The Effectiveness of Information Technology in Second Language Acquisition


Margo Smith


The beginning Spanish class is silent.  The teacher is in the front of the classroom.   He turns to the chalkboard and writes for a few moments.  He turns back to face the class and he says, “Everyone repeat after me, gozo”.     Hesitantly, a handful of the class repeats ‘gozo’ but it is not with the enthusiasm that the teacher produced, nor is what he expected.   “One more time class, a little bit louder, and everyone say it okay?  Gozo”.   Once again the same few students repeat the after the teacher and the lesson proceeds on.     The class ends and the teacher feels unsatisfied that the students are internalizing and retaining the information presented to them.                  

Class does not have to be this way any longer in today’s advanced technological society.  That information technology (IT) has grown and becoming more readily accessible gives the second language teacher an opportunity to make learning a second language more fun and adaptable to real life.    The media is being utilized more than ever to help second language learners really internalize and learn to use the target language.  Among the media aids are computers, television and VHS, and the combination of the two, DVD.    This paper will measure the effectiveness of media technology in second language acquisition compared to a second language acquisition theory.   This theory has three main parts: first, meaning; second, language; and third, use.    The first section of this paper will explain the language acquisition model that will become a basis for evaluation of IT.   The second through forth sections will deal with the various modes in which information technology can be manipulated in the classroom, and the fifth section will be an evaluation of the technology compared to the second acquisition model.  


1.  Second Language Acquisition  .  Second language acquisition theories have changed and evolved over the years as information about neuroscience has increased.   The language model that will be used here is based on Krashen’s (1999) model of language acquisition, which is used to explain the relationship between input to the listener and output from the listener. 

Table 1.  An adaptation of Krashen’s theory of language acquisition. 

Compre-hended input









Here, noticed input is anything that is recognized as foreign or new information by the brain.  This input is not understood but is noticed as input that is new and unfamiliar.   For example, a non- native speaker of English might hear the word ‘puppy’ and recognize it as a new word but will not know the definition or be able to picture what a puppy is.  The next phase then is comprehended input.  Comprehended input is past the noticed stage because the word is familiar and recognizable as a word that has been heard before.  During this stage however, the word may not have a picture meaning and of definition until the intake stage is reached.   When intake of a word occurs, the word is recognized, comprehended and then has a meaning or picture attached to this word.   The listener is able to internalize what is being uttered.   Once the word is internalized, it can be produced if necessary.    Cummins (2000) simplified this model in his article titled Academic Language Learning, Transformative Pedagogy, and Information Technology: Towards a critical balance.   

Table 2.  Instruction for Language Learning and Academic Success

Meaning                                Language                                   Use

- Making input                   - Awareness of language             - Generate new

    Comprehensible                forms and uses                              knowledge


- Developing critical        - Critical analysis of language   - Create art and

Literacy                               forms and uses                              literature


- Act on social     realities                                        



This is a simplified version of Krashen’s model of language acquisition that was presented earlier.   Meaning relates to the noticed input box.  Language relates to the comprehended input box, and use relates to intake and output. 


2. Manipulating the Media for good.  There is much to be said about how the IT can be applies in the classroom and there are many benefits to using the media as will be shown here.  What media is available for classroom use and how effective is it?  Because there are so many different types of IT, only two will be discussed here, namely computers and television and video. 


2.1.Tradidtional use of computers.  Computers offer a wide variety of opportunities to communicate with people all over the world.    Chat rooms can foster human-to-human communication as a means for developing literacy and communication skills.  In a normal classroom setting, there are students who are outgoing and will try new things in the target language.    On the other hand,  there are some more timid students who do not like to be  asked to interact and practice the language in traditional  face to face conversation styles.  For example, talking about ESL students, Warchauer (1996) suggests that

The background of certain ESL students may have an adverse effect on their ability or willingness to participate in face-to-face conversation.  Nevertheless, when learners are engaged online, the effect of the differences are minimalized, which is realized in even more participation. (177)


Even learners who are more shy than other students can develop confidence when talking online.  There is no face-to-face intimidation yet communication goals and experiences are being created.   Also, with online communication, students have more time to think about and process the information given to them.   Kelm (1992) found that because of the additional lag time between turns, users were afforded time to edit and reflect on the conversation at hand; hence, even usually non-participatory students became frequent contributors in online discussions (cf. Kroonenberg & Chun, 172).   Chat rooms allow time to process and internalize what is being said to prepare for future face to face contact.  Chat rooms also allow time for revision and reflection of the conversation and its various dimensions. 

            Electronic mail (e-mail) is a similar situation to that of chat rooms except for the fact that, unlike chat rooms, students have additional time to read, process, and translate the material that was sent to them.  With e-mails, learners are able to print the information in the target language and go back and look up unfamiliar vocabulary words in the dictionary if necessary.  E-mails can be used in classroom discussion and are an excellent way to introduce new, less formal vocabulary.   There are also opportunities for e-pals which is an online email or chat room friend.  For example, a German teacher can log on to, connect to the “for teachers” section, and find other classrooms that are practicing the same material and find students who want to be e-pals (December 10, 2001).   By using computers in these ways, the students are not only improving their skills in using modern technology but practicing the target language as well. 

