Foreign language (FL) teachers have always been ahead of the curve in integrating technology in FL instruction and learning, seeing the benefits of technology even without an extant research database to confirm their judgment. The number of computer applications, communications technologies, and sheer volume of offerings on the Internet has grown at an amazing rate over the past 15 years, and many FL educators, heeding instinct, common sense, and anecdotal information, have embraced these new technologies as useful instructional tools.
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Before turning to a discussion of the use of computers in language learning, it is better to summarize the findings on computers and learning. At first it may be concluded that the theory of generativity works well within language learning, but in fact; it supports Sherwood Smith’s claim that language learners internalize representative samples of language and use these to deduct the rules from and apply to novel utterances (Smith, Sh, 1993); however, studies show that instruction using computers works most effectively when learners are given explicit information about the target structure in the beginning after which they are given the input material.
Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) refers to the use of the computer in language teaching and learning. The field is definitely interdisciplinary in nature, with 28 major contributions from the fields of second language acquisition, instructional technology, psychology, and computational linguistics. A number of authors have attempted to give guidelines for the development and evaluation of CALL materials. Levy (1997) suggests the following factors should be taken into account: (a) language learning philosophy and teaching methodology, (b) role of the computer, (c) point of departure, and (d) role of the teacher. It seems obvious that the language learning philosophy and the teaching methodology favored by the instructional designer will greatly affect all aspects of the instructional product.
Also, Chapelle (1998) suggests several elements to be considered in the development of multimedia CALL: (a) the linguistic characteristics of the input should be noted so as to achieve “input enhancement,” (b) learners should be provided with help to understand semantic and syntactic aspects of the linguistic input, (c) learners should be given opportunities to communicate, (d) learners should be able to recognize their errors and correct them, (e) learners should engage in tasks designed to maximize opportunities for interaction.
Carlo A. Chapelle and Joan Jamieson introduced the use of computer software for teaching English as a second language, in 1980. But the problem was how to write and use it in the curriculum, and various forms of questions were asked by the audience whether the computer should be used in language teaching, but during the 1990s the question of should changed into how; and by entering the 21st century learning language through technology has become a fact of life. Of course, according to Lam (2000) some teachers lack perceived legitimacy of technology and as a result they reject the technological changes in the curriculum.
Technology, especially modern information and communication technology, holds great potential for significantly improving second language learning (Chapelle, 2001; Egbert, Chao, & Hanson-Smith, 1999; Levy, 1997; Pennington, 1996; Salaberry, 2001; Zhao, 2003a). However the potential does not automatically lead to learning gains because most of the technologies second language educators believe to have the potential to significantly improve second language learning were not necessarily invented for this purpose and thus there are no explicit straightforward directions about how each technology should be used. There is not either any internal logic to connect technology and second language learning. Hence when faced with a technology, second language educators must work out how this technology can be used to help enhance second language learning. This “figuring out” process is essentially a reinventing process that translates the capacities of a technology into a solution to a problem in the second language learning process (Zhao, 2003b).
How a technology is used is the direct result of this translation process, which is affected by the educator’s understanding of the capacities of technology, which is inevitably constrained by the real functions of the technology, and her view of the educational goals and process, which is in turn influenced and limited by the context in which the learning occurs. Thus depending on the framework that is used to guide the interpretation, the same technology can have many qualitatively different uses. The computer, for instance, when viewed as a tool for teachers, is used to address problems teachers face: communicating with their peers, students, and parents, record keeping, or preparing for classes. When viewed as a tool for the learner, the computer is then used to solve problems of the learner: accessing learning materials, completing homework, or obtaining feedback.
We know that there are many reports about the effective use of Internet technologies, web resources and multimedia learning programs in ESL/EFL. It is a usual method for English teachers to enhance students’ English acquisition by using multimedia teaching and learning materials, such as audio, picture, animation, and movies. Liu (2000) listed five types of E-learning activities: e-mail, on-line discussion, electronic bulletin, and MOO (Multi-dungeon object-oriented), and global resource network.
