The Impacts of Technology Integration


Cheryl John

Cheryl John (
University of Ontario Institute of Technology


Computer technology has enjoyed decades of use in the field of second and foreign language education, but efforts to integrate technology have at times presented various challenges to educators due to rapid advances in technology and occasional changes in language teaching methods. To provide some background on the use of technology for language training, this chapter will begin with a brief look at the history and evolution of the technologies and teaching approaches that have influenced computer-assisted language learning (CALL) over the years, followed by a discussion of recent developments, namely MALL (mobile-assisted language learning) and RALL (robot-assisted language learning). The opportunities and challenges presented by technology use in language education will then be identified, and an example will be provided for the application of a particular technology. Finally, the chapter will conclude with comments on the future of technology use in language education.

Keywords: CALL, language education, language learning, language teaching, MALL, RALL, technology


Since the invention of the first computers, efforts have been made to incorporate computer technology in language education. CALL (computer-assisted language learning), the term used in reference to technology-based language learning, is defined by Chapelle & Jamieson (2008) as “the area of applied linguistics concerned with the use of computers for teaching and learning a second language” (p. 1). In these times of multiple technologies, however, there has been some discussion of the suitability of the term (Kern, 2006), and TELL (technology-enhanced language learning) has come to be seen by some as more fitting (Garrett, 2009). Indeed, the literature reveals that technology use in language education is quite diverse, ranging from well-established, computer-based programs, to relatively new tools, some of which are still in the early stages of development; the literature also reports varied results in terms of their effectiveness (Golonka, Bowles, Frank, Richardson, & Freynik, 2014). This chapter aims to provide some background regarding the development of CALL over the years and to highlight various opportunities and challenges related to the use of technology in language education.


A Brief History of CALL

In the pioneering days of CALL, the dominant approaches to language teaching focused on structure and form. An example of one such approach was the audiolingual method, which emphasized the teaching of grammar. The audiolingual method was heavily influenced by the theories of prominent structural linguists and behaviourist psychologists in the 1940s and 1950s, and it remained the method of choice for many years, until concerns were raised about its ability to produce communicative proficiency in learners (Brown, 2001).

Experimentation with a variety of methods and approaches eventually led to the beginnings of the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach in the late 1970s and early 1980s. CLT emphasizes meaning, fluency, and effective communication using task-based, authentic activities, and aims to equip learners to engage effectively with native speakers in real-world settings (Brown, 2001). Since the 1990s, CLT has been the most common approach to teaching languages in second language learning environments, i.e., where learners have opportunities to immerse themselves in the target language outside of the classroom. On the other hand, CLT has not been so quickly embraced in foreign language learning contexts, where teachers of the target language, typically non-native speakers, tend to be more comfortable with grammar-based approaches. Technology is seen as a means of resolving this issue, particularly in today’s digitally connected and globalized world: “As educational and political institutions in various countries become more sensitive to the importance of teaching foreign languages for communicative purposes (not just for the purpose of fulfilling a ‘requirement’ or of ‘passing a test’), we may be better able, worldwide, to accomplish the goals of communicative language teaching” (Brown, 2001, p. 44).

One example of the above is China’s 2003 Ministry of Education mandate to produce more proficient speakers of English for economic purposes, a policy spurred on by questions raised about the effectiveness of traditional foreign language teaching methods and as a consequence of increased involvement in international organizations and events such as the World Trade Organization and the Olympics (Paul & Liu, 2018). However, the literature indicates that the shift to CLT has proven to be somewhat disruptive for teachers, parents, and students, many of whom prefer traditional teaching methods, especially for test preparation purposes (Li & Ni, 2012; Paul & Liu, 2018). In an exam-oriented culture, this appears to be one of the major obstacles to the adoption of CLT (Paul & Liu, 2018), but the sudden proliferation of online language learning options for even the youngest learners (Bloomberg News, 2017; Emmanuel, 2018), along with a growing body of literature focused on TELL in China, indicates that technology has indeed come to be seen as a likely solution to this issue (Li & Ni, 2012; Paul & Liu, 2018).

