Vocabulary knowledge is an essential component of a proficiency level in a new language (Elgort (2018) and a strong indicator of academic achievement Kinsella (2005). With the improvement of computers and technology, vocabulary can be learned through (Computer-assisted Language Learning) known as CALL. The most recent stage is Integrative CALL developed in the 1990s embracing the use of the internet and multimedia. Zinovjeva (2005) states that one of the advantages of CALL is that it provides the learner with the opportunity to practice additional learning materials in their own time. According to Egbert (2005), CALL is defined as “using computers to support language teaching and learning in some way”. Our project is user-friendly and has been created to help learners acquire new academic language to suit all language backgrounds and to develop their skills in autonomous language learning placing the learner in control of making decisions of what to learn (Egbert et al., (2007).
My contribution to the project
As a group, we decided on the number of activities and type, the different levels, as well as the general layout, color and structure of the overall project. Form, meaning, and usage are important aspects of knowing a word and so we have incorporated this into the vocabulary activities for second language acquisition purposes. My role within the group was to create definitions for each of the 20 words. This included the presentation of each word, providing the meaning, synonyms, examples of the word used in a sentence to reflect authentic use of the language and the recording of my voice for the learner to listen to. In addition, my main contribution was to design and create activities which included gap-fill, matching word families, opposites and word class, quiz type activities on spelling, prefixes and suffixes collocations and audio drilling tasks.
How can the learners use the material to learn?
The learner is presented with three options on the homepage: word list/definitions, activities and a storyboard. To create more fun and to prevent boredom, we felt it was very important that the learner could choose a different section each time they want to learn. The user is guided and has the option to go back and forth between these sections to repeat the exercises and learn the words by using the home and back buttons on the screen. Our design enables the user to go back to the word definitions section that provides the basic information if some of the exercises prove to be challenging.
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If they choose to click on word list/definitions the learner can choose which word, they want to learn from twenty academic words. Each of the vocabulary items presents the word in isolation along with its meaning, pronunciation, spelling, synonyms, and usage. The learner can identify the word, the phonetic spelling and listen to the native pronunciation of the word. Multimedia resources such as CALL have made it possible for learners to hear and see a word used by real people Lopez (2018). To facilitate the learning process, two examples of the target word are given in sentences. Each target word has a color and has been underlined and highlighted in the examples so that it helps the learner to notice and memorize the meaning of the word.
The student can choose many different types of activities to practice from such as quizzes, matching or gap fill on spelling, inflections, collocations, definitions, and audio pronunciation. By practicing, the learner can become familiar with the meaning and usage of the new words. To practice word use, words have been organized into groups in some of the collocation activities to make learning easier and other collocation exercises display how they typically occur in contexts. Each learning activity and exercise provides specific instructions that are easy to follow and understand that provides non-judgemental feedback. Most of the activities contain a hint button which is helpful to the student if extra help is needed and many of the exercises have been designed to reshuffle its questions each time it loads to create more diversity. The student has been given plenty of opportunities to practice and to familiarise themselves with the meaning of the new word together with inflected forms, throughout various exercises such as multiple-choice, flashcard activity, matching definitions using drag and drop and gap-fill sentences. We created the audio task to aid the learner with further pronunciation practice of each word starting with a slow speed that gradually increases. This allows the learner to produce language.
The storyboard consists of three themed chapters created in a fun way. Chapter one and two presents images each accompanied by a spoken sentence containing the new highlighted word to be learned that also links to an IPA and a full definition of the word. By clicking on the new word, they can listen to the pronunciation of the word of a native speaker spoken at a slow speed which can be repeated. Different forms of the word (inflected) appear in Chapter two and three for the first time. Chapter 3 asks the learner to identify the 20 academic words in a report. Each chapter can be read multiple times to improve fluency and accuracy. According to Prince (2012) “extensive reading helps learners to acquire words through incidental learning”. To promote user engagement and to also contribute to the learner’s learning experience, we included extra links for access to online dictionaries.
The rationale for some of the decisions taken
We choose the most frequent words from the Academic Word List (Coxhead) that students are most likely to encounter in their everyday language and academic studies. Acquiring an extensive and varied vocabulary is also vital for communicative competence. Research shows that there is a 10% increase in being able to understand academic texts if words are learned from the AWL (Academic Word List) Nation (2001). The extra academic words were also chosen with a theme in mind that would help us create individual chapters for the learner to read and listen to whilst offering further exposure to the word. We choose the definitions and example sentences for each word from theOxford Learner’s Academic dictionary and Longman Learner’s dictionary. According to Lopez (2018), the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is one of the most popular online dictionaries.
