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Editor’s Note: This is an evocative research paper about second language (L2) learning. Moving from one language to another has many ambiguities. There are psychological tensions between learning a language to read research and learning a language to communicate, exchange concepts and synthesize disparate concepts. Motivation to learn is imperative. The effectiveness of computer-assisted language instruction (CALL) may be determined by the purpose as well as the motivation of each learner.

Is there any Relationship between Motivation as an Advantage
of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and
Second Language Acquisition (SLA)?

Iman Tohidian


Language is at the center of human life. It is one of the most important ways of expressing our love or our hatred for people; it is vital to achieving many of our goals and our careers; it is a source of artistic satisfaction or simple pleasure. We use language for planning our lives and remembering our past; we exchange ideas and experiences through language; we identify ourselves with people who speak the same language. Some people are able to do this in more than one language. Knowing another language may mean: getting a job; a chance to get educated; the ability to take a fuller part in the life of one's own country or the opportunity to emigrate to another, and an expansion of one's literary and cultural horizons. There are several factors that combine in a profile of a successful second language learner. Obviously, the motivation to learn is very important. Some second language learners do better than others because they are better motivated. Focusing on motivation, we are going to explore the relationship between Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and Second Language Acquisition (SLA). The paper provides some data on the history of CALL and the theories behind the concept and the main focus shall be on the motivation, as an advantage of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and its connection with Second Language Acquisition (SLA).

Keywords: Computer Assisted Language Learning; Second Language Acquisition; motivation; integrative motivation; instrumental motivation; artificial intelligence; computational linguistics; student; teacher; computer.


Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) can be defined as "the search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning"(1). Although earlier practitioners relied on acronyms such as CAI (Computer Aided Instruction), CAL (Computer Assisted Learning), CELL (Computer Enhanced Language Learning) and TELL (Technology Enhanced Language Learning), CALL is now widely regarded as the central acronym to refer to studies concerned with second language and computer technology. The main objective of CALL is to "improve the learning capacity of those who are being taught a language through computerized means"(2). Note that such a definition focuses particularly on language learning, not language teaching, while at the same time the use of the computer forces reconsideration of traditional stakeholder roles: learners and teachers have each had to adapt to demands and opportunities afforded by a range of new technologies. As with the broader field of applied linguistics, CALL can be located at the crossroads of a number of disciplines.

Levy (3) regards the studies in psychology, artificial intelligence (AI), computational linguistics, instructional technology, and human- computer interaction as primary influences. Although Levy is aware that the area can be framed somewhat differently, he draws on these five cross-disciplinary fields to as a way to structure the knowledge base. While Chapelle in her extensive review (4) places CALL within six computer-related sub-disciplines: educational technology, computer- supported collaborative learning (CSCL), artificial intelligence (AI), computational linguistics, corpus linguistics, and computer- assisted assessment. Unlike Levy (1997), Chapelle argues that studies in human- computer interaction have had little impact on CALL and sees educational technology as a much more significant influence.

Major Theoretical Perspectives

Trends in CALL roughly parallel those in other areas of applied linguistics. Starting with the Structural and Behaviorist models that manifested in audio-lingual approaches to language learning, CALL educators then explored aspects of communicative approaches to language learning. Socio-cognitive theories of instruction are now an integral part of CALL. Table. 1 summarizes key aspects of CALL over 30 years. This table provides a way to organize the rather fluid categories that characterize the development of CALL.

Table 1
Key aspects of theoretical perspectives in CALL


Structural CALL
(1970s- 1980s)

Communicative CALL
(1980s- 1990s)

Integrative CALL
(twenty- first century)

Role of the computer

Information carrier; as a tutor

Workstation; as a pupil

Unified information management system; as a toolbox

Technology focus

Materials delivery

Cognitive augmentation

Group orchestration

Theory of learning


Information processing theory; cognitive constructivist learning

Socio-cultural theories of learning

Model and process of instruction

Programmed instruction; assimilation

Interactive, discovery-based learning; interaction

Collaborative learning; intra- action

View of second language acquisition

Structural (a formal system)

Cognitive (a mentally constructed system)

Socio- cognitive (developed in social interaction)

Dominant approaches to second language acquisition

Grammar translation & audio-lingual

Communicative language teaching

Content based; specific purposes

Learner status




Principal use of computers in CALL

Drill and practice

Communicative exercises

Authentic discourse

Principle learning objective of CALL


And fluency

And agency

Primary research concern

Instructional efficacy, instructional competence

Instructional transfer, learner proficiency

Instruction as enacted practice, team coficiency

Source: Based on Warschauer (2000a), with Crook (1994), Koschmann (1996), Ullmer (1994)

