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Computer Assisted Language Learning emerged in the 1960s. Defined by Michael Levy as “the search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning”, CALL enables users to improve their language skills using online resources and assessments. Essentially, the main aim of CALL is to promote learning languages through computers, and the tools that come with them; the Internet, email, multimedia, games and word processing, to name a few.  As the years passed, and CALL evolved, language teachers have found many reasons to use it as an aid in the classroom, and the increasing use of technology in recent years means it is readily available to the teacher, offering a flexible approach to learning. This section will cover the history of CALL, and how it has evolved over time as context to learning through gamification.

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CALL emerged in the sixties and was based on a behaviouristic theory of learning. As a bit of historical context, the sixties and seventies saw many technological developments such as the development of BASIC language, the development of the UNIX operating system, the invention of the first Microprocessor and the development of C language. As well as this, Intel released their 8008 processor, Microsoft was formed as a company and Apple released the first mass-market PC; Apple II. These developments opened the world of computing to a wider audience and ultimately this resulted in a ‘boom’ in later years.

CALL comprised of drills and practices on mainframe and mini computers, with applications having pre-programmed answers. The computer presented the user with a question, to which they provided a textual response. The computer would then analyse the response and give basic feedback, usually only an indication of if the answer was correct or incorrect. This meant that users learned through imitation and repetition; repeatedly going through the process of answering questions until they got the answer correct. The computer was seen as the teacher, as it provided users with self-paced learning and immediate feedback.

This type of learning focused on accuracy, rather than fluency. To learn the language, the user answered the questions over again until they got them correct. This is a similar method to learning through a textbook – repeatedly reading the paragraph until it is memorised and questions are answered correctly. 

By the eighties, CALL became communicative. During this decade, technological developments saw the release of Apple Macintosh, Microsoft Windows and the LaserJet printer by Hewlett-Packard. Crucial to the development of CALL; the TCP/IP Protocol is established leading to the Internet being formed, and word processing was developed. Consequentially, approaches to teaching were changed with the release of these new technologies. Principles of language learning were developed which saw language learning being identified as “the process of discovery, expression and development”. The focus on accuracy suddenly shifted, and instead emphasis was placed on the use of the language, communicative competence and considering the context of both the language and the conversation. 

It emerged that the previous method of learning purely through imitation and repetition didn’t leave the learner able to communicate in the language genuinely and through natural language. This is where the focus on the context came into play. Learning activities changed from question and answer to what is known as a ‘cloze test’. This is where the user is provided with a text with certain words removed. The user then has to replace the missing word with what they think is appropriate based on their learning. Today this is commonly referred to as a ‘fill in the blanks’ exercise. Other activities included text reconstruction and paced reading.  

Thanks to the introduction of PCs, and the embrace of the communicative approach to language learning, CALL boomed at this stage. Serious educational applications began to emerge and the practice was consistently being adapted by schools and universities as the term ‘CALL’ was widely used across the UK. The United States initially used the acronym ‘CALI’, however by the end of the eighties the use of this term faded, and CALL became the dominant term.

The nineties rolled around and saw the introduction of audio CDs, the CD-ROM, Windows 3.0 by Bill Gates and Microsoft, the Multimedia PC (MPC) was introduced with the addition of CD-ROM drives and sound cards. These new technological developments enabled users to make use of a variety of multimedia to teach language for communicative purposes. 

CALL became integrative with a humanistic approach to language learning. Learners focused on the use of meaningful and authentic learning materials, and contextualised materials continued to be in use from the previous decade. The main focus of CALL changed again, with the main aim now being fluency over accuracy. Uschi Felix notes this as being “a shift away from language usage to language use”.

This advanced allowed the material available to learners to include a variety of multimedia elements alongside the text, including video, sound, images and animation; all of which can help the learner to become more fluent and understand the material at a greater depth. This was based on a communicative approach to language teaching, as it built on the student’s motivation and encouraged the students to interact with the materials through the computer, thus giving a more authentic learning environment. CALL enabled learners to set their own learning path and navigate through the material at their own pace.

With this new-found humanistic approach to learning, CALL, ultimately, began considering the learner. No longer were learners just ‘users’ of the computer. Now the material was meaningful and somewhat personalised to consider the context they were learning in and their learning styles. Uschi Felix stated that at this stage, CALL included “tasks relevant to students’ real life interests and experiences”. The role of the teacher also changed, with them becoming facilitators to the material on the computer, rather than the sole source of the information. Similarly with the introduction of email, the World Wide Web and video conferencing, learners now had “direct communication around the globe”, and were able to communicate with other students and their teachers. They now had the ability  to share files through the newly developed FTP which introduced a collaborative learning environment and a dynamic curriculum.

More recently in the 2010s, CALL has continued to evolve with the introduction of gamification. The developments of the nineties are still largely at play this decade and continue to develop to become more interactive. This is where the gamified applications came in. The development of coding languages and frameworks throughout the years means that the World Wide Web is booming increasingly interactive, therefore CALL applications are following suit. It is important to note here that, in contrast to previous decades, not all CALL applications have become gamified. Some applications still follow the same approach as what was the norm in the nineties. 

With the emerging Web 2.0, users have access to online learning platforms which provide real-time feedback, and oftentimes this feedback is personalised to show the user their specific mistakes and how they can fix them. Alongside this, the Internet provides instant access to native speakers through social media, video-conferencing applications such as Skype and, more specifically, language learning mobile apps such as Duolingo. These native speakers often play a role in bringing a natural language element to these resources through one-on-one lessons or providing written content and correcting exercises completed by the learners.

Suddenly gamification made learning a second language seem achievable to the average person, and it became a hit, with Duolingo boasting a massive 200 million active users.

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