Computer Assisted Learning (CAL) is all the rage these days.
Many educators seem to regard it as a kind of Holy Grail of student engagement.
There’s no surprise that this growing tech trend also led directly to Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL).
And while it feels like a very modern educational trend, the principles of CALL have been around for quite a while.
As far back as 1960, researchers at the University of Illinois began working on computer-based learning models in the hopes of individualizing the whole education process.
The 1970s saw the advent of the personal computer and the development of educational methodologies to teach with it. As these technologies became more advanced and focused on communication, educators became more creative with their use of them in the classroom.
You may get the general gist but still be wondering: What exactly is CALL?
The term is sometimes defined as the use of computers in language proficiency assessment and in the presentation of new language learning material. More recently, the term has become looser and now encompasses an entire discipline of technological applications for teaching and learning languages.
How Teachers Can Overcome Obstacles to Computer Assisted Language Learning
Although its possibilities are alluring—working with technology is guaranteed to be fun and attention-grabbing—it has been challenging for educators to make the most of CALL. Technology in the classroom is a moving target, a constantly-evolving landscape. There’s always some new technology or educational tool in the works.
Plus, struggling with limitations of budget and the even more stringent limitations of time, teachers often feel that the successful use of CALL in their classrooms is beyond their reach.
But we’re here to help! We’ve compiled a collection of the best resources out there for teachers to attain the Holy Grail that is effective technology use in the classroom.
The first step to accomplishing this task is to adjust some of your thinking around CALL.
The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
With a few tweaks, most of us run our classrooms in the same way that we learned when we were in school ourselves. We channel our own favorite teachers and try to apply their spirit and methodology to our teaching.
Do you use some of the same methods employed by your favorite language teacher? Perhaps there was a game he or she liked that your students now love to play, or perhaps you use some of the same clever catchphrases to help your students remember grammar concepts. At its heart, the teaching and learning process remains the same as it’s always been.
However, this process has also been impacted by rapid and profound changes in the larger culture. With technology and digital media permeating every aspect of our world, educators can no longer easily ignore their challenges and possibilities.
The fact that students can easily find superficial answers to all their questions online has upped the ante in terms of providing them with a meaningful educational experience and homework that puts their knowledge to the test.
Our role has gradually evolved from “sage on the stage” lecturer to that of guide and coach in a digital landscape of information overload. Learning is no longer solely confined to the classroom, as students can access it anywhere at any time. Our task has become to show students how to make meaning out of this deluge of tools and information. The sobering reality is that most of the jobs our students will have don’t even exist yet.
Fortunately, there are some reliable resources for language learning to help you navigate this new territory. Some are apps or tools that you can use to present information or to assign meaningful learning tasks. Others are websites that provide engaging possibilities for homework or in-class practice. And don’t forget that CALL can be part of your learning experience too, giving you many convenient opportunities to connect with other teachers and build your personal and professional networks.
Tips to Incorporate CALL Tools Effectively
Now that you have a host of resources at your disposal—as you’ll soon discover below—how can you incorporate them into your classroom? Here are some ideas.
- Technology must support the lesson, not the other way around. Your instructional goals should always drive your decisions about technology. Don’t become so excited about a great new website or app that you lose sight of your objectives.
- Create stations. Give your students specified areas in the room to store their devices. That way you can put them aside when you need to focus on something else.
- Solicit student feedback frequently. Your students will know best whether the technology they’re using supports their learning. Be sure to survey them often and make adjustments as necessary.
- Choose tools that work best for you. Not every tool works for everyone. Try out new apps and tools often, but if it doesn’t feel like a good fit for your style or the temperament of your students, don’t feel you have to marry it. Just because your coworker loves Kahoot or Quizlet doesn’t automatically mean that you have to.
Computer Assisted Language Learning: Where Teaching Meets Technology
These tools are easy to use and present limitless options for incorporating technology in a meaningful way. There’s no shortage of great technology and online language learning resources to try. We’ve narrowed them down to a list of those that you may find most useful and engaging, but you should absolutely keep exploring.
To discover more ways to use the technology below and all the latest in your classroom, you can check out Integrating Technology in the Classroom, an online course from ed2go. This course may be especially good for ESL teachers, as it incorporates special considerations for English language learners.
As schools increasingly move to a 1:1 student-to-device model, iPads have the power to revolutionize language instruction. Imagine this new reality: When creating your lesson plans, you could provide files and slides on a shared document so that individual students can access them instantly on their own.
Keep imagining this. After setting up these files, you can interact with students about the lesson materials using TodaysMeet, a user-friendly app that allows you to easily set up a private chat room for your students. You can share links, check for understanding and have conversations in which even your shyest students will feel comfortable enough to contribute, an invaluable asset in a language classroom.
For homework, you can provide them with an engaging video to watch, an interactive quiz or a listening comprehension task. The possibilities are really endless.
