ERIC Identifier: ED350883 Publication Date: 1992-12-00
Author: Willetts, Karen Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Technology and Second Language Learning. ERIC Digest.
This Digest is based on a chapter from Integrating Technology into the
Foreign Language Curriculum: A Teacher Training Manual. The manual will be
available in 1993 from the Center for Applied Linguistics, 1118 22nd Street NW,
Washington, DC 20037.
The use of technology in teaching second languages has been increasing
dramatically over the past few years. University language departments and U.S.
government agencies' language training divisions are implementing various
technologies into the curriculum on a regular basis. Several school districts
across the nation are creating special magnet high schools where technology,
international studies, and second languages are emphasized. Technology is
becoming a bigger part of both in-class and home study, as the traditional use
of audio and films is supplemented by computer-assisted instruction and
interactive media technologies.
THE COMPUTER AS CORE
The computer by itself has many
capabilities for enhancing language learning but combined with other
technologies'such as audio, video, modems and phone lines, and satellite
dishes'the possibilities are even greater for the second language learner.
*Information retrieval. Many databases, bibliographies, and multilingual
dictionaries are now accessible to students for research and language learning
purposes. Most information and dictionaries are stored on CD-ROM (Compact-Disc
Read Only Memory). With a CD-ROM player (not like the one used for music, but
one that can be controlled by a computer) attached by a cable to the computer,
students can retrieve all kinds of data. By using a modem (a machine that
permits one computer to communicate with another off-site via a phone line),
students can retrieve information from other databases'even in other countries.
*Interactive audio. Computers can be used with an audio source to teach and
test active listening skills. With the addition of a computer-controlled tape
recorder or a CD-ROM drive, interactive audio lessons are possible. The computer
permits fast access to a linear audio tape or instant access to audio stored on
a CD-ROM. Visual information or activities, added via an authoring program,
appear on the computer screen. Audio stored on computer disks takes too much
space, so the storage of audio on CD-ROM, easily accessed by the computer, has
greatly increased the use of audio lessons in an interactive environment.
*Interactive video. Computers controlling a linear video (VHS) player or a
laser videodisc player provide interactive video instruction. As in the case of
interactive audio, the computer can provide faster access to videotape segments
(without the manual fast forward or reverse), and accompanying written material
is provided on the computer screen. Stills or up to 60 minutes of motion video
can be stored on a videodisc (a large silver disc resembling a 33 RPM record)
instead of a tape. The student has instant access to any of the 54,000 frames
per side of the disc. A special videodisc player, hooked up to the computer by a
cable, is required for interactive videodisc activities.
*Local area networks. Computers linked together (in a classroom, lab, or
building) via cables form a Local Area Network (LAN), which allows students to
share the same software and peripherals, such as printers. In a lab setting,
teachers do not have to load each computer with the software program--it is
shared from a single computer (or a file server). In addition, certain LAN
set-ups permit students and teachers to correspond with each other in real time
or to conduct collaborative writing activities in the target language.
*Long distance networks are computers linked across long distances. With
telecommunications software, a computer can communicate with another one
thousands of miles away via a modem and phone line. This set-up provides an
opportunity to communicate directly over a long distance network with other
parts of the world--and in other languages.
*Satellite broadcasts. Satellites now beam programs from around the world.
These can be captured using satellite dish--bringing foreign broadcasting right
into the language classroom. A computer controls the position of a satellite
dish to pick up the desired programs. These live broadcasts can be videotaped
for later classroom viewing. If desired, a computer can generate characters on
videotape, providing sub-titles in English or in foreign languages for these
TECHNOLOGY AND LANGUAGE SKILLS DEVELOPMENT
One of the first
steps in technology-assisted instruction is to decide which technological medium
is the most appropriate one for the language skill(s) to be developed during a
particular period of time. Some technologies lend themselves better to the
acquisition of certain language skills than others.
