Monday, April 21, 2008

English Language Learning Software Hunt

The other day a friend asked me if she could borrow some of my CD-ROMs (or DVD-ROMs) for English language learning OR for some suggestions. I was a little embarrassed that not only didn't I have many (aside from a couple old ones), but I also couldn't think of any besides Rosetta Stone and TELL, which are a little more than I can afford.

My interests have included CALL-related topics for many years, but it's been a long time since I paid attention to instructional software. I've focused for so long on the use of ICT that I am clueless on the state of "traditional" disk-based software.

I have NEVER seen a software that impressed me. They have all been warmed-over grammatical syllabi with little other than multiple choice, fill in the blank drills to fill space between cute animations and lame texts (can you tell I'm skeptical?).

I'm not against drilling. I think that there is a place for it and a software might be the right place. However, these also don't seem to have much relevance to the average classroom. That is unacceptable.

Can anyone prove me wrong? What have you used that you loved? If you do make any recommendations, please describe why it is good.

Don't bother sending on things that can be modified for language learning. There are countless materials to do that with. I would like to know a good, dedicated software (CD, DVD, Downloadable, or even online) that learners can use on their own. If there is interaction with other students or teachers, that's great, but students still have to be able to use it on their own.



Updates: I'll update here with suggestions that I receive.

  • EuroTalk
  • Qedoc - Quiz-maker and cache of quizzes.
  • EduFire - Flashcards and collection of videos in various languages (mostly YouTube).


We often talk about supporting students in their learning process. This support is primarily considered scaffolding. This is important for all teachers to understand, particularly language teachers in immersion contexts.

Below is a little something that I wrote recently on scaffolding to justify including it in a workshop for content-area teachers who are learning to work with English language learners.


Sheltered instruction is often thought of as sheltering ELLs from their native speaking counterparts (Freeman & Freeman, 1988); however, this view has evolved significantly over the years in include language and content support in a variety of contexts (Grabe & Stoller, 1997). Sheltered instruction is what should take place in CBI contexts where the focus is on content rather than language. Sheltered instruction is the supporting of ELL’s content-area learning (Bunch, Abram, Lotan, & Valdés, 2001; Short, 1991). This can be done in many ways, as described above in the CBI continuum. However, the general focus is on scaffolding instruction to the extent that learners can participate and learn in content-area classes.

Sheltered instruction provides support for ELLs through the use of scaffolding (Antón, 1999; Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976), which aims to make input comprehensible (Krashen, 1982). This is similar to Vygotsky’s (1978) concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD), “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (p. 86). Relating this back to Krashen’s (1982) i+1 concept (comprehensible input), learners are provided with input just a little above their “actual developmental level” (Vygotsky’s terminology) in order for them to advance to their “potential developmental level.”

Scaffolding can take on many forms. Brush and Saye (2002) make the distinction between “hard” and “soft” scaffolding. Hard scaffolding is the purposeful, planned use of materials that are designed to support learners. These materials can range from texts (e.g., books, notes, etc.) to audio/video (e.g., lecture recordings, podcasts with a variety of content, etc.) to graphical/visual (e.g., animation, illustrations, models, etc.). Soft scaffolding is the dynamic feedback provided to learners by instructors or peers (de Guerrero & Villamil, 2000; Ewald, 2005; Salomon & Perkins, 1998) that addresses perceived gaps in understanding or performance.

Additionally, both soft and hard scaffolding can take on different general forms when working with ELLs, including: cognitive/conceptual (Ausubel, 1968 cited in; O'Neill, 1988; Charles M. Reigeluth, 1999), linguistic (Lam & Wong, 2000; Mohan & Beckett, 2003; Ulanoff & Pucci, 1999), cultural (Risko & Walker-Dalhouse, 2007), and affective (Rosiek, 2003). Cognitive/conceptual scaffolding is the provision of support focusing on cognitive strategies and metacognitive skills. Linguistic scaffolding is the provision of language-related support such as structural, lexical, and pragmatic. Cultural scaffolding supports understandings of and connections between diverse cultural backgrounds, both for learners and guides (teachers other students) towards the “other” culture(s). Affective scaffolding supports the emotional/psychological needs of the learners (e.g., anxiety, self-efficacy, and self-esteem).