1. Introduction

The acronym CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) appears to have been coined at the beginning of the 1980s. The first occurrence we have found is in (Davies & Steel 1981). By 1982 it was in widespread use in the UK, featuring in the title of Issue No. 1 (July 1982) of the newsletter CALLBOARD and in Davies & Higgins (1982). In the USA the acronym CALI (Computer Assisted Language Instruction) was initally preferred, appearing in the name of CALICO (founded in 1982), the oldest professional association devoted to the promotion of the use of computers in language learning and teaching. TESOL favoured CALL, setting up its CALL Interest Section (CALL-IS) in 1983 (Kenner 1996). The term CALI then appears to have fallen out of favour because of its association with programmed learning, i.e. a teacher-centred rather than a learner-centred approach that drew heavily on behaviourism, and CALL is now the dominant term. CALICO now uses the term CALL in preference top CALI.

An alternative term to CALL emerged in the 1980s, namely Technology Enhanced Language Learning (TELL), which was felt to provide a more accurate description of the activities which fall broadly within the range of CALL. Brown (1988:6) writes:

Learning a foreign language can enrich the education of every pupil socially and intellectually and be vocationally relevant. The new technology should form an integral part of a modern language department’s overall teaching strategy. By these means, to coin a communicative-sounding acronym, TELL (Technology Enhanced Language Learning) can help produce telling results in language performance both in school and in the wider world. It therefore has a place in every modern language department.

During the 1990s TELL was adopted by the TELL Consortium (now defunct), University of Hull, and it figured in the name of the journal of CALL-AustriaTELL&CALL (now defunct). See also Bush & Terry (1997).

Throughout the 1980s CALL moved away from its initial leanings towards behaviourism and drill-and-practice, widening its scope to embrace the communicative approach and a range of new technologies. CALL now includes highly interactive and communicative support for listening, speaking, reading and writing. Levy (1997:1) provides the following succinct definition of CALL:

Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) may be defined as “the search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning”.

This is a catch-all definition, which is endorsed by and figures in the names of the growing number of for CALL throughout the world: see our Resource Centre under the heading Professional associations. It is, however, useful to break down CALL into various subdivisions, and this is reflected in the structure of the ICT4LT website. See Levy & Hubbard (2005), who raise the question Why call CALL “CALL”?

See also:

  • The Wikipedia article on CALL, which is broken down into sections describing different manifestations of CALL.
  • Scoop.it! is a useful curation tool that enables you to set up Web pages that gather together links on a specific topic and follow other people’s links on the same or related topics. Scoop.it provides a facility for you to “curate” information on your topics by trawling the Web and finding links that you may wish to add to your topic pages. The links are laid out attractively like the page of a magazine. Two of the topics covered are Computer Assisted Language Learning and Virtual World Language Learning.

CALL encompasses many different types of software applications. The applications tend to fall into two distinct types:

(i) Generic software applications

Generic software applications are designed for general use but they are extremely useful in language teaching when used in activities which seek to apply aspects of the functionality of the software to language learning situations. For example, the use of a word-processor to encourage drafting, critical reflection and editing is an excellent use of generic software to further a number of language learning objectives. Generic software applications include:

  • Word-processors: Using word-processing and presentation software in the Modern Foreign Languages classroom.
  • Presentation software: headed Using PowerPoint.
  • Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) applications:
  • Web browsers and Web 2.0 applications: both of which focus on using the Web in language learning and teaching.

The term Generic CALL describes authoring packages designed to cover all aspects of CALL program authoring and interaction, from simple gap-filling and multiple-choice exercises to exercises incorporating interactive multimedia, e.g. the MALTED authoring package as described by Paul Bangs in, Introduction to CALL authoring programs.

(ii) CALL software applications

CALL software applications are designed to promote explicit or implied language learning objectives and are usually based on the software authors’ beliefs about the ways in which students learn languages. They offer support in the acquisition of knowledge about language and in the application of that knowledge both in discrete and in mixed skill activities. They usually include a substantial degree of interactivity.

CALL software can be content-specific in that the teacher cannot change the linguistic content or the format of the activities which seek to teach that content. Commercial multimedia software supplied on CD-ROM is usually content-specific because it is normally impossible to make any changes to it

CALL software applications can also be content-free in that the teacher can provide the content which the software then uses as data for the pre-programmed activities: Introduction to CALL authoring programs.