The Evolution of CALL

Warschauer (2000) divided the history of CALL into three phases: i) structural (1970s to 1980s), during which tutorials were developed for use on mainframe computers to provide learners with drill-based grammar practice for the purpose of accuracy; ii) communicative (1980s to 1990s), during which personal computers were used for communicative exercises for the purpose of accuracy and fluency; and iii) integrative (21st Century), during which multimedia and the Internet have been used to expose learners to authentic language for the purpose of accuracy, fluency, and agency. Davies, Walker, Rendall, and Hewer (2012) renamed the stages as follows: i) Dumb CALL (1970s to 1980s) due to the lack of sound and video capabilities at the time; ii) Multimedia CALL (1990s onwards); and iii) Web CALL (1993 onwards), which was used at first for more behavioristic activities due to the limited capabilities of the web, but allowed more interaction as sound and video quality improved with the advent of Web 2.0. Changes to Warschauer’s phases were also proposed by Bax (2003), to better reflect attitudes toward the integration of technology throughout the history of CALL.

Some years later, although there is evidence that technology is being used to a lesser or greater degree depending on the context, it appears that there is still some distance to go before full integration (Bax, 2011; Godwin-Jones, 2015). Language education experts generally agree that the holy grail in terms of the use of technology in language education is normalisation, defined by Bax (2003) as “the stage when a technology is invisible, hardly even recognised as a technology, taken for granted in everyday life” (p. 23), when computers in all shapes and sizes will be used “without fear or inhibition, and equally without an exaggerated respect for what they can do. They will not be the centre of any lesson, but they will play a part in almost all… They will go almost unnoticed” (p. 24). Garrett (2009) concurred that, ideally, language educators should aim for “a dynamic complex in which technology, theory, and pedagogy are inseparably interwoven” (pp. 719-720).

The options for technology use have expanded considerably since the early days of CALL. In their review of over 350 empirical studies focused on language learning technologies, Golonka et al. (2014) examined the effectiveness of a diverse range of technologies, among them learning management systems (LMS), interactive white boards, e-Portfolios, electronic dictionaries, intelligent tutoring systems, grammar checkers, automatic speech recognition, network-based social computing, and mobile and portable devices. Presently, there is a keen interest in mobile-assisted language learning (MALL) and growing interest, as well, in robot-assisted language learning (RALL). These terms are briefly discussed in the following sections.


The literature reveals that learners at different levels of language proficiency use mobile devices, particularly smartphones, for language learning purposes. This usage appears likely to increase as more teachers learn how to better leverage mobile technology to achieve desired language learning outcomes and as learners become more adept at designing their own learning activities (Brick & Cervi-Wilson, 2015; Burston, 2014; Chwo, Marek, & Wu, 2016; Demouy, Jones, Kan, Kukulska-Hulme, & Eardley, 2016; Godwin-Jones, 2016, 2017b). Mobile devices offer convenient access to technology for all learners, but they are especially useful for distance language learners (Demouy et al., 2016; Godwin-Jones, 2017b); as well, they are a powerful tool for migrants and refugees (Godwin-Jones, 2017b; see also Jones et al., 2017). Yet, in spite of their many affordances, the most common use of mobile devices in language education has been described as behaviorist and teacher-centered (Burston, 2014; Godwin-Jones, 2017b), not unlike the use of computers in the early days of CALL. Many language teachers have not yet learned how to tap into the opportunities for communication, collaboration, project-based and task-based learning that mobile devices afford (Burston, 2014; Godwin-Jones, 2017b). Furthermore, due to lack of guidance (Brick & Cervi-Wilson, 2015; Godwin-Jones, 2016), learners generally limit the use of mobile devices, in terms of their language learning, to online dictionaries and translation tools (Brick & Cervi-Wilson, 2015).


Inspired by AI (artificial intelligence) technology (Kessler, 2018), the research and development of RALL started around 2004 in a small number of Asian countries (Han, 2012). Robots have since proven to be an effective tool for motivating children to learn in foreign language learning contexts where it is often difficult to find native-speaking teachers of the target language (Han, 2012; Hong, Huang, Hsu, & Shen, 2016; Vogt, de Haas, de Jong, Baxter, & Krahmer, 2017). One of the challenges with this technology, however, is its limited ability to recognize children’s speech (Vogt et al., 2017). Since the concept is still in its infancy, considerable research is needed in the area of RALL to ensure that robots are designed to meet the needs of learners and teachers in different language learning contexts (Han, 2012; Hong et al., 2016).

As the brief history and evolution of CALL above illustrate, technology use in language learning has progressed considerably since its humble beginnings, but it is still far from full integration. The sections below discuss the opportunities and challenges related to the use of various technologies in language education.


