CALL (Computer Aided Language Learning) As computer technology overtakes the
As computer technology overtakes the world and EFL resources develop to keep up with these changes, it is important to evaluate these resources that are being used in the classroom. Teachers need to decide whether these materials are necessary or helpful in the teaching process or are they being used simply because they are available and the teacher feels pressurised to use them by students and schools alike.
In this short article, I will evaluate the resources I use in the classroom to support young EFL learners and discuss their use and value.
Two of the commercial resources used by the school I work in are 'Shine' and 'Way Ahead'. Both of these CD-Roms have been produced to develop not only vocabulary teaching, but also grammatical structures of the English language.
Both of these resources are extremely visual and engage all the students with whom I have worked. However, one of the major problems of both resources is that the students can participate in the activity without actually understanding the language being used; the students can keep matching vocabulary with pictures or reconstruct sentences until the computer agrees with their answers. This means that the teacher has to be with the student all the time to ensure that they actually understand the challenge of the activity. Even in a small class, this can be particularly difficult and what actually happens in many classes is that the activity is viewed as a 'down time' by the students and very little learning is achieved.
Another problem with using this type of computer technology is that there is very little opportunity for the students to interact with each other. Once my students are sitting in front of the computer, there can be total silence in the room; the students are so engrossed in the computer they do not want to talk. Although many teachers would suggest that this time is actually developing their reading skills, it can be, as mentioned previously, a non-learning activity where the students just guess the answers.
It is, therefore, important to be careful about how much time is spent on CALL activities as Scrivener, (2005) suggests, so that the students are not left in isolation for too long. Scrivener, (2005) also goes on to suggest the use of non-commercial materials in the class; the students have to use a search engine to find information as opposed to completing grammatical exercises. Teeler and Gray, (2000) however, warn that the Internet is so huge that students may spend more time searching for as opposed to actually using the information. A simple way to overcome this is to narrow the search to a few selected sites; the teacher will provide the students with the web addresses before they start the search. By doing this, the teacher cuts down wasted time and also focuses the students more on the language task.
Another successful suggestion of Scrivener, (2005) is to group the students, so that they have to work together and hopefully use the target language. Although grouping the younger students together at first caused some problems in the classes where I work, over time the students became used to researching work and generally their language usage improved as they were more engaged in using 'realia'.
Overall, CALL is an exciting tool to use in the classroom. It allows students to use real material and if the teacher plans the lesson well, it can be used as an interactive tool that allows the students to develop all their language skills. However, many of the commercially produced materials can make the teachers and students lazy and may not be viewed as a productive tool, but as a resource, which gives the teachers and students a lesson break. If teachers use computer technology in this manner then there is a danger that students will become bored and it may be difficult to motivate them in the future. Careful planning of CALL material can, however, transform the language classroom and encourage students to develop a love of language learning.
Scrivener, J. Learning Teaching, MacMillan Education, (2005), Oxford Teeler, D. and Gray, P. How to Use the Internet in ELT, Pearson Education Limited, (2000), Harlow