( CALL )

In modernized areas of the world, almost every aspect of people’s lives is affected in some way by computers. If you rely on retirement income, disability checks from government, tax and insurance refunds, or a host of other such payments, your receiving them is dependent on computers. If you are an employee, chances are that your payroll checks are computerized. Computers keep track of money deposited in banking institutions and the interest paid. They control countless devices in modern homes, such as those that generate electricity or purify water. They are a boon to doctors, clinics and hospitals in diagnosing health problems – and saving lives. Computers are used to monitor weather conditions and to keep airplanes from colliding in the air.

The development of information Technology (IT) has permeated the application of computers in the learning process, which is generally known as Computer Assisted Learning (CAL). A computer as a medium is used for the sake of facilitating people in learning, such as learning a language. However a computer is solely a tool and a medium. Hence, it is powerlrss and is totally dependent on the users. In this case, the computer is an intermediary; it is merely a part of the entire learning process. (Hartoyo 2008, 11)

Recently, the numbers of English teachers using CALL has increased markedly. In addition, many articles have been written about the role of it in English learning. Although the potential of the Internet for educational use has not been fully explored yet and the average school still makes limited use of computers for some reasons , it is obvious that we have entered a new information age in which the links between ICT and EFL have already been established. This paper is aimed at discussing what CALL is and what advantages and disadvantages CALL offers so as we know its strength and weaknesses in their usage for teaching English for ESL students.

1.      What Is Call?

a.      Definition and History of CALL

Computer – Assisted Language Learning (CALL) is an approach to language teaching and learning in which computer technology is used as an aid to the presentation, reinforcement and assessment of material to be learned, usually including a substantial interactive element.

Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) studies the role and the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in second/foreign language learning and teaching. It includes a wide range of activities spanning materials and courseware development, pedagogical practice and research.

Typical CALL programs present a stimulus to which the learner must respond. The stimulus may be presented in any combination of text, still images, sound, and motion video. The learner responds by typing at the keyboard, pointing and clicking with the mouse, or speaking into a microphone. The computer offers feedback, indicating whether the learner’s response is right or wrong, and in the more sophisticated CALL programs, attempting to analyse the learner’s response and to pinpoint errors. Branching to help and remedial activities is a common feature of CALL programs.

Facing this sudden deluge of CALL titles, students and teachers are likely to wonder: How effective are these programs? How worthwhile is it to spend time and money on them? How do we choose among so many offerings? Having invested much time and effort and come to the sobering realization that their labor of love may not have always worked miracles, CALL developers may also ask themselves: Have the initial promises of CALL been realized? How do we improve? Is there any untapped potential left in CALL?

There is no question that Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) has come of age. Computers have been a feature of teaching and learning of Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) since the 1960s in higher education and since the early 1980s in secondary education. The rapid growth in the use of ICT in MFL in the 1980s led to the foundation of the two leading professional associations: CALICO (USA) in 1982 and EUROCALL (Europe) in 1986, both of which continue to thrive and now form part of the WorldCALL umbrella association.

Early CALL favoured an approach that drew heavily on practices associated with programmed instruction. This was reflected in the term Computer Assisted Language Instruction (CALI), which originated in the USA and was in common use until the early 1980s, when CALL became the dominant term. Throughout the 1980s CALL widened its scope, embracing the communicative approach and a range of new technologies, especially multimedia and communications technology. An alternative term to CALL emerged in the early 1990s, 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. The term TELL has not, however, gained as wide an acceptance as CALL.

b.     Programs

For many years, foreign language teachers have used the computer to provide supplemental exercises. In recent years, advances in computer technology have motivated teachers to reassess the computer and consider it a valuable part of daily foreign language learning. Innovative software programs, authoring capabilities, compact disk technology, and elaborate computer networks are providing teachers with new methods of incorporating culture, grammar, and real language use in the classroom while students gain access to audio, visual, and textual information about the language and the culture of its speakers.

c.      Computer-Based Foreign Language Programs

For many years, basic drill-and-practice software programs dominated the market in computer-assisted language learning. These programs focused on vocabulary or discrete grammar points. A vast array of drill-and-practice programs are still available; in addition, however, an increasing number of innovative and interactive programs is being developed. Simulation programs, while reinforcing grammar points, present students with real-life situations in which they learn about the culture of a country and the protocol for various situations. For example, the “Ticket” series by Bluelion Software and “Recuerdos de Madrid” from D.C. Heath are simulations that provide country-specific situations in a task-based format. “PC Globe” and encyclopedia-type programs are information programs that allow students to conduct research in the target language. Games such as the foreign language versions of “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” by Broderbund Software or “Trivial Pursuit” from Gessler publishers provide an entertaining environment for students to learn culture and the target language through problem-solving and competition. Writing assistants, like “Salsa” and “Systeme-D” aid students in writing compositions in the target language by providing help in grammar, style, and verb conjugation and use.

