learning. The new theories of second language learning and the socio-cognitive perspective influenced many teachers and led them to use more social and learner-centered methods. At this time, the emphasis was put on the use of language in authentic social context. Different educators and scholars tried to find the more integrated manner of teaching instead of structure-based one, therefore, task-based, project-based and content-based approaches all sought to integrate learners in authentic contexts, and also to integrate the various skills of language learning and use (Gunduz, 2005).

In this period teachers integrated different skills – speaking, listening, reading, and writing – in language learning. This goal would be facilitated by incorporating technology in language teaching and learning. The goal of this stage of CALL was to remove barriers in the process of language learning and teaching and to provide the conditions for integrating new technologies in the language classrooms (Tafazoli, Golshan, 2014).  Significant progress in technology has provided these conditions. In the mid-1990s, multimedia computers and the World Wide Web (WWW) were the basic elements of the integrative CALL.

CALL in the twenty-?rst century

In the twenty-first century, the development and changes of the present stage of CALL have been much more considerable than previous stages. This is because computers have made all aspects of human life easier. Mobile telephones, for example, satisfy many of the computing demands of its users. Today, smart mobile phones and tablets largely have replaced the laptops. All the features of a modern computer are embedded in high-end mobile phones with the expectation of interfacing with CD-ROMS or DVDs that both are disappearing into the world of online stores of information. Other appliances, such as televisions, are becoming more computer- connected and each technological advance presents new opportunities for the improvement of CALL (Beatty, 2010). 


In this article, I defined CALL, presented its methodological framework and discussed its feature. As many advocators of CALL such as Levy and Beatty says CALL comes from a mixture of two separate factors educational needs and technological means. With the changes in pedagogical issues and approaches, CALL has changed during its stages too. Also, every advance in technology has created new opportunities for the development of CALL systems. Today CALL is more popular than ever. World Wide Web has provided us with exciting opportunities such as video conferences and virtual classrooms. The field of CALL is continually gaining Interest and the future of CALL looks promising!











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