The PPP approach (Presentation – Practice – Production) is a common teaching approach that is widely used to introduce new words in language teaching. We choose this didactic approach to teach 20 academic words to learners of a second/foreign language through CALL as it allows students to quickly master a language for communicative purposes Ur (2018).
Hot potatoes, a popular useful technological online software tool made it possible to easily present and teach the academic vocabulary through interactive online activities. Corpus analysis has had a profound effect on language learning as well as other materials and learner dictionaries (Dudeney and Hockly (2012). A Corpus tool (SKELL) was used to search for real language patterns and to generate authentic activities. Learners prefer activities that contain usage of the authentic language as opposed to artificial language practice (Kuhn 2018).
Both tools and Powerpoint (user-friendly) helped to create exercises as well as such as a gap fill drilling exercise by blanking out the word, allowing the learner to fill in the gap, with the software checking the answer and providing some immediate feedback. According to McCarthy (2002), learners can learn how to use words in sentences by way of gap filling exercises. It is important to use materials and tools to teach words that are time effective and easy to access Chapelle & Jamieson (2007); Reppen (2010).
Empirical studies have confirmed that learners need more than one exposure to fully learn a word. According to Goulden, Nation, and Read (1990), “learners need from five to sixteen or more repetitions to learn a word”. The main objective of the activities section is to expose the learner to as many types of exercises to support fluency by repetitive practice. “Repetition should also include meeting new vocabulary in different contexts” (Schmitt (2008). Completion of the audio drilling activities achieves the production element.
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As well as knowing the meaning of a word in isolation, the knowledge of collocations is also useful to the language learner in developing their second language vocabulary. It is more powerful to teach each academic word and each phrase with the collocation (the word that usually co-occurs with it) as these can be difficult to learn Liu (2018). The knowledge of collocations is essential to become fluent like a native speaker in a language (Boers, Eyckmans, Kappel, Stengers & Demecheleer (2006); Wood (2006).
Many of the activities have been created to firmly acquire receptive and productive knowledge of each item whereby different contexts according to Nordlund (2016) need to be used to help retain the word in long term memory. According to Elgort (2018), the use of flashcards can facilitate paired-associate learning. They make use of spaced repetition and presents the learner with the new vocabulary item that needs to be memorized at longer intervals to achieve long term retention.
The use of spelling activities provides many opportunities for noticing any errors made that may be the influence of their first language. The students can self-correct, Ravichandran (2007).
For students who may want to check their spelling and the meaning of additional new words, we have provided access to online dictionaries and other resources as a helpful tool that can be used throughout this program and their future studies.
Limitations of call in our project
Our group found that each of the CALL activities could only provide the learner with a limited amount of feedback. Little research has been made about improving feedback instruction in CALL in different ways to which a teacher in a classroom setting is able to give Chapelle (2007). We were not able to provide the learners with any feedback in the audio drilling activities on the correct pronunciation of words. It may also be the case that older learners may feel uncomfortable about using computers in a language environment (Felix 2008).
To conclude technological advancement has made it possible to use CALL programs in language learning. We found CALL to have certain advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that the program is a tutor that provides an analysis of errors and gives non-judgemental feedback which is valuable, as a teacher may not be able to do so immediately. CALL also allows students to have control over their individualised way of learning and the vocabulary activities can be carefully planned and repeated as often they wish. Also, the student is not affected by other individual performance and is flexible. Another benefit is that it offers plenty of interactive authentic language materials to choose from that can be accessed in their own time. One of the considerations that must be given to the disadvantages in CALL is that it seems CALL cannot provide the further information and invaluable feedback to the students that a teacher in a classroom is able to provide. CALL programs may be expensive, and teachers and students may need to be trained beforehand.
Some students may find classroom teaching boring and lack motivation and interest in learning a new language. We hope that our CALL project can provide the student with autonomy and motivation in a fun and challenging way to learn words that will help them in their future academic studies. As a group we believe CALL is an invaluable tool that will enhance student’s achievement and provide the learner with different ways to learn academic words that makes use of problem-solving activities and drilling practice in an exciting but challenging way.
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