The Use of Computer in learning a Foreign Language

The use of computer in learning a Foreign Language

What advantages and disadvantages?

Tri Ilma Septiana

The advent of new technologies in learning process is always exciting. They add new dimensions to the class and spark students to higher level of motivation and achievement. CALL gives some impetus both to the teacher and to the student. For the former, it makes the course design easier, and for the latter it creates numerous possibilities for active interaction, and offers larger horizons for him or her to be directly involved in new concepts and way of thinking. Davey, Jones and Fox (1995) postulate that computers (multimedia) have great potential as state of the art technology for language learning. They found that their project, Computer Assisted Language Learning ‘Lingua”, could generate interaction and improve competence.

The computer has brought a revolution in education. Although it did not immediately get the right place among the language teachers, due to people’s prejudice against any technological device in education which derived from the failure of language laboratory to meet its expectation and enthusiasm when introduced in schools, finally it established itself as an important aspect in language teaching. Language teacher gradually became aware of the many ways in which the unique combination of tutorial, interactive, and visual capabilities enable computers to have a beneficial effect to learner motivation and recognized computers as a means which provided new possibilities for learning, thinking, and growing emotionally and cognitively. Davey, et al, (1995:31) stated that the inclusion of computer (multimedia) in language learning materials can transform the learning experience and enhance motivation of learner.

Balleden (1984) points out that computer technology will increasingly penetrate all areas of life, including education. Meanwhile, Madison (1983) maintains that the technology of education and the technology of communication are two sides of the same coin. The remarkable versatility of computers is the major cause for their growing popularity in schools. Unlike most machines that are capable of only a few tasks, computer can be programmed to perform a multitude of tasks and thus becomes a useful tool in the hand of teachers and learners helping them at any stage of learning process: presentation, learning, and practice including language use. Ahmat et al (1985) points out that the auxiliary role of computer in education characterizing it as a medium applied by teacher to serve him in teaching and not to replace teacher in class. This role is apparent if we analyze some acronyms such as CALL and CAI (Computer assisted Language Learning or Computer aided/assisted instruction) where the letter A stands for the words “Assisted or Aided “indicative of the role of computers as a tool.

Computer and Language Learning

Recently,  developments in linguistics as well as in language teaching and learning theories and practice call for new approaches, strategies, techniques, equipment, methods and materials to facilitate learning. Learner’s reaction to computers in education appears to be generally very favorable. Part of this fascination is undoubtedly due to the appeal of the visual effects allotted by modern microcomputer systems using TV display a success. As a result of this unique combination of tutorial, interactive, and visual capabilities, computers frequently have a beneficial effect on learner’s motivation. Nelson, et al (1976) stated that the unique property of the computer as medium for education is its ability to interact with the student. Books and recordings can tell a students what the rules are and what the right solutions are, but they cannot analyze the specific mistakes the student has made and react in a manner which leads him not only correct solution.

Using the computer in the class, a teacher applies both the behaviorist and acquisition approaches to language learning. The first because historically the behaviorist approaches are based on the principle that a response, linguistic or otherwise, is a learned behavior resulting from associating that response with a given stimulus. Through positive reinforcement for incorrect behavior, these responses become over learned until they are automatic. The second because according to Krashen’s theory of second language learning and acquisition, the organizer and affective filter are central to the acquisition portion of the overall model, as they are involved in the learner’s unconscious analysis of strings of speech in the processing of speech input, the production of input, and the synthesis of new rules. (Phillips 1986).

Advantages of CALL

Ahmad et al (1985) evaluating the pedagogical contribution of computer admits that the feelings of enthusiasm and enjoyment that the learners who use CALL programs experience, create a positive attitude to the activity of learning and to the subject matters. In particularly case, the computer may act as a teacher or tutor. Providing material, guiding a students how to learn it, and giving more information and explanations. (Hartoyo, 2006).

The computer can work accurately and precisely. It does not tire, and its attention does not alter. It can repeat an activity with none of the errors which easily arise from repetition by humans. “It can handle a very large volume of interaction and can deliver to student’s feedback of some subtlety, at more frequent intervals than would be possible for a human teacher in all but individual tuition session.” (Ahmat et al 1985:4). Besides, another potentiality of the computer is its ability to create highly motivating micro worlds. Computers can create small worlds that students explore freely. For example, a student can rearrange reading topics to suit personal needs. He can even become one of the characters in a story and directly influence its outcome.

From the point of view of the teacher, the computer presents aspects of a particular promise. Prominent among these is the versatility in handling different kinds of materials. The simplest is the one way presentation of information, in the form of text, graphic, audio and video. “The computer can take the drudgery out of teaching by doing all the boring, repetitive work, leaving to the human teacher the more creative aspects of the job. The computer is an obedient beast and will readily take on the role of drudge if required to.” (Higgins & Johns 1984:9). It can keep score and display the score, records results, errors, success rates, the time spent, and much more information for the teacher to view at a later time. Thus, the teacher can examine students’ errors and scores and other information and decide about the students’ progress and the efficiency of CALL materials.

On the other side , for students the computer offers many advantages because of flexibility of time and the variety of educational courses it offers to students who may choose when and how long to spend on studying particular topics. More than this, the computer can also allow students to take courses, or parts of courses, at a distance.

Disadvantages of computers in language learning

Many experts have asserted that the computer can enhance linguistic competence but it can do nothing to develop communicative competence. However, through properly designed activities, the student can have “feeling” for how the forms of a foreign language are used in communication. This is what the project carried out at Concordia University tried to do. Its orientation was “to develop more communicative and discourse -oriented material that was the computer’s preeminent ability as an interactive partner” (Wyatt 1984: 36).

A considerable disadvantage of the use of computer in Language Learning is that it cannot-yet-operate in the same way as the human brain, taking imaginative leaps and cutting through a tangled web of argument to arrive at new insights. Underwood (1984:45 ) adds another drawback of CALL programs when he denotes that the computer miss “anything resembling what we do when we use language, any semblance of communication, even so much as the ‘feel’ of conversation language.”

In general, reading a text, especially the long ones, on the screen is slower, more difficult and tiring. Gould and Grischowsky (1984) have shown that people read 20 – 30 % slower from low resolution screens. It may, sometimes, account for the eye irritation and pain. Moreover, if we compare between traditional books with the electronic book, the electronic book is considered to be much less handy. It is much different from traditional books that are small enough.


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