It is known that boys and girls both want to have fun, and the use of computers will bring this fun and will also motivate them to learn more; and the use of computer also plays an important role at university level; thus different researches were conducted to perceive the integration of technology-based materials in the L2 learning process. Even though the use of CALL does not always improve L2 acquisition, university level students enthusiastically embrace the use of technology in second language instruction (Schcolnik et al, 1996). Consequently, the integration of technology in second language teaching and learning has developed rapidly. On the other hand some professors reject technology because institutions purchase the technology equipment and install it, but do not provide the training of new technologies. Some other who do so; believe that the rate of technology change is usually impulsive.
Thus to answer the question of whether the technology should be used or not, different researches were conducted on different skills of L2 learners. Overall, all of the instructors agreed that the use of technology in general SLA (Second Language Acquisition) contexts and in the L2 should be driven by theoretical rich motivations. All of the instructors expressed that pedagogy and research should drive technology, and not the reverse. Doughty (1987) asserts that second language pedagogy must be connected to theory and empirical research, and 10 years later Bush (1997) stated that there is little evidence that technology has had a significant impact on the way most students acquire languages in the USA. Since 1997, many researchers have conducted studies that connect SLA theory and research to CALL and therefore educators may be more enthusiastic about the use of technology for language learning. Furthermore, all instructors reported that technology should not replace the instructor, that is, student should use technology outside of the classroom. Because technology is often viewed as a source of instructional efficiency, some instructors fear that students may not be required to come to class as often and therefore fewer instructors will be needed. Almost all of the participants in the studies stated that they do not feel that any type of technology should replace class time with an instructor.
Now this question may be raised: Might most topics and language aspects not be practiced just as easily and effectively with traditional materials such as books, paper, or pencils?
When answering this question it should be initially said that what in instructional software is modeled are the tasks that previously were done on papers. As such, the students might do the same exercises in an ordinary classroom on paper; but, this may require the teacher to collect the papers and correct them, or ask the students to self-correct. On top of this; an exercise of this kind would have to limit itself to a fairly small set of data, would require a significant amount of time to do, and carry very little motivation for the students.
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There is also another problem with the traditional way of thinking, and surprisingly with the traditional thinking of using technologies .Traditional conceptualization of technology uses in second language learning has a number of problems that have limited the impact of technology on second language acquisition. First, it tends to focus on the potential uses of individual technologies instead of the combined potential of all technologies. Thus we see a large amount of individual software or hardware for language education but seldom see a comprehensive environment that integrates the capacities of multiple technologies to support language learning. For example, currently most language learning software is developed for the computer and thus can only be used when a computer is available, making it impossible for the learner to access the learning materials when he or she does not have access to a computer or is unable to use a computer. This is especially problematic for children from low-come or minority families, and according to U.S Censu Bureau, 2001, over 70% of U.S families were not able to not able to take advantage of computer-based learning materials at home.
Second, traditional conceptualization of technology uses in second language learning tends to focus individual language learning issues instead of the learning process as a whole. Thus we see numerous individual tools and experiments that help with grammar, vocabulary, reading, or writing but rarely see a comprehensive design that coherently uses technology to help the learner with all aspects of learning. This is particularly true of uses of technology in formal language instruction. A comprehensive review of the literature suggests that the majority of journal publications about technology uses in second language learning reported uses of individual tools and experiments (Zhao, 2003a).
Third, it tends to focus on newer technologies while ignoring older technologies. Thus we see repeated abandonment of promising uses of older technologies for newer technologies. Over the past century or so, we have seen multiple waves of attempts to use technology to support language learning and each time a new technology emerged, it quickly replaced older technologies.
Lastly, existing research on technology for language learning tends to have focused on adult language learners. Thus we see much more research and development efforts for technology for adult language learners in instructional settings than for younger learners in the home environments. After an extensive review of the research literature of computer assisted language learning, (Zhao, 2003a) concludes that: a).
Computer and information technologies have the potential to transform how and what we learn throughout our lives. Effective teachers in the new century, with the help of computer and information technologies, can serve as a “valuable source of feedback, guidance and answers to questions” (Felix, 2001: 349), and not just disseminators of information. They are facilitators and counselors to students’ English self-study on the Web. Therefore, a conclusion can be made. The use of computer and information technologies will not cause any threat to the survival of teachers. Instead, we believe that the best potential of these technologies “lies in adding quality to teaching and learning environments rather than in replacing them” (Felix, 2001: 351). Therefore, English teachers should face new challenges to utilize these technologies to facilitate the instruction and promote teaching effectiveness.
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