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Editor’s Note: Language teachers are often early adopters of new technologies. They have also been at the forefront in testing, adopting and integrating new learning theories and praxis. Since language learning can be demonstrated by actual performance it is a fertile discipline for research and measurement.

Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL)

Massoud Rahimpour
Australia and Iran


In recent years computer assisted language learning has attracted both the attention and criticism of many language teachers. The computer revolution is believed to be more than just a technological development and may change society as radically as did the Industrial Revolution (Ahmad, Corbett, Rogers and Sussex, 1985). As a result, computer literacy and utilizing the computer in teaching language has established itself as an important feature of language teaching profession in modern education.

Computer, indeed, offers many advantages both for teachers and learners. That is why many language institutions, schools, language centers and departments now utilize computers in various ways. But the point is that computer literacy has benefited mainly younger generation and older members of society show less enthusiasm to use computers in teaching and consequently remain unaware of its potential. Most often, computer and teacher are considered to be as rivals, while they should be seen as compliments to each other (Kenning & Kenning, 1984). Therefore despite the advantages and its potentials, there are some problems associated with using CALL (Kaliski, 1992).

The aim of this paper is thus twofold: The paper first starts with a discussion of various aspects of computer assisted language learning (CALL), with a particular reference to the role of computer in learning language. The advantages and disadvantages of computers are then presented. The pper concludes with a brief summary of what teachers should know in order to use CALL.

Keywords: computer assisted language learning (CALL); distance learning; computer revolution; networked communication; multimedia, E-mail; internet; computer literacy; technological development;


Recent years have witnessed an explosion of interest in using computers for teaching and learning English as a second language language. A couple of years ago, the use of computers in language teaching and learning language was of the concern only to a small number of language teachers who were familiar with computers. But recently, computer assisted language learning (CALL) has received a great deal of attention of many English and foreign language instructors and SLA researchers (Kawase 2005; Beauvois, 1992; Chapelle, 2001; Chun, 1994; Dhaif,1989; Kern, 1998; Kern & Warschauer, 2000; Loewen & Erlam, 2006; Sauro, 2009; Smith, 2003; Smith, 2004; Sullivan, & Pratt, 1996; Warschauer, 1996a and 1996b; Warschauer, 1997; Razagifard & Rahimpour, 2010) . Consequently, every year an increasing number of teachers are using computers in teaching English as a second language (L2) and foreign language instruction in high school, language centers and universities. Particularly, this significant importance of computer assisted language teaching and learning is more obvious in a distance leaning

In fact, Computers, which entered school life in the late 1950s in developed countries, are still increasing in number day by day throughout the world. Today, they have become more powerful, faster, easier to use, more convenient and cheaper, and they can process and store much more data, as well (Gunduz, 2005).

Furthermore, with the technological development and with the advent of multimedia computing, the E-mail, and Internet, the role of computers in language instruction has become an important issue for language teachers throughout the world. Indeed technological developments have been welcomed with open arms by all sections of society such as banking, traffic, word-processing, computer games, student registration, office management, and 21st century language teachers are no exception to this issue. (Levy, 1999; Nunan, 1999; Vanparys, 1999, Whistle, 1999; Warschauer and Healey, 1998; Kalisky, 1992; Roach, 1992; Gitsaki, 1999; Kubota, 1999). As Ahmad, Corbett, Rogers and Sussex (1985) claim the computer revolution can be considered more than just a technological development and it may change society as radically as did the Industrial Revolution. It is also claimed that Computer Assisted Language Learning and Teaching approach in language classes represents new ways of language teaching and learning which has a great impact on the learning of foreign language and consequently creates an ideal condition and environment which will facilitate learning (Hoven, 1999; Harrison, 1998; Holmes, 1998).

The History of CALL

Warschauer and Healey (1998) report that computers have been utilized in language teaching since 1960s. They then divide these longer years is into three main stages:

1.   Behavioristic CALL

2.   Communicative CALL

3.   Integrative CALL 

Behavioristic CALL, conceived in the 1950s and implemented in the 1960s and 1970s could be considered a sub-component of the broader field of computer-assisted instruction. This mode of CALL featured repetitive language drills, referred to as drill-and-practice. In this paradigm which is popular in the United States, the computer was regarded as a mechanical tutor which never grew tired or judgmental and allowed students to work at an individual pace. Behavioristic CALL was first designed and implemented in the era of the mainframe, but eventually modified and implemented to the personal computer. According to Ahmad, Corbett, Rogers and Sussex, 1985) PLATO was the best system which ran on its own special hardware consisting of a central computer and terminals and featured extensive drills, grammatical explanations, and translation tests at various intervals.

