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Computer-Assisted Language Learning in Current Esl Class Rooms

Amidst the phenomenal developments in the context of science and technology, education for the 21st century needs a lot of rethinking on modernization and creation of hi-tech educational tools. An important feature of education has been its use of physical and intellectual tools.Computers, no doubt, represent a truly generic tool.

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This article throws light on the advantages and disadvantages of Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) in current ESL classrooms. Research findings indicate that the use of computer has positive effects on the achievement levels of second language learners such as learners’ autonomy, individualized phase of learning, interactive ability of computer, and learners’ involvement.However, it still has its limitations and weaknesses, such as financial, isolated, and knowledge required issues. The paper emphasizes that language educators must recognize both the benefits and limitations of using computers so that they can try their best to overcome the barriers and get the maximum effectiveness of technology to enhance second language learning. Key words : CALL – Computer assisted language learning. ESL- English as a second language , ELT- English language teaching IntroductionLike industry, commerce and public administration education has also accepted an inevitable concomitant, since teaching has come a long way from its dependence on chalk and black board, passing through the ages of using overhead projectors, tape recorders and video cassette players to the use of computers, Though the computer looks like an idiot box it is actually an intelligent box. , when properly programmed to suit the purpose of teaching. With the great development of computers and Internet, more and more second language teachers and learners are using computers for foreign language teaching and learning today. Wang Han,2008). Educators recognize that utilizing computer technology and its attached language learning programs can be convenient to create both independent and collaborative learning environments and provide students with language experiences as they move through the various stages of second language acquisition (Kung, 2002). Computer-assisted language learning (CALL) is a form of computer-based learning which carries two important features: bidirectional learning and individualized learning. It is not a method. CALL materials are tools for learning.The focus of CALL is learning, and not teaching . CALL materials are used in teaching to facilitate the language learning process. It is a form of student-centered learning materials, which promote self-paced accelerated learning. CALL is not a software application, but rather courseware that is designed specifically for language learning for a specific group of learners. 1. Advantages of CALL Programmes The computers have proved to be very effective and result-oriented in the areas of language teaching, especially in the case of ELT.It is not envisaged to make language teaching completely machine-oriented but, it is emphasized that computer-assisted language learning is a computer application to be exploited for the for the benefit of language learning 1. 1. Learner Autonomy and Individualized Learning Process Traditionally, learners must go to a class themselves at a fixed time and in a fixed classroom. If the place has a network of computer laboratories, learners can use the same materials wherever they are. They can even study at home if their personal computers have a link to their school’s system or network.In addition, the teachers and students can not only get materials and information from the websites of their own country, but also from those of foreign countries. Computer and its attached language learning programs could provide second language learners more independence from classrooms and allowing learners the option to work on their learning material at any time of the day. The computer has an edge over other educational aids. A user has necessarily to interact if a programme is to proceed from one stage to another, the computer does not let him to be a passive viewer but an active participant.A viewer’s involvement is the key component which converts input into intake. While the conventional teaching aids are involved in one-way teaching, obliging the learner to play a passive role, the computer with its interactive ability can elicit responses from learners and respond to him immediately The computer’s potential for interactive ability has certain advantages over a classroom-teaching situation. In a classroom-situation the teacher’s continuous talks and dominating personality lead to a passive response or mere absorption of information.In a one-to-one interaction with the computer, learning becomes less inhibiting and more individualised. The computer can be programmed to interact with the gifted students or slow learners at one’s own space and capability. Teaching is essentially a human activity involving mental and intellectual faculties. The human factor scores over the machine, as the teacher is sympathetic and emotional. The machine, in turn, scores over the human beings since it is unemotional and unsympathetic therefore, objective, impartial, accurate and untiring.One big difference between computers and teachers is that computers will never get tired and can repeat the same thing again and again without complaining. . (Wang Han,2008) 1. 2. Self Evaluation CALL promotes not only self–learning but also self evaluation. By getting immediate feedback a learner can assess his own performance. The tools that learners find in computers allow them to assume mastery of their own learning experience. Students can call up the programs held by computers whenever they want; besides, computers are sensitive to the learners level of proficiency.Elimination of errors from the process of learning is the finest feature of CALL. Here, the learning is self-instructional, self-controlled and instruction-oriented. One of the teaching strategies for which the computer is more reliable is drill and practice method, which is associated with the rote-memory learning. One of the advantages of CALL is that, it offers a powerful self-access facility (Phillips (1986) 1. 3. Motivated and Enjoyable Learning Currently, computer technology can provide a lot of fun games and communicative activities, reduce the learning stresses and anxieties, and provide repeated lessons as often as necessary.This will promote second language learners’ learning motivation. Through various communicative and interactive activities, computer technology can help second language learners strengthen their linguistic skills, affect their learning attitude, and build their self-instruction strategies and self-confidence. According to Robertson et al. (1987), the participants who joined computer-assisted language learning programs also had significantly higher self-esteem ratings than regular students. 