Nicole Clem
CIL 756
Dr. Maria Ramirez
November 26, 2008

Computer-Assisted Language Learning:
Article and Software Critique Report


The Digital Revolution is rapidly changing all areas of Education and providing special learning opportunities for language learners. What follows is a review of three articles addressing the current state of computer-assisted language learning and a critique of one popular language-learning software program called Rosetta Stone. The results of this article review and software critique show that the future certainly holds much promise for meaningful computer-assisted language learning, but, at present, many limitations still exist that prevent teachers from relying too heavily on computers in the language-learning classroom.


Technology in the Classroom
Elizabeth Hanson-Smith gives an excellent synopsis of the profundity of the Digital Revolution, the uses of computer technology in the classroom, and what the future may hold for language learners in our new digital age. She points out the Digital Revolution is proving to be just as monumental as the Gutenberg Revolution, which saw the invention of the printing press. Gutenberg’s invention facilitated such vast societal changes as the creation of the middle class and an increased number of educated citizens, and the French and American Revolutions through the spreading of unconventional political ideas. The Digital Revolution is again facilitating the education of many more people with the immense information easily accessible on the Internet, allowing people to share ideas with others around the world within only a few seconds. Again, this rapid sharing of ideas and information is changing the world’s political systems (as evidenced by President-elect Barack Obama’s unprecedented campaign fundraising facilitated largely by online donations and the Chinese Government’s struggle to keep its people ignorant of the outside world through censorship of the unwieldy Internet). Hanson-Smith acknowledges that the Digital Revolution has only just begun and consumer technology is scrambling to keep up with the innovations driving them forward. Every year and a half, significant improvements are made in computer performance making hardware and software nearly obsolete only a few years after their release. Much standardization still needs to be done in the industry to make products compatible among all users.
Current computer and Internet tools do exist, however, that can help language learners through the writing process, provide individualized learning opportunities, interaction with authentic language, facilitate collaborative learning experiences, and bolster student metacognition (Hanson-Smith). Word processors allow students to refine their compositions like never before, perfecting their spelling, grammar, punctuation, and organization in a matter of minutes and making it easier for teachers to provide feedback through reviewing functions within the programs. Desktop publishing software rewards students’ efforts by producing professional-quality finished products such as newsletters or short-story compilations. Creating an online forum for the development and peer review of student writing can be an effective way to ensure all class members are equal participants. Less assertive students do not have to be intimidated by more vocal students online because they have the time to compose their thoughts and express them completely. Students who might have to miss a class can catch up by reading the class’ discussion online, and the teacher can easily monitor and provide feedback in several discussion groups at once.
Students of various learning styles can benefit from the multi-media components of computer and Internet use in the classroom. Programs that use sound, video, and animated graphics appeal to students on multiple levels and draw them into exercises for listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Certain software provide individualized learning opportunities by “speaking” out loud what students have written, recognizing student speech and assessing its correctness. The challenge for teachers is to ensure that multimedia software does not just entertain students, but actually engages them cognitively toward achieving content-based learning objectives. Teachers are also cautioned from assuming that language-learning software can take the place of human-to-human interaction because it cannot. While use of this type of software allows students to feel safe from judgment, receive instant feedback and reinforcement, and proceed to the next learning objective at their own pace, eventually students will need real-world language experience in order to learn how to deal with its often muddled and non-contextual input.