Communicative CALL emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s when behavioristic approaches to language teaching were being rejected at both the theoretical and pedagogic level, and when new personal computers were creating greater possibilities for individual work. Proponents of communicative CALL stressed that computer-based activities should focus more on using form than on the forms themselves, teach grammar implicitly rather than explicitly, allow and encourage students to generate original utterances rather than just manipulate prefabricated language and use the target language predominantly or even exclusively (Jones & Fortescue, 1987; Phillips, 1987; Underwood, 1984) . Warschauer and Healey also argue that communicative CALL corresponded to cognitive theories which empathize that learning was a process of discovery, expression, and development.  Popular CALL software which was developed in this period  included text reconstruction programs ( which allowed students working alone or in groups to rearrange words and texts to discover patterns of language and meaning)and stimulation (which stimulated discussion and discovery among students working in pairs or groups). Many of the proponents of the communicative CALL did not focus on what students did with the machine, but rather what they with each other while working at the computer.

Though communicative CALL was considered as an advance over behavioristic CALL, it also came under criticism. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, critics pointed out that the computer was still being used in an ad hoc and disconnected fashion and thus ‘finds itself making a greater contribution marginal rather than central elements’ of language learning process (Kenning & Kenning, 1990: 90). Warschauer (1996b) discusses that many teachers were moving away from a cognitive view of communicative teaching to a more social or socio-cognitive view, which placed greater emphasis on language use in authentic social context. Warschauer then adds that task-based, project, and content-based approaches all sought to integrate learners in authentic environment, and also to integrate the various skills of language learning and use which led to a new perspective on technology and language learning which has been termed integrative CALL.

Integrative CALL, a perspective which seeks both to integrate various skills . (e.g. listening, speaking, reading , and writing) and also integrate technology more fully into the language learning process. In integrative approaches, students learn to use a variety of technological tools as an ongoing process of language learning to use, rather than visiting the computer lab on a once a week basis isolated exercises (whether the exercises are behavioristic or communicative).

While the mainframe was the technology of behavioristic CALL, and the PC the technology of communicative CALL, the multimedia networked computer is the technology of integrative CALL. The multimedia networked computer is now available for almost majority of the students in the developed countries and provides possibilities for more integrated uses of technology as learning to read, write, and communicate via computer which has become and essential feature of modern life  in the third millennium in the developed world.

It is obvious that many of the changes in CALL paradigms have resulted from economic and social changes. As Warschauer and Healey (1998) argue, the shift to global information-based economies has meant a dramatic increase in the need to deal with large amount of information and to communicate across language and cultures. Consequently, teacher’s roles have also changed with times and teachers are not the only sources of language information in the age of information. Warschauer and Healey also believe that as a result of the recent rapid political, social, and educational changes in the world, the teacher has become a facilitator of learning rather than the font of wisdom, and will find, select, and offer information in a variety of ways on the basis of what the students must learn in order to meet diverse needs.  

The Current Role of the Computers in EFL

The Advantages of the Computer in Language Learning

Ahmad et al. (1985) divide the advantages of computer into three types:

1.   Those which are part of its inherent nature

2.   Those which benefit the teacher.

3.   Those which benefit the learner.

They argue that the computer can offer interactive learning which means that like a two-way task, it can conduct a two-way learning session with students which will improve the students’ performance in language acquisition.  It is indeed more than a mere programmed textbook. The computer can assess the student’s response. It can give messages, check the student’s subsequent responses to the questions,  give positive and negative scores to correct and wrong answers and finally corrects the errors made by the users and give the appropriate feedback. All of these activities can be repeated easily and without mistakes by the computer which easily arise from repetition by human beings. It sometimes happens that due to the illness, timetable clashes or other family and personal problems, students are absent from classes and cannot attend the course and accordingly miss the lessons and related points covered in the class. These kind of problems present no difficulty for the computer and consequently for CALL programs. The reason is clear, if a computer is available, the student can later use the computer and spend as long as he/she wants to get full benefit from the call program. It can also accommodate different speeds of learning and alternatively time limits can be allocated for answering questions. This is specifically helpful and valuable for testing purposes. From the teacher’s point of view, the computer offers a lot of help. The big help is its versatility in handling different kinds of material in short time. But the simplest is the one-way presentation of information in different forms such as tables, graphics, audio and video and text. The computer can also present games, questions and answers, dialogues and many different activities and exercises which will certainly facilitate learning and create a favorable condition for teaching and learning purposes too.

