The term new technologies includes Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) for language teaching and learning in which the computer plays a central role, embracing a variety of different software applications, e.g.

  • Generic software: This includes software designed for general use rather than specfically for Modern Foreign languages, such as word-processors (e.g. Word) and presentation software (e.g. PowerPoint).
  • CALL software: Programs specially designed for Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL).
  • Generic CALL authoring software: This is a term which is normally used to describe an authoring package designed to cover all aspects of CALL program authoring and interaction, from simple gap-filling and multiple-choice exercises to exercises incorporating interactive multimedia.
  • Communications software: This includes email software and Web browsers.
  • Concordancing software.
  • Natural Language Processing (NLP) software, e.g. speech synthesisers and speech analysers.

E-learning (electronic learning) has become a buzzword in recent years. To some people, e-learning describes any application of ICT in learning and teaching, from producing a word-processed handout to a full-blown course on the Web. The whole of the ICT4LT website is, therefore, in this sense all about e-learning in the context of teaching and learning foreign languages. Other people perceive e-learning in a more limited way, i.e. online learning in the sense of distance learning on the Internet. Because of a lack of agreement on what e-learning is all about, it probably makes sense to use the term online learning when talking about distance learning on the Internet and to use CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) as a catch-all term for the use of computers in language learning and teaching.

Why should the language teacher be concerned with new technologies?

Here are some of the benefits of ICT that have been identified by teachers:

  • ICT is motivating both for students and for teachers. It makes the learning process more enjoyable.
  • ICT offers a wide range of multimedia resources enabling text, still images, audio and video to be combined in interesting and stimulating ways for presentation purposes in the classroom, using a data projector and an interactive whiteboard.
  • ICT offers opportunities for intensive one-to-one learning in a multimedia computer lab.
  • ICT offers access to a rich resource of authentic materials on the Internet.
  • ICT offers access to a wide range of authentic materials on CD-ROM and DVD.
  • ICT makes worldwide communication possible via email and via audio- and videoconferencing with native speakers.
  • ICT can open up a new range of self-access and distance learning opportunities, thereby making access to learning more widely available to students who have to study outside normal hours, who live in remote areas, or who have special needs.

It has also been argued that technology of any sort gets in the way of language learning. People have learned languages successfully for hundreds of years without resorting to any kind of technology. During the 1960s language laboratories were introduced into educational institutions in the UK. The language lab boomed in the late 1960s and 1970s, and then went rapidly out of fashion. The demise of the language lab is often pointed to as an example of the failure of technology. But it was not the failure of technology. The failure of the language lab was due largely to human failures – a lack of investment in training teachers how to use it and a lack of imagination: Technology alone is not a panacea – although it is often perceived that way by administrators. If insufficient effort is put into training teachers to use technology – and to use it imaginatively – then it is probably better to dispense with technology altogether. Learning to use a computer is rather like learning to drive a car. Some people can learn to drive in ten hours while others need 40 hours. Once you have learned to drive, however, you can get from point A to point B quicker than you did before – subject to traffic conditions. The same principle applies to learning to use a computer. The time taken to learn how to use it varies considerably from person to person, but once the necessary skills have been acquired you can do many things quicker than you did before. You still need to use your imagination, however. The main problem with introducing computers into language teaching was identified by Jones (1986) in an article that should be essential reading for all language teachers considering using new technologies. The title of Jones’s article says it all: “It’s not so much the program: more what you do with it: the importance of methodology in CALL”. With adequate training the teacher will find that ICT offers a new range of teaching and learning opportunities. The ICT4LT website does not aim to teach you how to use a computer. It is assumed that you already have a basic knowledge of Windows, word-processing, using a browser and email – i.e. that you have already passed your basic “computer driving test” or have even gained a qualification. The main target group of the ICT4LT project is language teachers already in service, although parts of the syllabus are suitable for teachers undergoing initial training and for teachers following short intensive courses. The ICT4LT website materials have been developed by practising language teachers who have many years of experience in using a wide range of technological aids in language teaching. Our approach is pedagogy driven and the emphasis is on language teaching methodologies that can be implemented successfully with the aid of new technologies.

What can ICT offer the language teacher and the language learner?

a. Traditional media and digital media

Language teachers are used to dealing with a range of “traditional” media: printed texts, images, audio materials and video materials. They are familiar with the characteristics of each of these media and what they can do best in terms of supporting language teaching and learning. For example, printed materials and images can be easier for a beginner to deal with than audio materials because they “stand still”, and video materials are invaluable in providing both aural and visual input and thereby giving the learner visual clues to the meaning of what is being said. Video can also be used to add a cultural perspective. ICT, however, brings with it new characteristics and new opportunities that are not always obvious. The following three sections of this module contain a summary of the characteristics of the components of ICT that language teachers need to be aware of. The most important point to grasp is that ICT is more than just a medium incorporating electronic versions of the various media with which language teachers are already familiar. ICT opens up exciting new possibilities of combining different media. It is a new concept in that it is multi-faceted, and the media facets of which it consists are not exact replicas of those that language teachers are used to dealing with.

b. Twenty different ways of using ICT in the modern foreign languages classroom

ICT in the context of the Modern Foreign Languages classroom can manifest itself in many different ways as a tool for assisting the development of the four key skills: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. Here are twenty different ways in which the teacher and learner of foreign languages might use ICT. This list is by no means exhaustive. Language teachers are continually finding new ways in which they can make use of ICT.

  1. Use by students of materials that the teacher has created with generic software applications, e.g. word-processed handouts, electronic worksheets, PowerPoint presentations for whole-class teaching using an interactive whiteboard – and materials of this type downloaded from Web resource centres.
  2. Use of generic software applications such as Word and PowerPoint by students to create their own materials, e.g. essays and presentations.
  3. Use by students of off-air audio and video recordings stored in digital format.
  4. Use by students of audio and video recordings on commercially-produced CDs and DVDs.
  5. Use by students of audio and video recordings that the teacher has created with audio and video editing tools, and materials of this type, e.g. podcasts and vodcasts, that can downloaded from Web resource centres.
  6. Use of audio and video editing tools by students to create their own audio and video recordings, e.g. podcasts and vodcasts.
  7. Use by students of commercially-produced multimedia CALL packages, e.g. the EuroTalk series of CD-ROMs or DVD-ROMs.
  8. Use by students of materials that the teacher has created and tailored to their needs using authoring programs such as Hot Potatoes, TaskMagic and Fun with Texts, and materials of this type that can be downloaded from Web resource centres.
  9. Use of the Web as a resource, including online interactive quizzes, webquests, scavenger hunts, dictionaries, encyclopaedias and grammar reference materials, as well as generic tools such as search engines for finding information.
  10. Use of a wide range of Web 2.0 tools by students or by the teacher, including social networking sites.
  11. Use of email, e-pal and e-twinning schemes, and tandem learning (buddy learning).
  12. Use of audio- and videoconferencing facilities.
  13. Computer Aided Assessment (CAA).
  14. Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL).
  15. Use of chat rooms.
  16. Use of MUDs, MOOs and MUVEs.
  17. Use of virtual worlds.
  18. Use of concordance programs.
  19. Use of tools falling into the category of speech technologies.
  20. Use by the teacher of whole-class presentation devices and software, e.g. computer plus data projector or interactive whiteboard (IWB).