1. . Data base for Students’ Learning Process The computer has also an ability to maintain a record of students’ progress, thus becoming a potential assessor of learning. Today, with the high development of computer technology, computers can capture, analyze, and present data on second language students’ performances during the learning process. As we know, observing and checking students’ learning progress are very important activities to help students achieve their second language acquisition.When teachers attempt to assess students’ learning progress, they can get the essential information from a well-designed computer language learning programs and then offer feedback tailored to students’ learning needs (Taylor & Gitsaki, 2003). 1. 5. Student- Centeredness The philosophy of CALL puts a strong emphasis on student-centered lessons that allow the learners to learn on their own using structured and/or unstructured interactive lessons. CALL can be used to reinforce what has been learned in the classrooms. It can also be used as remedial to help learners with limited language proficiency.Lee (2000) stated that the reasons why we should apply computer technology in second language instruction, include computer and its attached language learning programs can (a) prove practices for students through the experiential learning, (b) offer students more the learning motivation, (c) enhance student achievement, (d) increase authentic materials for study, (e) encourage greater interaction between teachers and students and students and peers, and (f) emphasize the individual needs. (Taylor (1980) also expressed that computer assisted language learning programs can be wonderful stimuli for second language learning. . 6. Internet – a Treasure for Learning Sources In addition, Students can get various authentic materials for reading and listening either at school or from home by connecting to the Internet. And, those materials can be accessed 24 hours a day. In a word, computer technology also provides the interdisciplinary and multicultural learning opportunities for students to carry out their independent studies. For learning interaction, Warchauer (2004) indicated that the random access to Web pages would break the linear flow of instruction.By sending E-mail and joining social networking sites, second language learners can also communicate with people they never met before and interact with their own teachers or classmates. Shy or inhibited learners can be greatly benefited through the individualized technology-learning environment, and studious learners can also proceed at their own pace to achieve higher levels. 2. Disadvantages of CALL Programs 2. 1 Financial Constraint First, although there are many advantages of computer, the application of current computer technology still has its limitations and disadvantages.Gips, DiMattia, & Gips (2004) indicated that the first disadvantage of computer assisted language learning programs is that they will increase educational costs and harm the equity of education. It is obvious that availability of computers and space for the computer laboratory are important that teachers need for CALL to be successful. When computers become a basic requirement for students to purchase, low budget schools and low-income students usually cannot afford a computer. It will cause unfair educational conditions for those poor schools and students.On the other hand, expensive hardware and software also becomes the big obligations for schools and parents. 2. 2. Internet Access The most important thing is to count on a reliable internet provider since some of the CALL programs are internet-related. The use of outdated equipment may result in unacceptable download times and thus failure of the experience. The fastest modems should be used and, if possible, the best computers to work on the web as they possess the large amounts of memory required for operating the new generation of plug-in multimedia applications. . 3. Lack of Basic knowledge on Technology It is necessary that both teachers and learners should have basic technology knowledge before they apply computer technology to assist second language teaching and learning. They should be familiar with basic internet technology in order to anticipate potential problems. The teachers should have adequate knowledge about newer sites which are for specially designed for English language testing. The teachers should keep themselves abreast of high-tech advances since technology and computerisation are mushrooming.Adequate training programmes should be organised for on the latest developments of CALL. Furthermore, they should be ready to contact support staff and on-line help resources in case major technical problems occur. No student can utilize computer if one lacks training in the uses of computer technology. Unfortunately, most teachers today do not have sufficient technological training to guide their students exploring computer and its assisted language learning programs. Therefore, the benefits of computer technology for those students who are not familiar with computer are inexistent.English teachers -and language teachers in general- should put many important factors into consideration before embarking on the adventure of CALL. First of all, they should evaluate the computer skills of learners. Learners with little or no knowledge of computers will first require a thorough introduction in basic computer skills including word processing, e-mail usage and the operation of browser software. 2. 4. Limited Functions of CALL The software of computer assisted language learning programs is still inadequate. Current computer technology mainly deals with reading, listening, and writing skills.Even though some speaking programs have been developed recently, their functions are still limited. Warschauer (2004) pointed out that a program should ideally be able to understand a user’s “spoken” input and evaluate it not just for correctness but also or “appropriateness”. It should be able to diagnose a student’s problems with pronunciation, syntax, or usage and then intelligently decide among a range of options. The computers cannot handle unexpected situations. Second language learners’ learning situations are various and ever changing.Due to the limitations of computer’s artificial intelligence, computer technology is unable to deal with learners’ unexpected learning problems and response to learners’ question immediately as teachers do. Sometimes the computers could not interact effectively with the learners. In a word, today’s computer technology and its attached language learning programs are not yet intelligent enough to be truly interactive. People still need to put effort in developing and improving computer technology in order to assist second language learners. ConclusionAs we are aware of the benefits and barriers of computer assisted learning and teaching for current foreign language learning, we generally find it necessary to apply computers in current second language class, although it still has limitations and weaknesses. Therefore, when we try to apply CALL programs to enhance their teaching or to help student learning, we should realize t the advantages and disadvantages of current CALL programs in order to avoid for misemploying CALL programs and get its maximum benefits for our ESL teaching and learning.