The connection between computers and language is nothing new. We started seeing it in popular culture back in the 60’s with Star Trek’s communicators. The idea of a universal instant translator of any language into any other language is an extremely appealing problem to techno-linguists. We’re still nowhere near to achieving that dream despite great strides that have been made with automatic translation services online.
There is no fear of losing the language classroom any time soon. More than any time in the last 100 years, students are flocking to ESL and EFL classrooms around the world. And more than ever, technology is becoming a core part of these classrooms. We are now entering a time when both students and teachers are ‘tech savvy’ and computers and related technologies have been part of their daily life from the start.
They have a familiarity and comfort level with technology that people born say before 1980 or so just don’t have. As language students’ lives become increasingly computer based, the importance of integrating computers with language learning is growing. Not only do students expect it, but it is also how many are most comfortable learning (for better or worse).
Sadly, and maybe this is only for those of us who are slightly older, the growing dependence on technology has resulted in a disturbing lack of familiarity and comfort with traditional information sources – like books, libraries, and frighteningly person-to-person communication.
So what should language teachers do? Should you integrate computers into your language classes and lessons? Well that will always depend on what you are trying to accomplish and why. By no means do you need to go 100% digital – however to completely ignore the importance of technology in language learning would be a major mistake in my estimation.
I know what I do in the classes I teach. I make use of computers in my classes when I see an overall benefit, and I don’t when I can’t see the benefit. What will you do? Well, that depends on you and your personal inclinations.
For now, keep in mind that while CALL, or computer assisted language learning, has come a long way in the last 15 years or so, the word ‘assisted’ is, and I think should always remain, central in the relationship between computers and language learning.