The use of technologies in language teaching and learning

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №5 - 2013

Author: Assylbayeva Assel, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan

Technologies are becoming increasingly important in both our personal and professional lives, and our learners are using technology more and more. Soon technologies will become a normal part of EFL teaching and learning in the coming years. There are many reasons for this:

- Internet access, either in private homes, or in Internet cafes, is becoming increasingly available to learners.

- Younger learners are growing up with technology, and it is natural and integrated part of their lives. For these learners the use of technology is a way to bring the outside world into the classroom. And some of these younger learners will in turn become teachers themselves.

- English, as an international language, is being used in technologically mediated contexts.

- Technology, especially the Internet, presents us with new opportunities for authentic tasks and materials, as well as access to a wealth of ready-made EFL materials;

- The Internet offers excellent opportunities for collaboration and communication between learners who are geographically dispersed;

- Technology is offered with published materials such as course books and resource books for teachers;

- Learners increasingly expect language schools to integrate technology into teaching;

- Technology offers new ways for practicing language and assessing performance;

- Technology is becoming increasingly mobile. It can be used not only in the classroom, lecture hall, computer room or self-access center; it can also be used at home, on the way to University and in Internet cafes;

- Using a range of IT tools can give learners exposure to and practice in all of the four main skills – speaking, listening, writing and reading (Dudeney, G. & Hockly, N., 2007).

The benefits of using technologies in classes support most of the aspects of language development that teachers have to address, including work on the skills areas, vocabulary development and cultural awareness. The use of technologies is not tied to any single language teaching approach and can therefore be exploited to support any aspect of the curriculum. These benefits are (Dudeney, G. &Hockly, N., 2007):

1) Motivation. Access to multimedia increases learners’ motivation. Although the initial appeal of technologies is almost certainly due to its novelty, teachers and learners soon discover other aspects which are more educationally significant. A rich media environment allows contextualization of the target language in simulations which learners recognize as having practical real-life applications. The variety of activities, coupled with the rapid feedback that multimedia provides, also help maintain learner interest and attention.

2) A multisensory learning environment. The range of media available with multimedia enables teachers to choose the most suitable medium for the specific language elements; work on listening skills can be done by playing recordings on the computer; if reading work is needed, then texts can be presented on screen. A learner facing a new word can see its spelling, hear its pronunciation and see supporting visuals which clarify its meaning. In this way, the use of one medium reinforces what the pupil began learning through another. At its best, interactive multimedia has the potential to create a multisensory learning environment which supports specific learning styles and can be tailored to match individual learners’ needs.

3) Controllability and flexibility. Technologies not only offer teachers and their learners access to a variety of media, but provides a range and level of control over learning materials not previously available. Computer technology gives teachers a highly efficient way of managing and presenting the different materials which they use in their teaching. This controllability and flexibility means materials can be tailored to the learning needs of particular classes or groups within classes. It also allows teachers to allocate work to students and monitor their performance while work is being done or after it has been completed.

4) Interactivity. For learners using technologies, it is the interactive element that brings them control over the learning environment. Following teacher guidance, interactivity allows the learners to select the materials they need to work with, the order in which they want to work through those materials, and the pace they want to work at. Interactivity also provides the learner with the help, guidance and feedback needed for a successful learning experience. Some learning packages are also designed so that learners must successfully complete activities in order to progress. This encourages active engagement with the materials.

5) A safe environment. Working with technologies offers a private and forgiving environment which helps to reduce the anxiety that many EFL learners experience. This facilitates the type of autonomous language learning which has been promoted in recent years.

6) Supporting the individual learner. If teachers can get all or even some of their class using multimedia, this will allow them to give more individualized attention where needed while knowing that other learners have tasks to be getting on with. Learners who have been absent can use multimedia to catch up on missed classes if computers are available for individual study in a library or self-access center.

Irrespective of the language skill or communicative competence being developed, the language learning process can be divided into four essential stages (Bitter, G., Legacy, J., 2008). These are:

- presentation of the new material or language element to be learnt;

- work familiarizing the student with this material to support understanding and memorization;

- a communicative exchange in which the new language is used productively;

- a reflective period in which work on the new language element is consolidated by applying the language in different contexts such as a writing exercise.

This final stage is likely to involve attention to form and accuracy involving some type of questioning and written practice.

Given the normal lesson length, working through all four stages in a class period is impractical. The stages can be spread across lesson periods and involve homework. Multimedia can support all these stages and provide work in and out of class. However, the degree to which it can be exploited will depend on the available resources.

At the stage of presentation experienced teachers accumulate routines and materials (such as pictures, audio clips) to help contextualize the presentation of new language. Gathering and storing resources is time and space consuming. A lot of these resources can be turned into digital versions (digitized)to be stored more efficiently on a computer. Using digitized teaching content materials simplifies the storage, organization, transportation, distribution and presentation of these materials (Goodwin, A., 2004). How these materials are used with the class will depend on equipment available.