Opportunities for authentic language interaction do exist through the use of online conversation techniques and simulations. Live chat rooms allow students to communicate instantly with other learners around the world, online bulletin boards allow students to post and read comments about a featured text, and joining e-mail lists allows students to have notices posted by members of an online community sent directly to their e-mail accounts. Simulations are available online or as purchasable software. Example activities that Hanson-Smith gives are, “The creation and maintenance of a city or an ecological system, the building of a business enterprise or a new DNA structure, the undertaking of an elaborate adventure game or a nuclear reaction” (p. 3). Students produce authentic language to discuss their experiences, share notes, and interact with opposing teams.
Collaborative learning is also facilitated by computer technology such as presentation or authoring software, which allows student groups to give a multimedia presentation of their project or publish their work on the Internet or to a CD.
Hanson-Smith further indicates that computer and Internet tools can be used to develop learner metacognition in the areas of memorization, planning, and self-assessment. Language-learning software can offer students many different options for guiding their own learning, such as being able to play a recording of a given word or phrase as many times as necessary or options for accessing additional information about a certain word or topic. The Internet itself provides endless sources of information students can access for self-guided research. Video conferencing technology allows students to communicate face-to-face with other students or experts across the world. Teachers are reminded that students still need monitoring as they progress through language-learning software programs and prepare for effective and efficient online video-conference exchanges.
While many computer and Internet innovations have already improved language learning, they have yet to replace teachers or the importance authentic, contextualized, face-to-face communication in the mastery of a new language. Schools can do more to prepare their teachers to use computer technology with their students, and teachers should prepare themselves to relinquish some of their traditional control over the dissemination of information as they empower students to become active guides in their own learning.
Hanson-Smith concludes her article with a useful glossary of terms, references, and Internet sites for English language learners and teachers. She recommends that teachers read computer trade publications and spend time investigating the Internet so they are well prepared to support their students’ forays into the technological world.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Computer Technology in Second Language Acquisition
Cheng-Chieh Lai (2006) offers a brief discussion of some of the advantages and disadvantages of computer technology in second language acquisition. Lai asserts that some of the advantages include more independence for students from the traditionally structured classroom because they can conduct their learning at any time without the teacher present and that software programs cost less than actual teachers do. It seems an odd statement for Lai to make, that a software program costs less than a teacher’s salary, because it almost assumes that teachers are less needed when computer technology is available. Lai, however, continues by saying that when computers are integrated into the traditional classroom, they allow the teacher to focus direct instruction on the parts of language that computers still do not teach well, such as essay writing and presentation skills. Lai cites a study that showed students who used computer-assisted language learning software reported higher self-esteems than students who did not. Other advantages include increased motivation, experiential learning opportunities, and less stress associated with interacting with a computer versus in a live classroom of peers. Computer and Internet technology also facilitates students’ access to online materials and teachers’ abilities to provide feedback to students. On a cognitive level, Lai maintains that computer technology can encourage students to create their own knowledge not just receive it- that having an experience is more likely to ensure learning than merely being a passive recipient of information.
Lai notes disadvantages too, such as the cost of purchasing and maintaining computers and software for a classroom. Schools in poorer neighborhoods are less likely to be able to afford the same technology as more affluent schools creating disequilibrium in equitable education. Another challenge is that both students and teachers need to have some familiarity with computers before they can comfortably use them to assist with language learning. Software is still limited to teaching and testing mainly reading, writing, and listening, though some programs are emerging which can aid with the spoken word. Lai points out that ultimately computers should be able to provide feedback about students’ mistakes that goes beyond technical mistakes and grapples with the meaning and suitability of the utterance or text.

