Technology and Foreign Language Pedagogy: What the Literature Says

Nadeem Saqlain is a graduate student in the Faculty of Education at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.

Key Takeaways

  • Internet-based technologies can be an extremely useful resource for teachers and learners of foreign languages.
  • Various innovations (including Google-assisted language learning and concordancers) have revolutionized the approaches to teaching foreign languages.
  • New technologies and applications allow students to become increasingly autonomous in learning foreign languages, as well as gaining more intercultural literacy.

The proliferation of Internet-based software over the past decade undoubtedly has transformed the way foreign languages are taught. And yet, while educators increasingly exploit these pedagogical tools, the real story seems to be the way students use them to acquire foreign language competency. The literature seems to suggest that students increasingly rely on mobile-assisted language learning independently of, or asynchronously to, more structured learning, but other factors have also received the attention of researchers. This brief literature survey highlights some of these issues.

Note that in the following discussion, computer-assisted language learning (CALL), mobile-assisted language learning (MALL), Internet-based language learning (IBLL), online language learning (OLL), Google-assisted language learning (GALL), and technology-enhanced language learning (TELL) are different forms of technology-based language learning (TBLL).

Literature Survey

While computers have been popular among language teachers since the 1960s, their usefulness has been amplified by the development of Internet-based technologies. In particular, the advent of Web 2.0 technologies and applications has been hugely successful in allowing students to learn independently or collaboratively through the media — from listening to language files to watching YouTube videos to using specific language-instruction software.

Over the past several decades, studies analyzing the relationship between technology and foreign language learning have tended to focus on several key issues, including motivation, reading and writing, research, and mobile-assisted language learning.1

Importantly, all of this scholarship points to the advantages inherent in electronic communication, including the democratic nature of the modality that allows students to express themselves freely, comfortably, and creatively in learning a second language.2 A few researchers have even suggested that some students prefer to learn a new language through electronic technology than face-to-face in the classroom.3 Practice and confidence are cornerstones in learning a foreign language. Internet-based language learning provides learners opportunities to practice with confidence. They use Skype, chat, and instant messengers, including Google Talk, Trillian, Pidgin, and Rediff, to improve their speaking and comprehension skills by talking with native speakers of the language they are learning. Similarly, Twitter and Facebook can be helpful in learning a foreign language.


How to motivate learners is one of the main challenges faced by foreign language teachers. Using the case of teaching modern Greek online to students in China, Xiaoyin Huang, Costa Dedegikas, and Jan Walls demonstrated that multimedia technology combined with appropriate instructional design can create a good learning environment that not only leads to effective language learning but also is highly motivational.4 In the same way, Brent Kelsen has shown YouTube to be highly influential in helping language students improve their listening and speaking skills.5

Reading and Writing

Many researchers have noted the role technology plays in developing reading and writing skills. Early in the millennium, Adina Levine, Orna Ferenz, and Thea Reves identified that in order to develop critical literacy skills for foreign language learners, computer-based technologies were more useful than the conventional method of reading.6 Several years later Subhadra Ramachandran supported this finding, propounding that judicious use of technology in the classroom helped students in their literacy development. From the point of view of students' writing skill, he also determined that using this kind of technology in the classroom helped students write better and improved their collaborative writing skills.7 Likewise, Read Gilgen described that personal digital assistant and laptop devices were considerably more effective than traditional modalities, creating a mobile language-learning environment for students.8 Recent scholarship concurs with these findings, although it tends to recommend using a combination of web-based and traditional writing instruction rather than a single approach.9

Search Engines

Many analyses of the use of technology in foreign language education have emphasized the importance of search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Some authors have even suggested that simply browsing on these search engines — aside from using their associated translation tools — actually improves foreign language learners' writing skills.10 Similarly, Google-assisted language learning (GALL) has been identified as being especially beneficial for language learning.11 Google can translate in many languages, and maps, images, and videos can be downloaded for language teaching purposes. It is useful not only for teachers but also for students. Both can Google a lots of material related to language teaching and learning.

The use of corpus-based language learning has led to the development by scholars at the Universite de Québéc à Montréal in Canada of an online concordancer, a type of search engine designed for language study. Here, the Compleat Lexical Tutor analyzes linguistic similarities and patterns among several Romance languages in a large database of texts.12

Studies indicate that students introduced to these kinds of resources were more apt to use them independently at a later date.13 In the same way, there is some evidence that writing blogs helps students learn independently while also developing intercultural knowledge and linguistic skills.14 In this way they not only improve their writing skill but also obtain understanding of the culture of the target language.