Practitioners in the era of structural CALL placed a strong emphasis on grammar and they employed the use of mainframe computers to help students gain accuracy in their language usage. Grammar Translation and Audio Lingual methods, grounded in behaviorism, went hand in hand with programmed instruction. Students were able to repeat drills with the seemingly tireless and patient computer-as-tutor, and instruction appeared to be at an upmost efficiency. Crook (5) sees the tutorial metaphor as a central preoccupation in the "computer-assisted instruction" (CAI) tradition of educational technologies. The goals of CAI developers were centered on making responses uniquely fitted to individual learner needs and delivering helpful, customized feedback through "intelligent tutorial systems."

Crook (6) examines the tutorial role of computers and the popularity of drill exercises. First, he notes, computers never truly became "intelligent" because of the inherent difficulties in constructing algorithms that could sensitively respond to learner profiles. At the time, the sophisticated hardware needed to attempt this goal was available almost exclusively in military and industrial training contexts. Nonetheless, Crook writes, tutorial drills have a continued appeal to educators for two reasons:

1) Teachers uncomfortable with innovative uses in technology "may well adopt the comparatively easy solution of focusing their commitment on straightforward, self contained programs"(7); and

2) Many instructors feel that repeated exposures to certain practices and structures are beneficial to students.

Crook's observations can be applied to the CALL context. Indeed, Decoo and Colpaert(8) point out that there is "a mass of learners who are deeply embedded in fixed educational structures and who are asking for and welcoming effective forms of tutorial CALL matching those structures."

They urge researchers to re-evaluate the role of the computer in drills and practice for classroom activities which are time-consuming and repetitive.

Richmond (1999) argues that a true picture of CALL resembles a split between "dedicated" and "integrated" streams. Much more widely practiced, "dedicated CALL" largely consists of using stand-alone programs to drill and practice items of grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. Richmond argues that the complexity and costs of software, as well as a host of technical problems, has shied teachers and students away from more integrated uses of the computer. The popularity of "dedicated CALL" has prompted researchers to continue to develop increasingly sophisticated tutorial applications that aid vocabulary acquisition, improve the writing in character-based languages, and build sustained interactions with target materials (e.g., Hamburger, Schoelles, & Reeder, 1999). Over the long term, Richmond predicts, the increased ease of software use and greater access to networks will bring the "dedicated" practices closer to "integrated" ones.

Following an overall shift in teaching methods aligned with cognitive constructivist theories of learning, practices in communicative CALL sought to help students develop their own mental models through use of the target language. Exercises were designed to guide meaningful peer interactions and promote fluency, listing (1991), created a series of task-based CALL activities to promote productive email exchanges between ESL students at two Canadian universities. In these activities, for example, students were directed to describe photographs, give directions, or express an opinion. The role of computer software was to help deliver visual materials for description, process word documents, or provide interactive simulations.

In another project, Abraham and Liou (1991) studied the spoken language of learners at workstations to compare the talk elicited by different types of computer applications and to see if the talk was more useful and productive than would otherwise be the case in non-computer situations. In their conclusion, they report that the talk elicited by the different programs did not vary widely, nor was it significantly different than in non-computer situations.

Integrative CALL seeks to make full use of networked computers as a means to engage learners in meaningful, large-scale collaborative activities (9). Instructors promote close ties between learning processes, objectives, and a student ownership of the outcomes. As with mainstream computer-supported collaborative learning (e.g., Bonk & King, 1998; Koschmann, 1996; Land & Hannafin, 2000), meaningful interaction and authentic project work are highlighted. Authentic discourse provides the basis for learning material. Students are taught techniques in online publishing, and are urged to produce their own texts. Fostering learner agency or "the satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our own decisions and choices" (10), is a primary goal of integrative CALL. The key distinction between communicative CALL and integrative CALL is that, in the former, learner choice and self-management of activity are driven by task-based approaches to syllabus design. At its most liberal interpretation, a syllabus in integrative CALL simply represents a "dynamic blueprint" where learning occurs through "accidents" generated by projects (11). In contrast, a syllabus in communicative CALL is likely to be discrete and related to a set of curricular guidelines that have been defined in advance of learner needs (12).

In practice, however, the realization of integrative CALL may lie beyond the realm of language learning institutions constrained by a lack of resources, embedded teaching practices, and large class sizes. Such is the case in adult migrant education centers in Australia, for example (Taylor & Corbel, 1998) or in educational centers in South Africa (13). At such sites, students are generally directed to access online materials alone, teachers are not free to alter a syllabus based on established curriculum guidelines. Students may not have the means to make use of the Internet outside limited class times.