New Directions in the Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Educational Technology
The main point of Walter Heinecke, Laura Blasi, Natalie Milman, and Lisa Washington’s article is that technology in the classroom needs to be evaluated to determine its effectiveness and that the type of evaluations used need to be varied in order to give educators a more clear view of which technologies meet their learning objectives and which do not. The authors note that most computer programs used in classrooms only result in student scores that reflect their ability to follow drills. These scores do not reflect the influence of the entire educational environment, which also has an affect on student learning. New techniques need to be developed and/or implemented to evaluate how well technology helps students develop critical thinking skills. The authors call for the creation of new learning outcomes that shape students into proactive learners and participants in democracy. Examples of outcomes to be measured include job offer rates to students, college acceptance rates, and high school graduation rates as they relate to the use of classroom learning technology use. In conclusion, the authors remind that a variety of evaluation techniques should be applied to classroom technology including quantitative and qualitative and should focus less on students’ attitudes about the software and more on their actions as the result of using the technology. While this article dealt with the evaluation of educational technology generally, the authors’ criticisms and suggestions can certainly be applied more specifically to the evaluation of computer language learning software as well.


In light of such in depth articles about educational technology and computer-assisted language learning, I reviewed the language learning software Rosetta Stone at levels one and two (ENG1 v6.0). The program had no specific oral proficiency level separate from the other learning categories of Listening and Reading, Listening, Reading, Speaking, and Writing. This program does not adapt to users’ levels in the various categories. If a student were advanced in listening comprehension, but a beginner in reading, he/she may have to access two different programs at a time to find lessons in each language skill that were level-appropriate. The programs’ learning objectives are outlined on the menu page. For example, unit one consists of 11 lessons, which range from an introduction of nouns and prepositions to numbers and clock time to a lesson on “who,” “what,” “where,” and “which.”
The merits of the Rosetta Stone software include level appropriate vocabulary that is contextualized with color photographs and great flexibility in the way the learner wishes to practice the lesson objectives. The initial lessons begin with the introduction of words for basic foods, clothing, animals, colors, and numbers. In most of the lessons, the user can turn on or turn off the photos, the sound, and/or the text. This allows the learner to develop his/her own learning strategies as he/she progresses. The use of a computer for language learning also has the added benefit of creating a low-anxiety environment in which the student is free of peer or teacher judgment.
A drawback to using Rosetta Stone is that the learning is never truly interactive. At the later stages of language development, students will need to master the skills needed for conversing in person (such as nonverbal cues and cultural context) and discussing abstract concepts. While I only reviewed the level one and two disc, I find it difficult to imagine that even the highest levels would be able to facilitate these skills.
Despite these limitations, Rosetta Stone still has a place in the language-learning classroom. Specifically, students at Sierra Vista High School, which just purchased the Rosetta Stone program, can be instructed to spend the first 15 to 30 minutes of the 85-minute period working independently on the program while the teacher takes attendance, monitors on task behavior, and attends to other necessary tasks or addresses the native English-speaking students. Once students become familiar with the program, there should be few technical assistance requests, since its format is quite intuitive. Students may have to discover their learning levels through trial and error, since the program does not offer per-testing for placement, but once the teacher and the students have identified the best level match, students will benefit from getting level-specific support in their language learning. Knowing what level the student is working at also provides the teacher with a rough assessment of the student’s knowledge. The teacher could even refer to lessons students have completed in Rosetta Stone during a general lesson as a way of accessing prior knowledge. Another way the teacher could use Rosetta Stone is as a tool for teaching specific vocabulary and grammar. Instead of having students work at their own level on a regular basis, the teacher could instruct all students to work through the same level on a given day as a means of supplementing or warming up for a specific grammar lesson to be taught in class.
The primary method Rosetta Stone uses for language instruction is the Audiolingual Method. According to the Rosetta Stone’s manual, the program uses the “Dynamic Immersion” method as a way to teach vocabulary and grammar through association with photos, text, and sound without translation, rote memorization, or explicit grammar instruction. Rosetta Stone promises that students will learn to rely on their own innate skills of “pattern-recognition, correlation, deduction, and induction.” Rosetta Stone uses the Audiolingual Method as evidenced in its use of a variety of pattern drills, which lead to some level of learner automaticity. Another aspect of the Audiolingual Method, which Rosetta Stone exemplifies, is helping students improve pronunciation. The program’s speaking section allows students to hear a native speaker’s voice and see a graph of the sound produced. Then, the student can record his/her own voice, listen to it, and compare the graph of his/her voice to the graph of the native speaker. The writing section of Rosetta Stone uses the Direct Method as the program dictates phrases to the learner who then must type them. Like the Audiolingual Method, the Direct Method also uses pictures to teach language inductively.


Many innovations in computer software and the Internet have created excellent opportunities for enhanced language learning; however, these technological advances still cannot replace teachers or supersede the importance of face-to-face human interaction for the mastery of language. Rosetta Stone is a popular software program for consumer and classroom use, but it also cannot replace a skilled language teacher. The program can be an effective supplemental tool, however, especially for beginning students.


(2006). Rosetta Stone ENG1 (v6.0) [computer software].

Cheng-Chieh, L. (2006). The advantages and disadvantages of computer technology in second language acquisition. Doctoral Forum: National Journal for Publishing and Mentoring Doctoral Student Research, 3(1). Retrieved from

Hanson-Smith, E. Technology in the classroom: parts 1 and 2. Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. A global education association. Retrieved from

Heinecke, W. F., Blasi, L., Milman, N., & Washington, L. (1999). New directions in the evaluation of the effectiveness of educational technology: The Secretary’s Conference on Educational Technology-1999. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from

Richards, J. C. and Rodgers, T. S. (2004). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.