d.      Customizing, Template, And Authoring Programs

The greatest flexibility for teachers using CALL is in the area of authoring programs. Teachers can use these programs to create simple or elaborate software programs using their own materials. In this way, teachers are able to design the program to fit their own lesson plans. Authoring programs range from simple template programs to more complicated authoring languages. Template programs, such as “Choicemaster” and “Storyboard” from Eurocentres Software, provide teachers with the basic structure for a program into which they put their own exercises. “Dasher” by Conduit Software, and “Calis,” developed at Duke University, provide more flexibility in creating exercises that allow teachers to work with screen design and different types of programs. Teachers have the most flexibility in program development and design in authoring systems such as “Toolbook,” by Asymetrix, and “Hypercard,” packaged with each Macintosh computer, which allow multimedia capabilities as well as less complicated authoring possibilities.

2.      Strengths and Weaknesses of Computer

a.      Strengths

Interactivity is a crucial strength of the new technology. The computer is interactive, first of all, by virtue of the fact that the user can gain control over learning and therefore becomes an active participant in the learning process. Interactivity also allows the instant feedback from the computer. The interactivity of the computer makes it especially suited for implementing learner-centered teaching methods.

Multimedia should be considered truly revolutionary for language pedagogy. The new technology really shines in its presentation of form and meaning. The sound and graphic capabilities of the computer not only have improved presentation; they have also made possible what conventional textbooks cannot do. Digitized audio has made possible the modeling of pronunciation. The teaching of characters’ stroke order and direction has taken a giant step forward from the cumbersome representation on paper to the animated demonstration formerly achievable only with a human instructor. Still or animated graphics for illustrating meanings and speech production may both educate and entertain.

Random and rapid access allows the instant retrieval of vocabulary and grammar explanations. It also contributes to easy learner control and recycling of materials.

The computer’s ability to store and manipulate data also makes it possible to keep scores, log errors and track learner performance.

The consistency and patience of the computer is not only crucial for learning by association and repeated exposure. Paradoxically, without the possible ill-effects of an over-bearing human teacher, the patient and interactive computer can provide a very user-friendly and learner-centered learning environment.

In addition to the above-mentioned general characteristics, digital speech technology in particular has enabled the graphic display of the relevant acoustic properties of speech such as amplitude, pitch level and frequency composition.

b.      Weaknesses

Some educators and syllabus designers must be very critical of software programs that they consider using in their teaching contexts. A program may look very good the first few times it is viewed, but dynamic, visual qualities are not sufficient to assure that it will be effective in teaching the target material. Users may quickly tire of the spinning characters, lights and whistles. The content and methodology of the program has to be the principal rationale in choosing a CALL program.

3. Advantages and disadvantages of CALL

a.      Advantages

Many educators indicate that the current computer technology has many advantages for second language learning. The following are the advantages as stated by many experts:

♦       Interest and motivation

Classical language teaching in classroom can be monotonous, boring, and even frustrating, and students can loose interest and motivation in learning. CALL programmers can provide student ways to learn English through computer games, animated graphics, and problem-solving techniques which can make drills more interesting (Ravichandran 2000).

♦       Individualization

CALL allows learners to have non-sequential learning habit; they can decide on their own which skills to develop and which course to use, as well as the speed and level by their own needs.

♦       A compatible learning style

Students have different style of learning, and an incompatible style for students will cause serious conflicts to them. Computer can provide an exciting “fast” drill for one student and “slow” for another.

♦       Optimal use of learning time

The time flexibility of using computer enables students to choose appropriate timing for learning. Winter (1997) in Kiliçkaya (2007) stressed the importance of flexible learning, learning anywhere, anytime, anyhow, and anything you want, which is very true for the web-based instruction and CALL. Learners are given a chance to study and review the materials as many times they want without limited time.

♦       Immediate feedback

Students receive maximum benefit from feedback only if it is given immediately. A delayed positive feedback will reduce the encouragement and reinforcement, and a delayed negative feedback affect the crucial knowledge a student must master. Computer can give instant feedback and help the students ward off his misconception at the very first stage. Brown (1997) in Kiliçkaya (2007) listed the advantages of CALL as giving immediate feedback, allowing students at their own pace, and causing less frustration among students.