Motivation and Computers

It stands to reason that if CALL is enjoyable and perceived as useful, the introduction of the computer into the learning situation will have a beneficial effect on attitudes. In Krashen's terms, the Affective Filter will be lowered and this will promote acquisition. As far as motivation is concerned, the use of computers is more likely to affect day-to-day effort than basic motivation. The learner's ultimate goals in learning the language will probably remain the same whatever the CALL experience so that the question of whether the learner is obeying instrumental or integrative motives, assuming the distinction is justified, can be regarded as irrelevant.

What motivates people is clearly of interest in any context in which one set of individuals is trying to get another set to do something; from marketing to politics, from the workplace to the classroom. Motivation has consequently been the subject of a considerable number of studies, both empirical and theoretical. Some of the findings have challenged preconceived ideas as to how best to persuade people to throw themselves enthusiastically into whatever it is you want them to do. For example, an empirical study involving nearly 2000 employees, in a range of American businesses, found that the biggest motivators were achievement and recognition, with salary level featuring only in a negative sense; a poor salary can cause dissatisfaction, but salary in itself is not a motivator (14); see Figure 2. If these findings can be carried over into a CALL context, and there is every reason to suppose that they can, it is clear that targeting the learners' needs for achievement and recognition is likely to be an effective way of maximizing learner motivation. For example, the use of the computer's word processing capabilities in promoting writing skills, can help the learner produce a more polished and presentable script, thus increasing the likelihood that they will get a sense of achievement from their work.

Source: Computers and Language Learning (M. –M. Kenning and M. J. Kenning)

Psychological studies into motivation of a more theoretical nature have also been carried out. According to Brown (16), motivation is commonly presented by psychologists as being underpinned by six needs:

1)      The need for exploration, for seeing 'the other side of the mountain', for probing the unknown;

2)      The need for manipulation, for operating - to use Skinner's term - on the environment and causing change;

3)      The need for activity, for movement, exercise, both physical and mental;

4)      The need for stimulation, the need to be stimulated by the environment, by other people, or by ideas, thoughts, and feelings;

5)      The need for knowledge, the need to process and internalize the results of exploration, manipulation, activity, and stimulation, to resolve contradictions, to quest for solutions to problems and for self-consistent systems of knowledge;

6)      Finally the need for ego-enhancement, for the self to be known and to be accepted and approved of by others.'

These are mostly needs that computers, thanks to their unique features, can help satisfy. It gives computers an in-built capability to induce task-oriented motivation, and this can be used to sustain the learner's inner drive and help prevent overall motivation from flagging. What is required is good courseware and the elimination of hardware and software hazards.

The question of learner motivation is investigated further by Malone, using computer games as a particular 'source of insight for designing intrinsically motivating instructional environments'(17). In a comprehensive study embracing a review of previous theories, and an analysis of experimental data drawn from a survey of the responses of 65 schoolchildren to various versions of a range of computer games, Malone seeks to discover

  1. Why are computer games so captivating?

  2. How can the features that make computer games captivating be used to make learning - especially learning with computers - interesting and enjoyable? (18).

While it was observed both that there were large variations between individuals in the kinds of game they enjoy, with no one game standing out as everybody's favorite, and also that there were variations between boys and girls preferences, and between older and younger children, nonetheless, Malone reports 'indications of the kinds of features that arc important in general', particularly 'the importance of having a goal' (19). This tends to confirm our own observations, based on limited feedback received from users of the A vous la France suite, reported in M.J. Kenning (1986a).

When designing these programs we deliberately set out to include a range of different styles, and, in particular, to incorporate a strong competitive element in some programs but not others. We found that users from a less pedagogical background tended to react more favorably to those units with a competitive element: they reported the feeling that they couldn't see the point of exercises which do not come to some kind of competitive climax. Whether such limited observations are of a wider validity, and whether they stem from cultural reasons or are due to the way computer activities have traditionally been constructed hitherto (have people simply become conditioned to expecting computer activities to consist of high-speed tests of hand-eye coordination?), are clearly questions of considerable interest in an educational context, as stressed by Malone. He cites three main factors common to games with a high rating in his survey: challenge, fantasy and curiosity. He goes on to suggest a framework of techniques to enhance these features and thus improve the appeal of a piece of software. For example, under the heading of challenge, is listed the need to build in a variable difficulty level, so that the user can select a level appropriate to his or her skill: this avoids the situation of putting the user off with an impossibly difficult, or trivially easy, task, and also allows the user to improve over time. Malone suggests that those games which do not incorporate such a feature would benefit from its inclusion. Incorporating a timer of some form into CALL programs is one possible way of implementing this recommendation.