Portable Classrooms

Something that excited many scholars several years ago was the potential of mobile technologies — from personal digital assistants to iPods — to impact language learning, although they did acknowledge limitations.15 Laptops, tablets, iPods, and cellphone devices are a type of portable classroom, which has made language learning very easy. Texting, calling, and e-mailing are different techniques students can use to improve their language skills.


Based on my review of the literature, I believe this is the right time to adopt technology for language teaching and learning for those faculty and students who have not already done so.

  • Language teachers should update their skills with training on the use of technology, including computers, multimedia, and smart boards in the language-learning classroom.
  • Instructors should also urge their students to use technology for language learning; the Internet especially can be fruitful for autonomous learning.
  • Watching YouTube videos, using instant messengers, writing e-mails, texting, and using Skype can help students improve all four language skills.


On the whole, while student satisfaction surveys confirm the continued success of Internet-based resources in the teaching of foreign languages,16 a growing body of literature suggests these technologies are encouraging students to become increasingly autonomous in their learning of foreign languages, as well as more interculturally competent. This trend supports the larger concept of lifelong learning, especially with respect to learning foreign languages in or out of the language classroom.

  1. Jean W. Leloup and Robert Ponterio, "Second language acquisition and technology: A review of the research," CAL digests, December 2003.
  2. Renaud J. Davies, "Second-Language Acquisition and the Information Age: How Social Software has Created a New Model of Learning," TESL Canada Journal/Revue TESL du Canada, vol. 28, no. 2 (2011), pp. 11–19. For an earlier study, see Mark Warschauer, "Comparing Face-To-Face and Electronic Discussion in the Second Language Classroom," CALICO Journal, vol.13, no. 2 (1996), pp. 7–26.
  3. Warschauer, "Comparing Face-To-Face and Electronic Discussion." See also Ravathi Vishvanathan, "Recent Impacts of Internet on English Language Training in India," TESL-EJ, vol. 12, no. 3 (2008), who also noted that these students tend to use more formal language than they would in face-to-face discussions.
  4. Xiaoyin Huang, Costa Dedegikas, and Jan Walls, "Using Multimedia Technology to Teach Modern Greek Language Online in China: Development, Implementation, and Evaluation," European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 17 January 2011.
  5. Brent Kelsen, "Teaching EFL to the iGeneration: A Survey of Using Youtube as Supplementary Material with College EFL Students in Taiwan," CALL-EJ Online, vol. 10, no. 2 (2009).
  6. Adina Levine, Orna Ferenz, and Thea Reves, "EFL Academic Reading and Modern Technology: How Can We Turn Our Students into Independent Critical Readers?" TESL-EJ, vol. 4, no. 4 (2000).
  7. Subhadra Ramachandran, "Integrating New Technologies into Language Teaching: Two Activities for EAP Classroom," TESL Canada Journal/Revue TESL du Canada, vol. 22, no. 1 (2004).
  8. Read Gilgen, "Holding the World in Your Hand: Creating a Mobile Language Learning Environment," EDUCAUSE Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 3 (2005).
  9. Hamid R Kargozari and Hamed Ghaemi, "Web-based Writing Instruction and Enhancing EFL Learners' Writing Quality," Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, vol. 12, no. 3 (2011), pp. 36–45; and Mark A. Conroy, "Internet tools for language learning: University students taking control of their writing," Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 26, no. 6 (2010), pp. 861–882.
  10. Adam Acar, Joe Geluso, and Tadaki Shiki, "How Can Search Engines Improve Your Writing?" CALL-EJ, vol. 12, no. 1 (2011), pp. 1–10.
  11. Conroy, "Internet tools for language learning," (2010).
  12. Ibid.
  13. See Ramachandran, "Integrating New Technologies," and Conroy, "Internet tools for language learning."
  14. Lina Lee, "Blogging: Promoting Learner Autonomy and Intercultural Competence through Study Abroad," Language Learning & Technology, vol. 15, no. 3 (2011), pp. 87–109. See also Davies, "Second-Language Learning and the Information Age" (2011) and Meei-ling Liaw, "E-Learning and the Development of Intercultural Competence," Language, Learning & Technology, vol. 10, no. 3 (2006), pp. 49–64.
  15. George M. Chinnery, "Emerging Technologies: Going to the MALL: Mobile Assisted Language Learning," Language, Learning & Technology, vol. 10, no. 1 (2006), pp. 9–16. And see Gilgen, "Holding the World in Your Hand."
  16. Huang et al., "Using Multimedia Technology." See also Shiao-Chuan Kung and Tun Whei Chuo, "Students' Perceptions of English Learning through EFL/ESL Websites," TESL-EJ, vol. 6, no. 1 (2002).