            Besides chat rooms and e-mails, there are a variety of programs that can be installed on a personal computer.  Specific programs will not be endorsed here.  Check a local retailer for details.


3.      TELEVISIONS AND VCR.  Televisions equip with a VCR specifically designed for VHS are another handy classroom tool.  Videos about syntax, vocabulary, semantics, and pragmactics that are inclusive of culture are available in many languages. 

In addition to being a context-rich source of cultural data, Vogely (1998) emphasizes that for some neuroscientists (Fisk &Taylor, 1984; Nishal & Ross 1980) concrete visual images exercise the most potential influence on learners’ behavior (519). 


Students are not only able to hear the language, but see it used in a wide variety of contexts and real- life situations.  When used in correlation with vocabulary pre-conditioning and question conditioning, videos were more effective in aiding comprehension and retention when compared to a strictly oral lecture (388). 


4.  DVD: Computers Plus VHS.  The most recent addition to IT in language learning is the use of DVD.  DVDs combine the ease and visual clarity of computers with  an improved VHS format.   “DVD is the most successful consumer product in history and seems to have the potential to provide a universal platform for the delivery of interactive video and audio on a scale heretofore impossible for educational psychology” (CALICO, 2000). This is a relatively new industry with lots of research to still be done.   In 1995, Masami Sato of the Sakura Institute of Research said, “DVDs will even replace VHS as the most popular movie medium, and will replace computer CD-ROM disks, hard disks, and diskettes as data storage peripherals” (Chun, V. 1995).   In the same article were presented nine characteristics of DVDs that are appealing to second language classroom teachers.  Not all of the nine points will be discussed in detail, but they are worth mentioning.   The benefits of DVD are: 1. physical size, 2. durability, 3. audio-visual quality, 4. world-wide compatibility, 5. backward compatibility, 6. eight sound tracks, 7. thriy-two subtitle channels, 8. programmable censoring, 9. special interactive features, for example, slow motion, freeze frame, random-access viewing, multiple camera angles, and multiple movie endings.   That was six years ago and where is the industry now?

Since then, there has been an increase implementation of the ideas mentioned above.   From comes a DVD called EuroTalk that is aimed at learning languages.  On this DVD there are videos, games, and quizzes.  One can create his/her own video by recording his/her own voice on to a movie.   The reviews and critiques of this program are excellent!  Newspapers such as The Guardian, Macworld, and Computeractive  all had excellent things to say about these programs.  This particular program offers DVDs in German, Italian, Spanish, English, and many other languages.  Prices start at about $69.95 and are predicted to drop as the demand rises. 

Current programs are forward and backward compatible meaning that any certain clips or sections of the DVD can be isolated quickly and efficiently.  Rewinding and cueing will not be a  hassle any more.  DVDs will also offer movies recorded in as many as eight languages which will provide more pedagogical options for the teacher.  Teachers will also be able to program DVD players to show either G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17 versions of the same movie.  With a digital code, teachers (and parents) will be able to lock in or lock out selected ratings.  Plus, with random access viewing possibilities, students will have clearer and more stable freeze-frame and slow motion replays.  Language will be slowed enough so that it can be repeated until correct pronunciation  and comprehension is achieved.   The educational aspects of the DVD are up to the teacher and the imagination.  The possibilities really are endless.


5.  THE COMPARISON.     With a basic understanding of IT and how it may be used in the classroom, a comparison between the language acquisition model previously presented and IT can be evaluated to see which part of IT is most useful for the classroom.  First of all, meaning.  As previously discussed (see table 2) meaning has to do with making input comprehensible and developing literacy.   Comparatively speaking computers, the chat room provides an excellent opportunity to develop skills in reading and writing because of the nature of chat rooms, both reading and writing skills are essential.   However, the amount of comprehended input that is available depends on a few things. In a chat room if there is one native speaker of the target language and one non-native speaker, the amount of comprehended input will be determined by the awareness of the native speaker to his/her non-native speaker counterpart.  If the native speaker of the target language realizes that the chat room partner is less fluent than himself, hopefully he will adjust his speech to adapt to the needs of the non-native speaker.  Either way however, by having to read and type in the chat room literacy skills are greatly increased and students become better reader and writers, not hearers and speakers only.  

Emails offer similar experiences while also providing additional time to read and understand the text.   Students who receive e-mails can benefit each other by reading the e-mails out loud, like story telling time.  In this manner, the same literacy and input goals for meaning will be met.    DVDs seem to be the new genre emerging that will take meaning, use and language to the next level.  Though television and videos do not help in developing literacy skills, they do provide comprehensible input for the student.  Teachers need to be wise in choosing what kind of videos will be presented so that the text is does not exceed the comprehension of the student.   Being able to pick the right video for the level of the students is a major advantage of the teacher. 