The concept is simple but compelling: Take something that already exists (like a map or a poster) and enhance it by bringing it to life. Consider the possibilities for cultural exploration. Download an app like Blippar or Aurasma onto your smartphone to get started. These are both digital tools which modern language students find intuitive and exciting.
With Blippar, you can create interactive notebooks which support videos, images and slideshows as an engaging alternative to textbooks and traditional notebooks. Use Aurasma to create a hands-on interactive word wall to teach vocabulary, or even just to communicate your classroom rules in a creative way.
Homework doesn’t have to be a boring chore anymore! Use this app to provide engaging opportunities for students to practice on their own. You can even integrate this app into Google Classroom or get a “Duolingo certified educator” certificate. That’s right—there’s a whole separate version of Duolingo designed for educators teaching to full classrooms.
To give your students an immersive, interactive learning experience, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom (either on the website or with its app for iOS and Android devices). It’s designed to get students familiar with their foreign language in a fun, friendly and totally approachable way. FluentU makes it possible to teach languages with music videos, commercials, news, inspiring talks, cartoons and more.
FluentU has a huge library of videos available in English, Spanish, German, French, Chinese and Japanese—with more language libraries in the works. Beyond providing a plethora of resources to help you immerse your students in the target language through authentic videos, every video comes with interactive subtitles that can be clicked for on-screen definitions and examples.
Oh, and there are tons of features that help educators get the job done. It’s essentially it’s on classroom management platform, complete with assignments, assessments, grading and progress measurements. For instance, check out our new homework feature which makes homework more exciting and less of a chore.
This blog is here to help you every step of the way, too. After you finish reading this article, be sure to explore the rest of our FluentU General Educator Blog, which is updated regularly with the newest strategies, trends in language teaching and insights from fellow educators.
Sign up for a free account in order to easily create games that allow students to practice their learning while channeling their thirst for competition. It will even generate a report of which students answered the questions correctly as a hassle-free assessment tool.
Students love the convenience of QR codes and they have endless possibilities for the language classroom.
Add them to homework and handouts, or place them around your classroom for students to discover. Use them to create a fun scavenger hunt, or as an alternative to posting long URLs to access internet materials. Students can also have fun creating their own games or quizzes with QR codes that match questions to the correct answers. See more creative, modern ideas to employ with QR codes here.
This website (which also offers apps) takes the tried-and-true concept of the flashcard to a whole new level. Students can access online flashcards which you can create or choose to fit the unit they’re working on. The built-in audio helps them with pronunciation, and students can play games to practice.
To complete the games, students can work individually or in pairs. You can even put them in teams and have them compete. It works great not just for vocabulary, but for grammar concepts and verb conjugations too.
Students of Spanish can access this free online game to help them with pronouncing, spelling and defining their vocabulary words. It adjusts to students’ abilities and knowledge, and teachers can customize it to reflect their unique course content. This is just one program, but there are other similar ones out there for other languages, you just need to run a quick Google search to uncover them!
One excellent example of an effective university resource is that of Trent University. I’d personally recommend this website for Spanish learners, as it’s Spanish department has provided course summaries, online lessons, engaging images and native speaker sound files. Students can also record themselves speaking on the site. Check out what they have to offer for their other foreign languages taught, and explore other university sites for top-notch resources.
As you may know, WordReference is a superior dictionary for most languages, providing examples of different contexts in which words can be used and forum discussions of idiomatic expressions.
Some other great dictionaries are SpanishDict (for Spanish), Larousse (for French) and Cantonese Sheik (for Cantonese Chinese), to name a few. Find the best ones for the language you’re teaching, and use these resources to empower students to access knowledge effectively from online sources.
Did you know that language teachers can benefit from Computer Assisted Language Learning as much as their students do?
Now you can access all kinds of professional development opportunities without leaving your classroom or the comfort of your home. Make CALL part of your own professional learning experience by connecting with and learning from other language teachers.
Social media platforms
They’re not just for posting pictures of your cat anymore. Join a group of language teachers on Facebook or Google+ to receive daily inspiration and ideas from colleagues all over the world. Start a Pinterest account to organize all of the materials you find online, and follow other educators’ boards.
If you find an educational expert who intrigues you, try following them on Twitter.
It seems like anybody who’s anybody has a blog these days, but the best blogs have a pool of experts posting regularly about matters of pressing interest in the education world. Follow FluentU, Edutopia or Creative Language Class for daily doses of inspiration and fun.
Professional association websites
Professional language teacher associations post ample resources and useful contacts on their websites. Check out the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages for career tips and a helpful discussion forum.
There are also professional associations for different states and target languages, such as the California Language Teachers Association or the Teaching of English as a Second Language International Association.
The Big Payoff
There’s no denying that implementing CALL will require an investment of time and energy on your part. But there’s nothing quite like that moment when you feel the motivation level skyrocket because students are more engaged in their learning.
Take the time to try out some of the tools and ideas listed here. Then go back and reassess.
Yes, it takes time. But after all, anything worth doing is worth doing well.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach languages with real-world videos.