Many people expect far too much of CALL, perceiving it as a replacement for the teacher. The following description of an imaginary scenario was written as an illustration of how some business training managers perceived CALL in the early 1990s:

A business trainee is sitting at a computer following a language course. Step-by-step, the computer presents the essential vocabulary and structures. These are accompanied, where appropriate, by still and animated graphic images, photographs and video recordings. As new words and phrases are introduced, authentic male and female voices pronounce them and the learner repeats them. The learner’s voice is recorded by the computer and played back. Any errors in pronunciation are indicated graphically on screen. Offending syllables are highlighted and additional practice is offered on sounds which the learner finds difficult. At the end of each presentation sequence, the computer tests the learner’s grasp of the new vocabulary and structures, marking and recording those words and phrases which have been imperfectly recalled and offering feedback on points of grammar that the learner appears to have misunderstood. The learner has access at all times to an online dictionary, a reference grammar and verb conjugation tables. At the end of the work session the learner’s progress is recorded by the computer, which enables the thread to be picked up at the next session. In addition, the learner’s progress records – along with those of all the other trainees following the same course – can be accessed at any time by the training manager. Davies (1992:113)

To some people this is utopia, to others it is a nightmare. An integrated system of this level of sophistication still does not exist, many years after the above text was written. There are, however, many programs that will do independently what is described above. Thankfully, human beings still have a role to play in language teaching and learning, although some administrators would like to dispense with them in order to save money: see the section headed “Beware of the administrator” in Davies (1997:29-30). Technology has to be treated as an aid and not as a panacea (Davies 1997:29). It is no accident that we talk about Computer Assisted Language Learning.

  1. Interactivity

The term interactivity in the context of CALL has traditionally been associated with human-computer interaction – the stimulus / response / feedback paradigm – involving the use of a range of stimuli (text, images, audio or video), learner responses using a range of input devices (keyboard, mouse, touch screen or speech) and various types of feedback (text, images, audio or video). More recently the term interactivity has been “trivialised to simple menu selection, clickable objects or linear sequencing” (Sims 1996:1) and even to “passive” types of interactivity, such as interacting with a digital TV set by pressing the red button on a remote control device and pressing the number keys. And now we use the term interactive to describe the interactive whiteboard, where most of the interactivity is engendered by the teacher using the whiteboard as a stimulus in whole-class teaching: headed Whole-class teaching and interactive whiteboards, and headed Using PowerPoint. The whiteboard itself is not interactive; it’s the software that it uses – and this may include traditional software embodying the stimulus / response / feedback paradigm mentioned above – or the way in which the teacher uses the whiteboard, e.g. getting the students to come out to the front of the class and make menu choices or using whiteboard presentations as a stimulus for oral and role-play activities.

In many respects it appears that interactivity is a “forgotten art” (Sims 1996), having been reduced to multiple-choice and point-and-click activities with little or no feedback apart from a bland “right” or “wrong” response.

We appear to have moved away from full-blown interactivity in ICT and language learning, especially the so-called ICALL (Intelligent Computer Assisted Language Learning) types of activities in which the following kind of interaction could be found – an authentic example of semi-intelligent matching from a package called CLEF (first published in the late 1970s):

Task: The learner has to fill in the blank with the correct form of one of the following verbs: chanterparlerrépondre.

  1. Computer stimulus: Paul et Marie —– les chansons folkloriques.
  2. Learner types “chantons”.
  3. Computer responds: Attention – la terminaison n’est pas correcte.
  4. Learner makes a typing error, entering “chntent”.
  5. Computer responds: Regardez le radical du verbe. Il n’est pas correcte.
  6. At this point the computer also opens up the learner’s response to reveal the exact point where a letter has been omitted, thus
    “ch-ntent”, and invites the student to insert the correct letter with the command: Corrigez la réponse”.
  7. Learner enters the letter “a” and the response is accepted by the computer as correct.

The learner can also, at any point in the above routine, hit a key that takes him/her to a help page where information about -er and -re verbs can be found. CLEF is still around in a Windows version: http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/clef.htm

Camsoft’s GapKit and Fun with Texts programs also include basic partial matching routines. For example, Gapkit can be tailored to accept a range of alternative correct answers and is able to spot which one the learner is aiming at and then home in on possible spelling mistakes. In GapKit and in the Clozewrite activity in Fun with Texts, the computer automatically shows the shape of the anticipated answer if the learner makes a mistake on the first attempt and highlights the error or errors. Thus, if the anticipated correct answer is “der Sessel” and the learner answers “das Sessal”, the computer will indicate that the answer is partially right and show the shape “d– Sess-l”, inviting the learner to supply the correct letters. Both programs can be tailored by the teacher to be tolerant or intolerant of mistakes made regarding upper case and lower case letters.

Source: http://www.ict4lt.org/