Computer Assisted Language Learning:
Where are we now and where are we going?
Graham Davies

This article was originally published in 2003 at the Futurelab website at
This version includes minor updates and corrected Web links.
Another article with the same title, which was originally presented as a keynote paper at the UCALL Conference, University of Coleraine, 2005, can be found at
The UCALL article includes new material.

Links checked 2 February 2012

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 (Modern Foreign Languages) since the 1960s in higher education and since the early 1980s in secondary education. The rapid growth in the use of ICT in Modern Foreign Languages 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. CALL's history is well documented at the History of CALL website.

Warschauer (1996) distinguishes three phases of CALL, illustrating the development of an increasing number of different ways in which the computer has been used in language learning and teaching:

  1. Behaviouristic: The computer as tutor, serving mainly as a vehicle for delivering instructional materials to the learner.

  2. Communicative: The computer is used for skill practice, but in a non-drill format and with a greater degree of student choice, control and interaction. This phase also includes (a) using the computer to stimulate discussion, writing or critical thinking (e.g. using programs such as Sim City), and (b) using the computer as a tool or workhorse - examples include word processors, spelling and grammar checkers, and concordancers.

  3. Integrative: This phase is marked by the introduction of two important innovations: (a) multimedia, (b) the Internet. The main advantage of multimedia packages is that they enable reading, writing, speaking and listening to be combined in a single activity, with the learner exercising a high degree of control over the path that he/she follows through the learning materials. The Internet builds on multimedia technology and in addition enables both asynchronous and synchronous communication between learners and teachers. The advent of the Web has opened up a new range of tasks for Modern Foreign Languages learners, e.g. Web quests, Web concordancing, and collaborative writing.

We are now well into the third phase. The range of different types of CALL software currently available is impressive. As well as routine drill-and-practice programs, there are vocabulary games, action mazes, adventures and simulations, exploratory programs, and text reconstruction (total Cloze) packages. See Module 1.4 at the ICT for Language Teachers website for further examples.

There has been a prolific output of publications on CALL. The EUROCALL and ICT for Language Teachers bibliographies list the most important research and academic publications, and CILT offers a range of practically oriented publications for practising teachers. Many schools have set up extensive Modern Foreign Languages websites, for example The Ashcombe School and The Royal Grammar School High Wycombe. Electronic discussion lists form virtual communities of teachers, enabling them to exchange views, seek advice and generally let off steam. The Linguanet Forum is a good example of a lively discussion list aimed at teachers of Modern Foreign Languages.

A wealth of publications relating to online language learning and teaching has appeared in the last few years, a recent publication being Beyond Babel (Felix 2001). But the Web needs to be treated with a degree of caution. As Felix points out:

" takes a very special person to learn and, especially, speak a language without face-to-face communication." (Felix 2001:8)

This is why the designer of online language learning materials is advised to adopt

"...hybrid approaches designed to avoid potential technical problems, such as downloading activities from the Web on to a self-contained intranet, integrating CD-ROMs and the Web, or running audio conferencing or videoconferencing with Web activities." (Felix 2001:190)

With the advent of broadband, however, many of the problems associated with the Web are being overcome, but an educational institution needs an extremely fast connection to enable multiple users to enjoy the media-rich language learning materials that are currently available: e.g. the BBC Languages website and The Ashcombe School website, both of which contain examples of language learning materials that include audio and video clips.

So, where is CALL heading? Undoubtedly, there will be an expansion of online learning, but it is more likely to supplement conventional modes of learning rather than replacing them. Language learners in particular cannot acquire certain skills, for example conversational skills, without face-to-face contact with an experienced teacher, but new software tools facilitate synchronous and asynchronous oral communication and are already being used in distance-learning CALL environments.

An area of research and development currently known as Human Language Technologies (HLT) is likely to make an increasing impact on CALL. Module 3.5 at the ICT for Language Teachers website describes the main areas of HLT that have already had an influence on CALL and which are likely to have an influence in the not-too-distant future. These areas include Natural Language Processing, Machine Translation, Corpus Linguistics and Speech Technology. HLT was once regarded as a fringe area of CALL, but it is now attracting increasing attention, especially among researchers working in the area of Intelligent CALL (ICALL).

Finally, two recent publications indicate the shape of things to come both at a national level and at a European level.

The first publication is UK government document titled Languages for All: Languages for Life - A Strategy for England, published in December 2002. The document describes the Government's new plans to transform the nation's capability in languages, including two radical new initiatives:

The Languages for All document is peppered with references to ICT, which is perceived as playing a key role in the strategy, for example:

The second publication is an extensive report on a Europe-wide survey on the impact of ICT in teaching and learning foreign languages, which was commissioned in 2002 by the EC Directorate General of Education and Culture: (Fitzpatrick & Davies 2003). The report was published in January 2003:

The report opens with an executive summary that includes the following statement:

"One important fact that has emerged from this study is that Foreign Languages as a subject area is "different" from most other subject areas in the curriculum, namely that it is skill-based as well as knowledge-based, and in this respect it has more in common with Music than, say, History or Geography."

This is an important point. The media-rich environment that CALL software requires places considerable demands upon the hardware and the technicians who have to set it up and maintain it - a fact that is unfortunately often overlooked in most schools.

The report consists of four main parts:

To what extent ICT will prove capable of supporting the Government's National Strategy for Languages and to what extent the European Commission will act on the recommendations in the above report remains to be seen, but there are undoubtedly interesting and challenging times ahead!


Books and articles

Department for Education and Skills (2002) Languages for All: Languages for Life - A Strategy for England.

Department for Education and Skills (2003) Framework for Teaching Modern Foreign Languages Years 7, 8 and 9.

Felix U. (2001) Beyond Babel: Language Learning Online, Melbourne: Language Australia.

Fitzpatrick A. & Davies G. (eds.) (2003)The Impact of Information and Communications Technologies on the teaching of foreign languages and on the role of teachers of foreign languages, EC Directorate General of Education and Culture. The contribution by Graham Davies, relating specifically to the UK, is available in HTML format at

Warschauer M. (1996) "Computer-assisted language learning: an introduction". In Fotos S. (ed.) Multimedia Language Teaching, Tokyo: Logos International. Also at the ICT for Language Teachers website:


The Ashcombe School:

BBC Languages:


CILT, the National Centre for Languages:

Council of Europe's Common European Framework for Languages:

DIALANG: The DIALANG website is under reconstruction and not accessible at present, but you can read about DIALANG in Wikipedia:


EUROCALL Bibliography (EUROCALL members only):

History of CALL by Philippe Delcloque:

ICT for Language Teachers (ICT4LT):

ICT for Language Teachers Bibliography:

Linguanet Forum:

Primary Languages: CILT's national gateway to advice, information and support for everyone interested in primary languages:

Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, Languages Online:


Other Futurelab articles on ICT in language learning and teaching

© Graham Davies 2003. This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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