Second Language Learner Issues and Software Sonya Lee

external image computer_clipart.gif

Effective use of software can greatly benefit English Learners. There are many ways that educators can help English Learners develop and acquire English language skills through the use of software. Various software programs allow ELLs to present information in various ways to check for understanding. The use of software can create a positive learning environment for ELLs because of the non-judgmental character of the computer permits students to make mistakes without feeling embarrassed. It can also provide feedback and correction. Teachers can pair ELLs with English speakers to work together to practice skills on the computer and to communicate.

Evaluating English Language Teaching Software

external image computer-savvy.jpg

Software programs have made a huge impact on education. Its role in education has been critical and influential. In recent years, software programs for almost all types of learners have been created. It is important that educators evaluate the components of software to determine its appropriateness and effectiveness to meet the specific needs of their students. When implemented properly, educational software has the potential to deliver individualized lessons to meet the needs of diverse learners, such as English Language Learners. As technology integration in education strongly emerges, there here have been a plethora of software resources to help English Language Learners.

Since the early 1990s, educational software with the integration of entertainment (edutainment) has become more prevalent and used by educators and parents. This kind of software is especially crucial for English Learners because they benefit from the visual aspects of software. The aim of edutainment was to make learning fun and multifaceted without making users feel like they’re working. It is defined as “…a hybrid genre that relies heavily on visual material, on narrative or game-like formats, and on more informal, less didactic styles of address” (Kazanci and Okan, 2009, p. 31). There has been much debate on the effectiveness of edutainment and its advantages and disadvantages.

Kazanci and Okan (2009) investigated five English language teaching software that were randomly chosen. The basis for choosing the programs was that they had to teach English and it should be targeted for kids. These included: “Garfield G1”, “English Plus Basic 1”, “English with the Little Mole”, “Spot and His Friends”, “Little Elephant Interactive”.

An evaluation team comprised of three teachers, reviewed the programs over a course of three days. Two of these teachers worked at the Department of Computer Education and Instructional Technologies and the other worked at the English Language Teaching Department at Cukurova University. They studied the proportion of education and entertainment of these English language teaching software and presented ways to improve the design and possible issues they may have had with the software. They looked flow of the programs, as well as features of each screen, such as dialogue boxes, feedback messages, etc. The evaluators used McKenzies (2000) Assessment Chart and their own experiences and judgment to evaluate the software. The McKenzie’s Assessment Chart uses eight main sections for software evaluation. The criteria on this chart states characteristics that would not be desirable on English learning software (or any other software for that matter). These are:

*Pointless-The activity includes the use of tools such as a spreadsheet or presenting program
that has no relation to the grade level curriculum for the student.

*Nonstandard-There is not connection to state standards. There is no expectation from the student
to understand content or skill.

*Robotic-The activity does not require creativity or higher-level-thinking. Students
are mundanely following directions.

*Glib-There is not need for students to dig into the software and explore.
Students can get by by simply skimming.

*Static-The software does not allow users to be in competition with oneself. There is
nothing on the software that advances the user to another skill or level.

*Disneyfied-The learning goal is masked with arcade like graphics.
*Flasy-Special effects, transitions, bells and whistles are dominant. Students will be
spending time and energy on special effects rather than content.

*Empty-The software does not provide much to move the student forward with
understanding or questioning content.

The researchers found that all five English language teaching software were more representative of electronic games rather than educational software.
As teachers, we must keep in mind that the “frills” of software, such as special effects, may be entertaining, but not beneficial to students. Olson et al. (2001) supports this claim by stating,

“If the primary advantage of using the technology is that it will be fun for students or more ‘motivating’, seriously consider why this is so. We think you will find that technology often diminishes the need to attend seriously to prior knowledge, to use metacognitive strategies, question prior ideas, generate examples, compare alternative solutions, grapple with experiences, make sense of these new experiences, make new connection, and analyze whether prior connections make sense.”
The integration of educational software in the classroom with English Learners can be extremely powerful and successful. However, evaluating the software for appropriateness and learning value is the most important.

external image acf05.jpg

Sound is an extremely important feature in English learning software. Listening is vital to understanding. Sound can be used to keep an English Learner focused when not looking at the monitor. It is a great tool to be used for listening to directions. Alessi and Trollip (2001) explains that “Text directions are often ignored. Furthermore, when textual content is displayed on the screen, speech is a useful way to distinguish directional verbal information (speech) from content verbal information (text). Sound and visuals can be combined for English Learners to see the formation of the mouth when pronouncing a word. Software that has user control (ability to play, stop, pause, repeat, volume) with sound is essential. Sound can allow English Learners to be more involved and have a longer attention span to the learning taking place. With the proper use of sound visuals, students can make associations with English words and sentence structures.

Allowing students to use their first language enhances mental flexibility and problem solving ( Students will benefit from using their first language with other students in all English learning activities. There are software that allow users to customize it with the native speaker's language.

Here is a website that offers tips on what to consider when designing computer games for English Learners:

Alessi, S., & Trollip, S. (2001). Multimedia for learning: Methods and development. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Byron, J. (Producer). (2010, April 18). Learning Through the Curriculum. Podcast retrieved from 0140000043315/JamesByron- ELLMOV4195.m4v?bri=13.3&brs= 1548
Kazanci, Z., & Okan, Z. (2009). Evaluating English language teaching software. The Turkish Online Journal of
Educational Technology, 8(3), 30-38.

Perez, B. (2009, December 8). Language software with pronunciation guide for non-English speakers. Message posted to

Internet Resources

*All images from