♦       Error analysis

Computer database can be used by teacher to classify and differentiate the type of general error and error on account of the influence of the first language. A computer can analyze the specific mistakes that students made and can react in different way from the usual teacher, which make students able to make self-correction and understand the principle behind the correct solution. (Ravichandran, 2007)

♦       Guided and repetitive practice

Students have freedom of expression within certain bounds that programmers create, such as grammar, vocabulary, etc. They can repeat the course they want to master as many as they wish. According to Ikeda (1999) in Kiliçkaya (2007), drill-type CALL materials are suitable for repetitive practice, which enable students to learn concepts and key elements in a subject area.

♦       Pre-determined to process syllabus

Computer enhances the learning process from a pre-determined syllabus to an emerging or process syllabus. For example, a monotonous paper exercise of ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ type can be made more exciting on the screen in the self-access mode, and students can select their own material. Therefore, CALL facilitates the synthesis of the pre-planned syllabus and learner syllabuses “through a decision-making process undertaken by teacher and learners together” (Breen 1986 in Ravichandran 2000).

b.      Disadvantages of CALL

Although there are many advantages of computer, the application of current computer technology still has its limitations and disadvantages.

•        Less-handy equipment.

According to Ansel et al (1992) in Hartoyo (2006, 31), the CAL program is different from traditional books that can be carried around and studied wherever and whenever they wish: on a train, at home, in the middle of the night, and so on. School computers or language laboratory can only be accessed in restricted hours, so CALL program only benefits people who have computers at home or personal notebook.

•        Increased educational costs.

Gips, DiMattia, and Gips (2004) in Lai (2006) indicated that CALL will increase educational cost, since computers become a basic requirement for students to purchase, and low-budget school and low income students cannot afford a computer

•        Lack of trained teachers.

It is necessary for teachers and students to have basic technology knowledge before applying computer technology in second language teaching and learning. Therefore, computers will only benefit those who are familiar with computer technology (Roblyer 2003 in Lai 2006).

•        Imperfect current CALL programs

At present, the software of CALL mainly deals with reading, listening, and writing skills. There are some speaking programs have been developed recently, but their functions are still limited. Warschauer (2004) in Lai (2006) stated that a program should ideally be able to understand a user’s spoken input and evaluate it not just for correctness but also for ‘appropriatness’. Speaking program should be able to diagnose a learner’s problem with pronunciation, syntax, or usage and then intelligently decide among a range of options.

•        Inability to handle unexpected situations

The learning situation that a second-language learner faces are various and ever changing. Computers merely have artificial intelligence, and it cannot deal with learner’s unexpected learning problem or response to learner’s questions immediately as teachers do. Blin (1994) in Lai (2006) stated that computer technology with that degree do not exist, and are not expected to exist quite a long time. In other words, today’s computer technology and its language learning programs are not yet intelligent enough to be truly interactive.


The advantages of CALL can be outlined as providing motivation and autonomy for learner, compatible and time flexible learning, immediate and detailed feedback, error analysis, and a process syllabus. Some considerations must be given to the disadvantages of CALL, such as less handy equipment, high cost of education, lack of trained teachers and of CALL programs of perfect quality, and limited capacity of computers to handle unexpected situations.

CALL has certain advantages and disadvantages and  teachers should know the strengths and weaknesses in applying CALL in ESL classrooms. It is agreeable that technological advancement and development has enabled the application of CALL programs in language learning and instruction, and it has become a new trend recently. Even so, computer technology still has its limitation and weaknesses. Therefore, we must first realize the advantages and disadvantages of current CALL programs before applying them to improve our teaching or to help student learning. In the end, we can avoid the mistake in employing CALL program and get the maximum benefit for our ESL teaching and learning.


Bibliographical References

Breland,H.M. 1996. Computer-assisted writing assessment: The politics of science versus the humanities. New-York: Modern Language Association of America.

Esteras,S.R. 2003. English for computer users. Infotech: Third edition. Cambridge University.


Hartoyo, Ma, Ph.D. 2006. Individual Differences in Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). Semarang: Universitas Negeri Semarang Press.

History of CALL –

Kiliçkaya, Ferit. 2007. The Effect of Computer Assisted Language Learning on Turkisk Learners’ Achievement on The TOEFL Exam.



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