The computer also offers many advantages and help for students. The first one is accessibility. If computers are available, student can work with them ass long as they desire. As a result of the computer's flexibility of time students thus can get most of the benefit from their time. This factor makes most of the courses accessible to students who would otherwise miss the classes. Distance teaching is nowadays practicable by the utilization of the computer. This also makes the courses available on a distance mode for part-time students too. Technological developments have made it possible to link the computer by telephone line (modem) which has consequently made it feasible for the users to use the E-mail and Internet to learn language too. Graduate and postgraduate students can benefit more from computer too. They can get in touch and communicate with their supervisors whenever they want even out of office hours and get feedback on their assignments and thesis from their supervisors. 

Finally “computer can be a powerful motivating force (Ahmad et al. 1985: 6). As Kaliski (1992) points out, the computer has a positive and key role in productive language instruction provided that its possibilities and limitations are recognized. However CALL deserves a special and serious consideration and attention  

The Disadvantages of the Computer in Language Learning

It is argued that the fact that Call was viewed with certain hostility by language teachers goes beyond mere objections to methodological considerations. One problem is that early CALL was designed to be used for self study and most of the input was designed by people other than language teachers, in particular psychologists and computer industry itself. As a result one of the fears within the teaching profession at that time was that the computer would alter the nature of student/teacher relationship. Most of teacher also thought that they might be replaced by the computers too.  

Referring to the above mentioned problems, Kaliski (1992) then points out that there are a number of reasons for the under-utilization of computers in language teaching. While the young generations are often computer literate, older members of society express a certain reluctance to embrace the computer and remain unaware of its potential and advantages in language learning. It is also argued that an association in the early days of CALL with behaviorist language learning theory, based on rote learning and drilling of language items, known to language teachers as ‘drill and kill’ has given CALL a bad image. On the other hand  language teaching has now mowed into a ‘cognitive’, ‘communicative’ phase, leading some learners and teachers to think that CALL has nothing new to offer to its users. Another reason might be the poorly produced software or the cost of the software which most of the users cannot afford to buy. While much CALL software may still be in the Iron Age, in Kaliski’s terms, in pedagogical terms, there are suggestions of new roles for call. Leech and Candlin (1986: XI) also refer to this software problem that “CALL is still in an experimental stage, when the potentiality of medium is still being explored, and software (particularly good software) is in short supply.” However different ways of utilizing the computer and reassessing its role, new ideas about programming and technological developments are beginning to open up new possibilities.


The role of computers in language teaching has changed significantly in the last 30 years. We have come a long way. There is still a long way a head to go. In the past, utilization of computers were limited to text and only simple simulations and exercises, primarily gap-filling and multiple choice  drills were used. Technological and pedagogical developments now allow us to more fully integrate computer technology into the language learning process. Multimedia programs, such as speech-recognition software, concordance software and moreover Internet provide us opportunities and create an ideal environment to communicate in the target language and accordingly facilitate  learning a foreign language in an ESL situation in general and for EFL situation in particular.

As Warschauer and Healey (1998) also predicts, more developments in networked communication, multimedia and artificial intelligence will certainly create a potentially crucial role for the computer for language exploration and use in the second language classroom. Meanwhile as our focus of attention shifts from the computer itself to the natural integration of computers in the language learning process, it will be realized that computer technology has taken its rightful place as an important element of language learning and teaching. However it is necessary to evaluate the present position and future possibilities, the achievement of CALL which depends on software and hardware availability and also on the orientation of computer-assisted curriculum. By this careful evaluation, the shortcoming and limitations would be recognized and necessary steps would be taken to cure the remedies and strengthen the positive points.


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About the author

Description: Prof

Professor Massoud Rahimpour is professor of applied linguistics at the University of Tabriz and an honorary research consultant at The University of Queensland in Australia. He is holding M.A in teaching English from Oklahoma City University in the USA and Ph. D in applied linguistics from The University of Queensland in Australia. Prof. Rahimpour has presented and published papers in international conferences and journals. He has also supervised over 60 M.A and Ph. D theses and written 3 books. Prof. Rahimpour is Editor-in-chief- of Journal English Language Teaching and Learning.

Research interests: Syllabus design; Task-based language teaching; Second language acquisition; Research methods in applied linguistics

m.rahimpour@uq.edu.au       rahimpour2003@yahoo.com


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