A good computer-based presentation can be highly effective as teachers are able to arrange the sequencing of the presentation, and to build in color, sound and images (Townsend, K., 1998). Access to a computer, video projector and whiteboard enables a presentation to be viewed by the whole class. The powerful visual nature of a presentation will hold the learners’ attention and allow teachers to focus concentration on the language items being covered. Time need not be wasted cleaning boards and writing up the information the learners need. Teachers are also able to monitor the learners’ reactions to and understanding of new input by putting questions to the class.

The stage of familiarization is the “practice” stage of the language learning process. Learners need to work on understanding and memorizing the new language elements so that they can integrate them with what they already know. Familiarization can be achieved through an assortment of tasks which emphasize the meaning of the new language.

Some computer-based language learning materials have been criticized for being remorselessly drill like. However, repetitive activities do help learning in the familiarization stage provided they do not bore learners. With multimedia the learner’s interest is held for a number of reasons (Sharma, P., Barret, B., 2007):

- the majority of activities take place in a stimulating and vivid environment over which the learner has control;

- the same language elements can be recycled through a gamut of different computer-based exercises;

- learners can access a range of instant help facilities to assist them to complete tasks;

- good multimedia provides appropriate feedback which is designed to extend learner’s knowledge when they are correct and to assist them when wrong.

At the important stage of communication teachers face the challenge of creating an appropriate communicative context in which learners can use the newly learned language in a genuinely communicative exchange. Multimedia language learning offers interesting and intriguing simulations, generally making the learner a participant in a story or adventure played out on the screen. As the simulation progresses learners experience a range of situations resulting from choices they have made. They may for example find themselves in a railway station, hotel lobby, restaurant or police station where they communicate with on-screen characters. However, this communication is limited to choosing from a selection of prepared responses. Although some simulations vividly contextualize language and give useful listening and reading practice, they cannot simulate the diversity of real communication.

The stage of consolidation involves activities which encourage learners to reflect on what they have studied and apply it in new contexts. This consolidation has generally been achieved through written activities with greater attention being given to form and accuracy than at the communicative stage. Any standard computer applications can be used to support reflection.

As it has already been mentioned earlier using a range of IT tools can give learners exposure to and practice in all of the four main skills – speaking, listening, writing and reading. Communicative language instruction using multimedia, for example, has encouraged a functional approach to language learning which develops learners’ competencies in the areas of listening, speaking, reading and writing (Hill, B., 1999).

Listening. Multimedia can support the presentation, familiarization and consolidation stages of listening work on a chosen language element. Learners are able to choose whether to listen to materials with or without transcripts, and to access videos with or without sound. They can control the selection of activities and work through these at their own pace, repeating them if they find it beneficial. It is this tight integration of activities and resources, plus the control and interactivity, which makes multimedia so effective.

At each stage of the listening activity, including post-listening, a wide variety of tasks can be provided. These can include gap competition, word or sentence reordering, text and picture matching, and true/false and multiple choice questions. These are all familiar task types, but the multimedia format is used to present them in inventive and interactive formats which help to maintain the learner’s interest, recycle language and reinforce learning (Hewer, S., 1997).

Speaking. Technologies provide support for work on speaking skills. The approaches used are similar to those found in language laboratories. At lower levels this involves dialogue builds in which the program acts as the learner’s partner in an exchange. In most cases the computer does not provide feedback on performance. Instead, learners can compare their recordings with a pre-recorded model. With suitable multimedia facilities learners can work on low level speaking activities in greater privacy than is possible in class. This helps them develop the ability to monitor their own language production. Teachers can also use the recordings to assess the learners’ performances and then give targeted, individualized feedback. By providing learners with appropriate monitoring strategies, they will be better able to evaluate and improve their own performance (Hewer, S., 1997).

Reading. When using some multimedia materials, the learner will have to read material in the target language simply to work through the activities. On-line support is constantly available to provide help with vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation or cultural issues as and when the reader runs into difficulties. Multimedia can also use a range of resources, such as background noises, photos, video clips, etc., to contextualize the situation that the text relates to(Hewer, S., 1997).

Writing. Multimedia has a lot to offer the learner working on writing. At lower levels language consolidation through written work usually involves sentence completion activities, filling in gaps or tables, answering questions, making lists, word order or spelling tests, etc. Whilst learners are not required to compose complete sentences in these activities, they are required to work in the target language set, and to develop awareness of syntax and the spelling rules of the language(Hewer, S., 1997).

Grammar. Many multimedia language learning materials build in coverage of the target language grammar. The presentation of new grammar elements can be carefully structured and staged using suitable chunks of language presented sequentially. The presentation can avoid clutter by revealing and hiding language or information on screen as necessary. Learners can stop the presentation, go back and repeat stages as necessary. Following the presentation a range of activities can be used to familiarize the learner with the new language. Rapid feedback means that even repetitive activities can be motivating in an interactive environment (Hewer, S., 1997).

