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by Lexi
Rated: E · Essay · Educational · #1322916
Scholarly paper discussing the impact on technology in the foreign language classroom.

Technology and Foreign Language Learning
Alexa Flores-Hull
Northern Arizona University
September 2007


Technology has had an impact on both instruction and learning in classrooms across all content areas. This paper researches the impact of technology in the foreign language classroom and ways to integrate technology into these classrooms. If technology is “used as a catalyst for social interaction and conversations related to children’s work” (Van Scoter, Ellis, Railsback, 2001, p.9) then technology becomes a vital tool with positive impact for both the instructor and the student. Time is also spent discussing the positive influence a tool such as an interactive whiteboard can offer to foreign language classrooms. In conclusion, technology is found to be most powerful in a foreign language classroom when combined with a well trained and technologically literate instructor able to facilitate learning for students by enabling them to explore and discover the world.

Technology and Foreign Language Learning

         The use of technology in schools today has impacted both students and teachers on many levels and will continue to impact the future of education and society. It has almost become cliché to say that people are living in an ever increasingly digital world. Today’s students have little or no use for analog technology such as records, audiotapes, or VHS video—so why would one assume that they could learn from a traditional textbook that has no technology component in a foreign language classroom? Today’s technologically savvy students use DVDs for watching movies and MP3 files for downloading and listening to music, books, and other audio programming. They surf the Internet to read blogs, do research, or play videogames against opponents half way around the world.  Theirs is a virtual world—one that requires language teachers to make language learning far more dynamic, connected, and “real” than ever before.

Pedagogy and Theory of Technology Use in Language Classrooms

    The word technology is defined as the relationship of society and its tools. Technology has most often been used as an instructional aid in foreign language classrooms – printed books, overhead projectors, televisions, radios, record players, and movie screens have been utilized over the years. The old belief was that language instruction had a one on one element between people.

    "Once upon a time, students were considered fluent if they could read, write, speak and aurally comprehend a foreign language. However that is not enough anymore, educators say. In an age of corporate mergers, downsizing and cost-effective global communication, there is less of an emphasis on overseas business travel, and less travel means less face-to-face interaction. These days, graduates who tout foreign language skills on their job applications are expected to be able to use those skills in a variety of ways. Their tasks could include anything from producing a company memo, negotiating a business deal by phone, writing a grammatically correct e-mail, or composing a culturally relevant podcast. (Lum, 2006)"

    The focus should no longer be solely focused on preparing students for one on one communication but for communication within a digital community. How can technology assist foreign language teachers to make this leap?

    Researchers have conducted many studies on the use of technology in foreign language teaching. In one empirical study (Cantos-Gómez 1993), two groups of students were given the same language activity, but in different media formats: traditional pen-and-paper format and a computerized version. After the activity, an attitude survey with questions about the students’ motivation towards both versions of the task was administered. The results showed that the students participating in the computer-assisted version of the activity were more highly motivated than their counterparts using traditional materials. In a similar study (Mainenti 1997), two foreign language classes were compared with each group using materials in different media formats. One group used traditional textbook-based materials while the test group used a combination of audio, video, and printed authentic materials. Using a pre- and posttest reading and listening assessment, the researcher found that the group that used a variety of technology components showed some positive gains on all tests. On attitude surveys, the test group also showed an overwhelming preference for the authentic materials and for the different media formats over the textbook-based materials alone. The researcher concluded that the use of authentic materials in different media formats lowers affective filters and heightens motivation. Both studies call for the integration of a variety of technology components into the language classroom. The findings support the belief that different media formats not only motivate students but also make them feel more secure in the language-learning environment and provide new opportunities for success in the target language.
    In a study of eighth grade students’ use of a technology-based thematic unit (Langer de Ramirez 1998), the majority of the students found multimedia programs more fun and exciting than traditional texts. Students enjoyed authentic videos because they liked seeing what students from other countries look like. This direct connection to teens from the Spanish-speaking world is an invaluable resource and serves to make learning the language more “real” for students.
    Internet-based tasks can also be exciting to students if they are sufficiently interactive, thus allowing students to make their own meaning from the information at hand. Online activities and resources can stimulate students to brainstorm and subsequently reorganize their ideas with relative ease. Webquests allow students to organize their thoughts in a different, less linear fashion. Students can interact directly with the online information, thus blurring the line between author and reader. The computer, through links to the Internet, can provide a direct link to native speakers of a language. Electronic mail, in particular, serves as an instant mail service in which students can exchange ideas and thoughts. Students view ePals² as more exciting than conventional pen pals because they can receive responses much faster (Johnson 1994). Furthermore, e-mail provides students with a safe way of communicating in the target language, without the anxiety that face-to-face discussion might cause. (Wyman 1993) Students are in control of this cyber-classroom and can learn at whatever pace they find comfortable.
    When grammar, vocabulary, and cultural information are presented via a variety of technologies in real settings and for authentic purposes, they are seen as useful and pertinent to the students and are thus more likely to be absorbed into both the conceptual and linguistic memory. All these advantages of technology not only help in the teaching of language and culture but also serve to motivate students to want to learn a foreign language.