            Awareness of language and it forms and uses can be discovered when using computers in a classroom setting.   Traditionally, language that is taught in a classroom situation is more formal and stiff than everyday speech.  By using chat rooms and e-mails, additional language forms and uses can be introduced through basic conversations and in a specific context.   A critical analysis of these forms and uses can be an invigorating classroom discussion.   Televisions and movies (VCRs) can be viewed time and time again to understand why certain types of language are used in certain contexts.     They can talk about alternatives speech styles and utterances in the context that they see. 

            Finally, computers are can use language to generate new knowledge simply by the diverse vocabulary that will be used.   New knowledge will emerge not only about language, but about using computers and information systems in general as well.   Creating literature and art with computers is a more difficult concept to apply.  As far as chat rooms and e-mail are concerned, there is not a lot of opportunity to develop these specific areas.

“By creating a multi-media approach to any particular language program the instructor can be assured of exposing students to different learning techniques so that they are able to find one or a combination of several that work best for their own needs” (2000).


 Videos allow more of an opportunity by being able to watch videos about these specific topics and then actually experimenting with them in the classroom.   Being able to act on social realities can be achieved through the use of chat rooms and e-mail.   Friends can be made while learning and practicing in the target language.  Students have the opportunity to be social with out the face-to-face intimidation factor.    Cummins (2000) said

Educational applications of IT should be judged not only by the extent to which they transmit information and increase skills; equally relevant are the social purposes to which these skills and information will be applied.  Specifically, IT can and should be employed to develop insight among students about human relationships at both individual and societal levels and to increase students linguistic and intellectual power to effect positive changes in these human relationships. (540)


Acting on social realities will hopefully be a skill that the students will apply outside of the classroom as well as inside of the classroom and in the world. 

In conclusion, utilizing and manipulating information technology will only help the second language learner and make the experience fun and exciting.   On the other hand, no matter how much information technology is employed, nothing will ever replace the importance of practice in learning a second language.   Using the computer and television are simply aids that will foster interest in the language, not replace the need for experience in the language.   Computers are helpful to aid the student who may not feel confident in his/her ability to perform in real-life experiences.  Bu using chat rooms and e-mails, students are able to develop critical literacy skills while having additional time internalize and review the conversation.  Videos are effective because of the repetition involved.   Teachers are also able to pick the level of difficulty for the students to listen to.   Therefore, if utilized and manipulated correctly, information technology can be of great benefit to help the second language learner understand and internalize the target language and prepare to use it in real life contexts. 


6. Areas of Further Study.  Given more time and monetary resources, I would like to investigate further the effects of IT on second language acquisition by purchasing some of the programs and actually trying them out, especially the DVD programs.  There is much work to be done in following a sample group of individuals and tracking their progress in second language learning when using IT.  I would also like to do more work on what specific kinds of visual aids are most helpful. For example, are real people more effective than cartoons?  What  age groups are most receptive to IT and language learning?  These would be my areas of focus. 





















Included in this appendix are print outs of internet articles and their references that I thought might be beneficial in addition to the body of the text.  The URL and dates that I accessed these articles are on bottom of the articles themselves.  Some of the information I copy and pasted onto a word document but preserved the original source as best that I could. 



















Coelho, E. 1999. New ways in using authentic materials in the classroom (rev).  The Canadian modern language review 57 (4): June 2001.  


Cole, S, Cathleen Corrie, Carroll Herron & Sebastian Pubreil 1999.   Foreign Language Annals 83 (4) winter: 518-533.


Cole, S., Julia Hauley & Carroll Herron.  1995. A comparison of two advanced organizers for introductory beginning foreign language students to video.  Foreign Language Annals 79 (3) Autumn: 387-395. 


Cummins, J. 2000. Academic language learning, transformative pedagogy and information technology: towards a critical balance. TESOL quarterly,34(3) Autumn: 537-548. 


Chun, D. 1994. Using computer networking to facilitate the acquisition of interactive          competence.  System 22: 17-31.


Chun,Vernon. 1996.DVD: A new medium for language classrooms?  Accessed 10. December 2001.


Freiermuth, Mark. 2000.  Native speakers or non-native speakers: who has the floor?

            CALL 14 (2): 97-212    


Kelm, O. 1992. The use of synchronous computer networks in second language instruction: A preliminary report.  Forges Languages Annals 25: 441-454



Kroonenberg, N. 1994-1995.  Developing communicative and thinking skills via electronic mail.  TESOL Journal 4: 24-27


Multilingual books. 2001.  Advanced DVD from EuroTalk.  Accessed 11. December 2001. 


Warchauer, M. 1996. Comparing face-to-face and electronic discussion in the second language classroom.  Calico Journal 13: 7-26


2001.  Accessed 10. December 2001. 


2001. May2000/Eynon-Enhancing.html   Accessed 10. December 2001.