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The true power of CALL: Applying theory to practice in CALL design

Despite considerable advances in the field of CALL, there is still little evidence that theoretically informed principles derived from the fields of Applied Linguistics and second language (L2) learning are truly making their way into the design of computer-based applications. This paper presents an on-going project investigating the design and empirical evaluation of a suite of CALL materials for helping learners of L2 Spanish improve their use of the Preterite versus the Imperfect. Based on current perspectives to L2 grammar learning, a suite of contrasting pedagogical materials was designed with the view to investigate the potential of: (a) theoretically informed CALL design and implementation and (b) three distinctive approaches to L2 grammar teaching. At the core of this project lies the crucial issue of better understanding which types of grammar teaching approaches and techniques are more helpful for L2 learners as unique individuals to construct and develop appropriate representations of the target language. To this end, three different sets of CALL materials were designed as follows:

(a) Traditional approach: The definition and operationalisation of this approach adheres to widely spread practices, materials and teaching techniques loosely based on what is known as the Presentation, Practice, Production (PPP) cycle. The theoretical rationale underpinning this approach lies on a formalist/structuralist view of language and skill acquisition theory (see Ellis & Shintani, 2014).
(b) Concept-Based Instruction: CBI refers to an instructional approach based on an application of Vygotskian thought to L2 pedagogy. As its name indicates, concepts, i.e., linguistic concepts (as opposed to discrete pedagogical grammar rules) based on Cognitive Linguistics are at the heart of this approach.
(c) Processing Instruction: PI is an input or comprehension-based approach which focuses the learners’ attention on the meaning conveyed by specific morphological features. There are three phases or components of PI: provision of explicit information about the target feature, referential structured input activities, and affective structured input activities (VanPatten, 2002).

This paper relies on the notion of praxis: “the dialectical [bidirectional] unity of theory and practical activity as an instrument of change” (Lantolf & Beckett 2009: 459) to demonstrate how theory can provide the foundations for practice, which in turn helps refine and redefine theory. During the first part of the talk, I will demonstrate how the relationship between theory and pedagogy relates to the CALL design prototypes while the second part of the talk will outline the research design being implemented to empirically investigate the potential value of the materials in the L2 context.

Ellis, R. & Shintani, N. (2014). Exploring Language Pedagogy through Second Language Acquisition Research. London: Routledge.
Lantolf, J.P. & Beckett, T.G. (2009). Research Timeline: Sociocultural theory and second language acquisition. Journal of Language Teaching 42(4): 459–475.
VanPatten, B. (2002). Processing Instruction: An Update. Language Learning, 52(4): 755-803.


Gabriela Adela Gánem-Gutiérrez    
Language and Linguistics
University of Essex
United Kingdom


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