In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Computer-Assisted Language Learning

  • Introduction

Education Computer-Assisted Language Learning
Kasumi Yamazaki, Michael Thomas
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0305


Computer-assisted language learning (CALL) is a subfield of second language acquisition (SLA), which investigates the role of digital technologies in mediating language learning and teaching. While there has been a history of using technical devices to stimulate or aid learning since the beginning of the twentieth century (i.e., radio, silent film, music, television), most histories of CALL start in the 1950s and trace its development from the use of large-scale mainframe computers and behaviorist learning approaches through to the constant innovations of digital technologies and constructivism since the 1990s. During this period, computers have radically decreased in size, from mainframes that filled huge rooms to powerful computers in every student’s pocket or bag. Likewise, CALL technologies and applications have moved from being a tool to a tutor to a mixture of both in the form of web-mediated applications that offer a more networked or social dimension. The acronym, first more widely used from the early 1980s, suffers somewhat from the limitations of including the word “computer” in an age of smart phones, tablets, the Internet, and artificial intelligence (AI). As the field has matured since the 1990s, the emergence of dedicated national and international teacher associations and their related conferences, book series, research funding streams, special interest groups, and scholarly journals have sought to address this over-evangelical enthusiasm for technology and slowly have begun to challenge it with a more evidence-based and critical approach. CALL research now has an international audience with associations or recognizable groups of practitioners in most major countries or regions of the world, and while most of the research is still in English, there are increasing amounts of work in other languages, from Spanish to Japanese and Chinese. While some of the research still tends to be dominated by experimental studies trying to prove how a technology may “enhance” a particular aspect of language learning or the latest technological trend, more recent research draws on a wide range of theories and methodologies, to explore the influence on learner identity, motivation, and behavior as well as issues of equity and social justice. Important in this respect is the growing recognition of research on teacher education, as it is only by developing effective CALL teacher educational programs that new generations of teachers and learners will be most able to critically engage with new generations of digital technologies in and outside the language classroom.

General Overviews

Over the past few decades, there have been several research studies that offer a comprehensive overview of the field of CALL, particularly in regard to CALL theories, foundations, environments, research, practice, and issues surrounding the use of technology. The theoretical foundations of CALL were gradually set out during the 1980s, and since then there have been more developments in related subfields which have contributed to the establishment of more diversified CALL environments. While these developments continue to provide new perspectives to the field, it should be noted that CALL has been largely impacted by the intersections of current pedagogical developments, applied linguistics, and second language acquisition theories, as well as the ongoing advancement of computer technologies. Having established this background, the following is a list of research studies that provide a brief history as well as a general understanding of the field.

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