Motivational attitudes to the computer can also be influenced by hardware considerations. For instance, cassettes have fortunately all but disappeared as a storage medium for software; the length of time it used to take to load programs from tape, when they were in common use, was certainly a strong disincentive to using the computer. On the whole, hardware is remarkably reliable. It is true that demonstrations are sometimes marred or even ruined by machine problems but the cause usually lies in some difference between the apparatus the software is normally used with and that available for the occasion. Breakdowns are in fact fairly rare and faulty hardware is something the ordinary user is unlikely to suffer from. Faulty software is more of a problem. It may be due either to the fact that program bugs can remained undetected for a long time or to some production defect. The only effective safeguard is good validation in the first case and efficient quality control in the second.

Motivation and Language

Motivation is another characteristic that varies considerably across Second Language (L2) learners. The commonsense view is that motivated language learners, who are willing to devote more time and energy to achieving fluency in the target language, are more successful. Some researchers have even claimed that motivation is the single most important individual difference impacting on SLA. Motivation is not monolithic, however; it is a complex, multidimensional construct. Studies making use of Robert Gardner's socio-educational model of motivation have focused not only on integrative aspects of motivation (involving the learner's attitudes towards the target language group and the desire to integrate into the target language community), but also on instrumental orientations, which refer to more practical reasons for language learning, such as gaining some social or economic reward through L2 achievement. Distinctions have also been made between extrinsic and intrinsic bases of motivation. Although SLA researchers are still debating whether motivation causes language learning (e.g. by putting learners in contact with more input) or whether success in language learning gives rise to motivation, some recent studies do suggest that motivation helps to predict the level of proficiency that an L2 learner ultimately attains. Studies also show that motivation can change during the learning process, varying from day to day and even from task to task. A learner's motivation additionally appears to be affected by such factors as group dynamics, the learning environment, and even the learner's conversational partner's motivation. So, Second Language Acquisition research views motivation as a key factor in second language learning. There have been differences, however, in the way in which teachers and researchers have typically conceptualized motivation (20). In an attempt to characterize a non-theoretical view of motivation, Skehan (1989) puts forward four hypotheses:

  1. The Intrinsic Hypothesis: motivation derives from an inherent interest in the learning tasks the learner is asked to perform.

  2. The Resultative Hypothesis: learners who do well will persevere; those who do not do well will be discouraged and try less hard.

  3. The internal Cause Hypothesis: the learner brings to the learning situation a certain quantity of motivation as a given.

  4. The Carrot and Stick Hypothesis: external influences and incentives will affect the strength of the learner's motivation.


Generally speaking, the use of technology inside or outside the classroom tends to make the class more interesting. However, certain design issues affect just how the particular tool creates motivation. One quantifiable benefit to increased motivation is that students tend to spend more time on tasks when on the computer. More time is frequently cited as a factor in achievement. The commonsense view is that motivated language learners, who are willing to devote more time and energy to achieving fluency in the target language, are more successful. Some researchers have even claimed that motivation is the single most important individual difference impacting on SLA. Motivation in second language learning constitutes one of the most fully researched areas of individual differences. The bulk of the research, however, has focused rather narrowly on integrative and instrumental motivation, relying almost exclusively on self-report questionnaires and correlational designs. Little work on motivation as intrinsic interest has taken place. Also, little attention has been paid to the effect of motivation on the process of learning. But what we discussed here was the importance of motivation which is one of the advantages of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). CALL creates a more motivated class, resulting in better language learning, especially Second Language Learning (SLA).

End Notes

1- (Levy, 1997, p. 1)

2- (Cameron, 1999a, p. 2)

3- (1997, pp. 47-75)

4- (2001, pp. 27-43)

5- (1994, p. 12)

6- (1994, pp. 13-16)

7- Crook (p. 14)

8- (1999, p. 56) 

9- (Debski, 2000; Warschauer & Kern, 2000)

10- (Murray, 1997, p. 126 cited in Warschauer, 2000b, p. 524)

11- (Barson, 1999)

12- (Corbel, 1999)

13- (Oberprieler, 1999)

14- (Herzberg, 1968)

15- (1981, p. 122)

16- (1981, p. 122)

17- (Malone 1981, p. 340)

18- (Malone, 1981, p. 334)

19- (Malone, 1981, p. 343)

20- (see Crookes and Schmidt 1990)


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About the Author

Iman Tohidian teaches in the Department of English, Faculty of Humanities, University of Kashan, Kashan, I. R. Iran.

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