Vocabulary. Using pictures to present and practice items of vocabulary is not new to teachers, but the speed and efficiency of memorizing new items are incredible. For example, with the help of multimedia it possible to present new vocabulary with a supporting image for clarification, while showing how the word is spelt, and how it is pronounced both in isolation and in a phrase. Familiarization work can be given with picture and word matching, gapfills for spelling, etc. the speed and ease of access to interactive dictionaries and glossaries, using links and cross-referencing, encourages even the less inspired learner to look up unknown words(Hewer, S., 1997).

The contexts in which teachers are working with technology can vary widely, and the access that teachers have to computers will affect what we can do with our classes in terms of implementing technology. A general lack of IT training for teachers also means that we still have some way to go until the normalization of technology in language teaching, where the use of technology in teaching becomes as natural as the use of books or pens and paper.

Many people are afraid of new technology, and with the increasing presence of the Internet and computers, the term ‘technophobe’ has appeared to refer to those of us who might be wary of these new developments. More recently, the term digital native has been coined to refer to someone who grows up using technology, and who thus feels comfortable and confident with it – typically today’s children.

A large part of the negative attitudes teachers have towards technology is usually the result of a lack of confidence, a lack of facilities or a lack of training, resulting in an inability to see the benefit of using technologies in the classroom. It is often the case that teachers may not be fully in control of their work situations. A teacher may want to use more technology in their teaching, but the university may not have the facilities, or, on the other hand, a teacher may be instructed to start using technology for which they feel unprepared or unstrained (Hockly, N., Dudeney, G., 2008).

The Internet can be used at the lessons mainly as a resource with the students to download and print out materials to use offline with classes. Technology based activities teachers can do by printing off materials:

- Using websites;

- Internet-based project work;

- A class blog with learners preparing their contributions on paper and the teacher typing them into the computer;

- Using online reference tools as concordances on paper;

- Electronically produced materials printed out for learners (Hockly, N., Dudeney, G., 2008).

Blogs, wikis and podcasts are all examples of social software, computer tools which allow people to connect, to communicate and to collaborate on-line. A blog is essentially a web page with regular diary or journal entries. The term is short for web log. A wiki is a collaborative web space, consisting of a number of pages that can be edited by any user. The term comes from the Hawaiian word for “quick”. A podcast is an audio and/or video file that is “broadcast” via the Internet and can be downloaded to a computer or mobile device such as an MP3 player for listening/ viewing. The word podсast comes from combining iPod and broadcast, iPod being the brand name for the Apple portable MP3 player (Thompson, J., Parsons, J., 1995). Although these three tools are different, they can be grouped together as they have certain features in common when applied to the classroom:

- They can be set up and used by teachers and/or learners.

- They can be used to connect learners to other communities of learners, for example to a class in another country.

- The ideas and content can be generated and created by learners, either individually or collaboratively (Thompson, J., Parsons, J., 1995).

Although the use of IT tools such as blogs, wikis and podcasts can be very motivating for learners, teachers are themselves sometimes fearful of the technology, or feel that they are not technically competent enough to use these tools. However, all of these tools are easy to set up and use, with no specialist technical knowledge required. Another common misgiving is one related to content, and the lack of control that a teacher may feel about allowing learners to generate and create their own content. Teachers may find themselves thinking: “Will the content be appropriate? Will the language used by my learners be good enough?” In fact, these tools engender a sense of social responsibility with learners working collaboratively on content. Also, the public nature of the content created using these Internet tools ensures that accuracy and suitability become more important to learners (Thompson, J., Parsons, J., 1995).

Thus, the teacher must be reliable, and use different traditional and contemporary teaching activities that support students’ learning. Language is a reflection of our life. And in the era of high technologies teaching and learning languages must be up-to-date too. This can be a motivating force for our students. The successful introduction of IT technologies into the curriculum depends more on teacher, than any other factor. The future for multimedia in the educational field is increasingly bright. Where and when people can access multimedia is also changing as the boundaries between different technologies begin to disappear. Some users are now picking up their e-mails on the mobile phones while others surf the Web using their televisions. This process of convergence will give technologies growing importance in all areas of education.


1. Dudeney, G. &Hockly, N. (2007). How to Teach English with Technology. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

2. Bitter, G., Legacy, J. (2008). Using technology in the classroom. Pearson/ Allyn and Bacon Publishers.

3. Goodwin, A. (2004). Online communication in Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford Press.

4. Townsend, K. (1998). Using Electronic communications in foreign language teaching. Made Simple.

5. Sharma, P., Barret, B. (2007).Blended learning: using technology in and beyond the language classroom. Oxford: Macmillan.

6. Hill, B. (1999). Video in language learning. CILT.

7. Hewer, S. (1997). Text manipulation: Computer-based activities to improve knowledge and use of the target language. CILT.

8. Hockly, N.,Dudeney, G. (2008). How to Teach English with Technology. Pearson Longman.

9. Thompson, J., Parsons, J. (1995). Software Guide Number 4. CTI Center for Modern Languages.

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №5 - 2013

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