New Technology in Language Classrooms

    One particular technology “gadget” that can easily influence students to learn via exposure to culture and authentic resources is the interactive whiteboard, also referred to by the brand name Smart Board. An interactive whiteboard is a large touch controlled screen that works with a projector and a computer. Two possibilities for technology integration of the Smart Board in a foreign language classroom are also aligned to the pedagogical beliefs espoused by Robert Marzano. Marzano states there are nine categories of instructional strategies proven to improve student achievement. (Marzano, 2001) These strategies are often employed in foreign language classrooms and can easily lend themselves to technology integration.
    The first use of the interactive white board in a foreign language classroom envisioned is providing note-taking and summarizing strategies. For example, the teacher uses a program such as Microsoft Power Point to present an explanation of a new grammar concept. Students complete graphic organizers to help them to decipher the newly acquired information. The students and the teacher then as a group using software such as Inspiration, a concept mapping program, develop a graphic organizer that the students develop to summarize the grammar knowledge. Students could then work with the Marzano strategy of identifying similarities and differences by creating a Venn diagram of the grammar structure presented to their native languages.
    The second use of the Smart Board is the ability to participate in virtual field trips allowing for more exposure to the target culture within the classroom. The interactive smart boards allow a teacher to present more dynamic versus static information. It allows the students to become engaged and focused while extending their learning beyond the normal classroom walls. The Smart Board has the ability to harness the internet and bring it to life in front of the class. Students are no longer looking at a still photo of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain but are watching live video clips. They are participating in a field trip at The Prado Museum or they are taking notes about ecological reserves in Costa Rica. A wonderful teacher resource and pioneer for online field trips is Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. This ability to transport the student without leaving campus helps to create life long learners and foster an increased desire to continue learning the specific foreign language.


    It is my opinion that foreign language teachers are more likely to utilize technology tools that will assist students if they themselves are first comfortable with the skills needed. Schools and their school districts would benefit from a program that assesses their teachers’ use of technology and readiness for use of technology, as well as their ability to utilize technology in an engaging and meaningful way for the students specific to their content area. One such example is the Teacher Education and Technology Planning Guide created by Learning Point Associates in November of 2004. It looks at eight key categories for the implementation of technology by pre-service teachers and colleges of education (Fulton, Glenn, Valdez, 2004).
         I believe that the most important element in regard to foreign language and technology integration is the linking of proven teaching strategies to the technology. I believe that it is via interactive learning that technology in the classroom can contribute the most. In summary, does technology have a valuable role in language acquisition or is it merely another gimmick used to capture an audience? Yes, it does have an important role for the new generation of students. A student survey at South Texas Community College asked students whether or not they believed technology had educational value. South Texas Community College (2002) found the following:
    "Students provided feedback on how much the technology was used in their classes and how they perceived the usefulness of the technology. Results indicated that the more students reported a technology being used, the more likely they perceived it as useful. Classes without technology were perceived as less helpful. (p.2)"
      It is an asset if teachers are prepared and skilled in ways to utilize technology in an engaging and meaningful way. Can true understanding occur? Undoubtedly, it can lead to meaningful learning experiences if the technology is used in a classroom that allows for the students to explore with guidance from their instructor. Where do we go from here? Technology in the classroom utilized by the instructor “develops technology literate learners when they apply technology across curricular areas throughout the life-long learning process” (Raley, 2006, Use of Technology section, bullet 3). As eloquently stated,
    "Just as pencils do not replace crayons but rather provide additional means of expression, computers, or cameras or any other form of technology, do not replace other tools but add to the array of tools available to children to explore, create and communicate (Van Scoter, Ellis, Railsback, 2001, p.25)."

A foreign language teacher must learn to see themselves less as a person standing at a podium and more as a facilitator for exploration with technology as a valuable tool by their side.


Bower, C.S. (2007, June). Se habla technology, THE Journal. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from http://www.thejournal.com/articles/20745.

Cantos-Gómez, P. (1993) Using computer-assisted language learning activities in English: Their impact on pupils’ motivation. Diss. Spain: Universidad de Murcia.

Fulton, K., Glenn, A., & Valdez, G. (2004). Teacher education and technology planning guide (Government No. 1). Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates. (Planning Guide) Retrieved September 19, 2007, from http://www.learningpt.org/pdfs/tech/guide.pdf

Johnson, R. (1994). Using telecommunications in the modern foreign language classroom. Language Association Bulletin, New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers.

Langer de Ramirez, L. (2006) La importancia de la elección de los estudiantes en el uso de un material multimedia basado en cuentos de tradición oral. Revista de Literatura—Edición especial: “Literatura infantil e interculturalidad. Centro de Comunicación y Pedagogía, Barcelona, 216.

Lum, L. (2006). Language, Culture and Technology, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 23(16), 30.

Mainenti, R. J. (1997) The effect of supplemental authentic materials with traditional textbook-based instruction on the proficiency of secondary students in level 1 second language courses. Diss. West Virginia University.

Marzano, R. (2001). A Handbook for Classroom Instruction that Works. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Raley, D. (2006). Instructional technology. Retrieved September 21, 2007, from http://www.mcsk12.net/admin/tlapages/tech/index.asp

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Van Scoter, J., Ellis, D., & Railsback, J. (2001). Technology in early education: Finding the balance. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, June

Wyman, W. J. (1993, Winter) Internet and foreign language instruction: A report from behind the front lines. IALL Journal of Language Learning Technologies 26.1, 26–33.
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