The following list offers an overview of some of the affordances of technology for language education:

• Enables multimodal language activities in which reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills are integrated, not isolated, thereby accommodating the strengths of different learners (Blake, 2016; Felix, 2008)
• Reduces language learning anxiety (Hong et al., 2016) and increases motivation and participation (Felix, 2008; Kessler, 2018), e.g., through game-based activities and opportunities to be creative, such as via mashups and digital storytelling (Kessler, 2018)
• Enables learners to collaborate, co-construct knowledge, and build communities (Kessler, 2018; Reinders & White, 2016)
• Allows learners to construct a new social identity online which may give them confidence to interact with native speakers, i.e., to find a medium between their first language and the target language (Blake, 2016; Garrett, 2009; Godwin-Jones, 2015; Kern, 2006; Kessler, 2018)
• Facilitates individualized learning experiences for learner-centered instruction (Kessler, 2018), in which learner analytics is expected to play an increasing role as the ability to monitor and track students’ progress increases (Adams Becker, Rodriguez, Estrada, & Davis, 2016; Kessler, 2018), e.g., with adaptive learning tools like the online language learning platform Busuu (Adams Becker et al., 2016) and intelligent language tutors like Chatbot Lucy (Wang & Petrina, 2013)
• Enables access to big data such as corpora (large collections of authentic language) that can be used by teachers to create authentic learning activities (Godwin-Jones, 2017a; Kessler, 2018)
• Enables immersion in authentic contexts via the use of immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), online games and simulations, and telepresence or videoconferencing tools (Adams Becker et al., 2016; Blyth, 2018; Godwin-Jones, 2014)
• Develops learner autonomy (Kessler, 2018; Reinders & White, 2016) and allows informal learning experiences that empower learners (Adams Becker et al., 2016; Godwin-Jones, 2017b; Jones et al., 2017)
• Allows learners to explore and engage in meaningful, authentic language practice with native speakers via computer-mediated communication (CMC) tools (Blake, 2016; Garrett, 2009), such as texting, chats, e-mail, online discussions, blogging, wikis, and web-based word processing, e.g., Google Docs (Kessler, 2018)
• Enables computer-adaptive testing, which improves test security and prevents cheating (Chapelle & Voss, 2016)
• Allows for real-time feedback on assessments (Chapelle & Voss, 2016)
• Enables automated feedback on written tasks via automated writing evaluation and chatbots, which can be created by teachers for text chat practice; also enables spoken feedback via automated speech recognition (ASR) (Golonka et al., 2014; Kessler, 2018), although a few reservations have been expressed concerning the effectiveness of ASR for some language learners (Blyth, 2018; Chapelle & Voss, 2016; Golonka et al., 2014; Vogt et al., 2017)
• Enables localization (situated learning) and personalization via the use of mobile devices (Godwin-Jones, 2016), as with the MASELTOV project (, which proved effective in accommodating the language learning and settlement needs of migrants in Europe (Jones et al., 2017)
• Facilitates one-on-one language advising/language support between teachers and students via online access (Reinders & White, 2016)


Second Language Acquisition (SLA) theory has always played a tremendous role in the development and use of CALL, but this is perhaps the greatest hindrance to the use of technology in the teaching of languages other than English, particularly less commonly taught languages. Because SLA theory originated in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL), it applies to some extent to commonly taught languages like Spanish and French that are closely related to English, but it does not apply to languages that are very different, especially those with a non-Roman script (Garrett, 2009; Godwin Jones, 2013).

According to Sauro (2016), studies published in four CALL journals during the four-year period from 2012 to 2016 focused on 16 languages, including one artificial language and one Native American language. English was identified as the focus of 64% of the studies. In her commentary, Sauro, a teacher and CALL practitioner in a teacher education program in Sweden, referred to a 2015 influx of about 163,000 refugees, over 35,000 of whom were unaccompanied minors, and all of whom needed to learn Swedish. Much existing CALL research did not apply to teaching Swedish; as a result, the pre-service teachers with whom she worked were not convinced of the relevancy of the literature to their context. Sauro and her pre-service teachers were further disappointed to find that although Swedish was one of the languages featured on the popular, free language learning platform, Duolingo, the user interface was English, making it inaccessible for anyone who did not know English. An overwhelming focus in CALL literature on technology use for the purpose of English language instruction has been viewed by others as a prevailing issue (Garrett, 2009; Golonka et al., 2014).

