Computer-assisted language learning: Encyclopedia II – Computer-assisted language learning – History

Computer-assisted language learning – History

The History of CALL website traces the development of CALL from its origins on mainframe computers in the 1960s to the present day:

Early CALL favoured an approach that drew heavily on practices associated with programmed instruction. This was reflected in the term Computer Assisted Language Instruction (CALI), which originated in the USA and was in common use until the early 1980s, when CALL became the dominant term. Throughout the 1980s CALL widened its scope, embracing the communicative approach and a range of new technologies, especially multimedia and communications technology. An alternative term to CALL emerged in the early 1990s, namely Technology Enhanced Language Learning (TELL), which was felt to provide a more accurate description of the activities which fall broadly within the range of CALL. The term TELL has not, however, gained as wide an acceptance as CALL.

Typical CALL programs present a stimulus to which the learner must respond. The stimulus may be presented in any combination of text, still images, sound, and motion video. The learner responds by typing at the keyboard, pointing and clicking with the mouse, or speaking into a microphone. The computer offers feedback, indicating whether the learner’s response is right or wrong and, in the more sophisticated CALL programs, attempting to analyse the learner’s response and to pinpoint errors. Branching to help and remedial activities is a common feature of CALL programs.

Wida Software (London, UK) was one of the first specialist businesses to develop CALL programs for microcomputers in the early 1980s. Typical software of the first generation of CALL included Wida’s “Matchmaster” (where students have to match two sentence halves or anything else that belongs together); “Choicemaster” (the classic multiple-choice test format); “Gapmaster” (for gapped texts); “Textmixer” (which jumbles lines within a poem or sentences within a paragraph); “Wordstore” (a learner’s own private vocabulary database, complete with a definition and an example sentence in which the word to be learned is used in a context); and “Storyboard” (where a short text is blotted out completely and has to be restored from scratch). Wida’s packages continue to be popular and are now merged into one general-purpose, multimedia authoring program known as “The Authoring Suite”:

Another specialist business, Camsoft (Maidenhead, UK), has enjoyed similar success with its “Fun with Texts” authoring package, which was first produced in 1985 and is now available in an updated multimedia version:

Other CALL activities in the early days of computer use in schools included working with generic packages such as word-processors, which revolutionised text production assignments by enabling language learners to continually revise and have peer reviewed what they are writing before printing out the final version of their composition.


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