*Computers and computer networks. Computer-assisted instructional (CAI)
programs are ideal for fostering reading and writing skills in the target
language. CAI can be used by groups or individual students within a classroom or
media center, or over local or long-distance computer networks. Students waiting
for a message to arrive from another classroom or another country are highly
motivated to read that message, and in turn, to respond in writing to this real
form of communication. With a basic word processing program, students can write
short articles and compile and edit a newspaper based on their classroom
*Interactive audio. With the addition of audio capabilities to personal
computers via audio boards (or CD-ROM) with microphones for input and headphones
for output, the audio-assisted computer is a virtual mini-media unit. With the
hookup of a special tape recorder to the computer, interactive audio provides
multiple possibilities to teach and test active listening skills. In
computer-assisted audio, the printed screen comes alive with sound for the
acquisition of listening and speaking skills as well as reading and writing
*Video. In the case of video, the visual component, which is especially
useful for cultural and paralinguistic information, is added to the oral/aural
components of other technologies. Regular linear video is most useful in
developing listening skills and creating cultural awareness. Video with target
language subtitles can also serve in developing reading skills. Video enables
students to observe the dress, food, climate, and gestures of the target
*Interactive video. When the power of a computer is added to video that is
pressed onto a disc for instant access of sound, vision, and text, the resulting
interactive videodisc system can provide practice in all of the language skills.
Students' skills in listening and reading as well as in writing and speaking can
be greatly enhanced when these latter options are available on an interactive
videodisc program. (Not all videodisc programs provide student audio input.)
Cultural aspects of the video segments can be highlighted using the videodisc
TYPES OF TECHNOLOGY-ASSISTED ACTIVITIES
Once the specific
technology and skill(s) to be developed have been matched as outlined above, the
specific courseware and type of activity that are most appropriate must be
selected or prepared. Traditional exercises provide various activities for the
development of these skills, but technology-assisted activities can also be
introduced into standard teaching techniques to enhance language learning.
*Speaking. Dialogues can be effectively used in developing speaking skills.
Use of an interactive audio program allows students to create dialogues and to
practice them with other students. Other task-based speaking activities can also
be used effectively with interactive audio programs (Stone, 1991).
*Listening. Videotapes or interactive videodisc programs can provide
excellent listening comprehension activities, given a good listening guide
prepared for the students. Depending on the language level, students listen for
just the main idea or jist of a segment, or they listen for specific facts in
the video program.
*Reading. Reading skills can be substantially developed using
computer-assisted instructional programs. Word-level reading skills (word
recognition) are enhanced by activities such as cloze activities (every nth word
of a text deleted), anagrams, jumbled words, and so on, which are found in many
CAI software programs. To practice reading at the sentence level, computer
programs provide practice in ordering words within a sentence, text
reconstruction, or ordering sentences within a paragraph. Other CAI programs
provide extensive (article or story length) reading comprehension passages with
accompanying word helps and comprehension questions at the end of the selection.
*Writing. Technology-assisted activities such as fill-in-the-blank,
multiple-choice, and true/false questions help students to write at the word
level. Other types of software, such as databases and spreadsheets, provide
students with practice in retrieving information and problem-solving skills.
Word processors (in the target language) are ideal for compositions or free
writing practice at the discourse level. Some word processors are bilingual and
provide on-line assistance with dictionaries, spell checkers, and grammar helps.
When technology is interactively used among students, cooperative writing
activities are strong motivators to help students develop writing skills.
*Culture. Because of the visual component (with non-verbal behavior),
video-based activities are well suited for observing cultural differences and
similarities in a live context. Both video tape, including satellite broadcasts,
and interactive videodisc programs provide ways of developing cultural
*Testing. Computer-assisted testing now provides a more comprehensive, fast,
and accurate way of testing student language skills (other than speaking
skills). Students can also self-test using CAI programs. Teachers can use
testing in an instructional way given the right kinds of activities and
With technology-assisted instruction, there are
changes in both educator and student roles. Students are given more
responsibility for their own learning, while the educator serves as a guide and
resource expert who circulates among students, working individually or in small
groups with a technology-assisted lesson. Educators observe more of the learning
process in action and serve as a guide in that process.
The new technologies offer many possibilities to the second language learner.
The effectiveness of these technologies depends on appropriate use by informed
educators. Neither textbooks nor technology can replace the live, unprogrammed
feedback and interaction of the language teacher.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
Stone, L. (1991). "Task-based activities: Making the language laboratory
interactive. ERIC Digest." Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and
"Technology and language learning yearbook. Volume 4." La Jolla, CA:
Willetts, K. (Ed.). (in press). "Integrating technology into the foreign
language curriculum: A teacher training manual." Washington, DC: Center for
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