The following presents additional challenges with technology use in language education, a few of which are common to other teaching disciplines.

• Godwin-Jones (2016) observed that exposure to different types of online genres provides opportunities for learners to become acquainted with informal language not typically found in textbooks. Kern (2006) found this somewhat problematic in that “CMC language is often less correct, less complex, less coherent than other forms of language use” (p. 194) and that learners might lack the ability to distinguish between standard and non-standard uses of language; thus, he advised teaching students appropriate registers (levels of formal and informal language) for different communicative contexts. Chapelle and Jamieson (2008) offered similar advice. Blyth (2018) further suggested that the dynamic nature of speaker identity in online cultural interaction requires teachers to help learners make sense of such language exchanges. Somewhat related, Haugh (2017) cautioned against learner reliance on translation tools that might miss cultural nuances.
• As learning becomes more personalized, teachers in all disciplines are increasingly required to take on new roles such as facilitating and guiding (Adams Becker et al., 2016; Blyth, 2018; Godwin-Jones, 2015; Kern, 2006; Kessler, 2018; Reinders & White, 2016). Adoption of new roles may be disruptive for some (Reinders & White, 2016), particularly those who lack the know-how to effectively adapt technology for use in their specific context (Godwin-Jones, 2015; Kessler, 2018); yet, they will need to take on the responsibility of researching and testing tools for learners to use inside and outside the classroom (Godwin-Jones, 2015, 2016). Godwin-Jones (2015) suggested that these tasks might be facilitated by a basic working knowledge of the design and coding of certain digital tools (Godwin-Jones, 2015). Such expectations of teacher autonomy (Reinders & White, 2016) may seem daunting, but enrolment in a MOOC or active participation in a community of practice (CoP) are two recommended ways to gain the skills and knowledge to ease the process (Godwin-Jones, 2015).
• To reasonably assess the use of the technologies they wish to incorporate into their teaching, teachers need to acquire practical knowledge of such tools (Brick & Cervi-Wilson, 2015; Godwin-Jones, 2016); as well, they should be prepared to train learners, even the most tech-savvy ones, to use various tools effectively, to reduce anxiety and cognitive load, and enable achievement of language learning goals (Chapelle & Jamieson, 2008; Chwo et al., 2016; Felix, 2008; Garrett, 2009; Godwin-Jones, 2015, 2016; Hubbard, 2013; Kern, 2006; Sydorenko, Hsieh, Ahn, & Arnold, 2017). This is critical for learners of less commonly taught languages, who should be provided with resources and training early in their language learning experience (Garrett, 2009; Godwin-Jones, 2013).


Given the indications in the literature as to the need for increased leveraging of mobile devices, a tool such as VoiceThread (, which allows users to create and share images and videos (among other files) on their smartphones, and to comment by microphone, phone, or webcam, might be used following a field trip to enable students to present photos and/or videos related to the trip and comment on files uploaded by their peers. Applied in such a manner, VoiceThread would encourage creative expression, allow student-to-student interaction, and enable learner-centered, multimodal language activities. VoiceThread can also be integrated with a number of LMS such as Moodle, Canvas, and Blackboard; and learner usage can be monitored and tracked, facilitating assessments of each learner’s progress.

Conclusions and Future Recommendations

To provide the reader with some helpful background on the use of technology in foreign and second language education, this chapter commenced with a brief history of CALL and its evolution over the years. The succeeding sections focused on the various opportunities and challenges of CALL, some of which are shared in common with other subject areas. Factors that are generally considered in discussions of technology use in education were omitted, e.g., institutional policies, infrastructure, teacher permanency (or lack thereof), student ownership of mobile devices (Chwo et al., 2016), financial considerations, and hardware constraints (Burston, 2014).

The greatest challenges with technology use in language education appear to relate to a lack of studies on a diversity of languages in CALL research. Also, more studies on technology use for younger language learners are needed. Perhaps future research will bring increased focus on these areas.

In spite of the hurdles that have yet to be surmounted, this much is evident: in this age of automation, language teachers need not fear being replaced by technology. Even as their traditional roles evolve, they will still be needed to help learners make sense of the cultural nuances of language. And such skills will be indispensable as people worldwide continue to realize the value in learning languages to increase their options for business and employment in a globalized economy.


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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2018 Copyright © 2018 by Cheryl John is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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