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Promoting ESL skills using ICTs

Stephen Pathipati Arokiaswamy, Memorial University of Newfoundland


The enrollment of limited English proficient students due to ethnic and linguistic diversity has become a challenge to teachers and started a debate on how to best instruct them to acquire language skills (Lee, 2006). Becoming proficient in a new language is a painful and daunting task and poses a big challenge to the teachers (Yberra & Green, 2003). Proficiency in the second language skills is a painful process for many language minority students (Liaw, 2008). English as a second language learners face problems in writing compared to the native speakers, creating a challenge to the ESL teachers (Liu, 2011). Moreover, EFL learners have difficulties and weaknesses in their communication skills (Rahimi, Ebrahimi, Esk & Ari, 2013). Also, ESL learners struggle to improve their academic English and are eager to learn more vocabulary to get access in to credit courses and universities (Tang, 1997). According to Tsai and Jenks (2009) there is lack of interaction, speaking and listening activities in the ESL classrooms.

Proficiency in vocabulary is the greatest challenge for the recent high school immigrants in Canada (Snow & Kim, 2006). In 2009, 54% of ESL students failed the mandatory secondary English literacy test (Li, 2010). The EFL learners in Taiwan expressed in a survey that they have poor listening comprehension skills (Tsai & Jenks, 2009). Non-native English speakers have difficulty in pronunciation, and have longer pause length (Tanner, 2008). ESL learners found it difficult to express themselves in writing stories (Peng, Park & Fitzgerald, 2006). There is a wide gap between the ESL learner’s knowledge of vocabulary, reading skills and the grade level requirements creating immediate need to acquire language skills (Li, 2010).

Role of ICTs

Dellicarpini (2012) found that use of technology with English language learners can develop language, literacy and technological literacy skills. Students learned to use correct English pronunciation, stress syllables, and appropriate pause length when computer assisted cued pronunciation reading (Tanner & Mark, 2009). According to Tsai and Jenks (2009) multimedia vocabulary instruction had a strong effect on student performance, and proper integration of computer assisted language language (CALL) had a profound impact on the second language learners. Liaw (1997) indicated that computer book reading activities promoted verbal communication and enhanced language functions such as reading, questioning, suggesting, responding, expressing emotions etc.

Computer programs such as Wordsmith, MonoConc, HyperCard stack free text and multi concord enhances language learning tasks such as vocabulary acquisition (Stvan, 2005). Students who used computer mediated dictionaries required minimal help in vocabulary and outperformed those who used printed dictionaries (Li, 2010). Use of electronic discussion boards helped students to correct their language according to the purpose and audience and provided opportunities to observe their peers written language, thereby increasing the awareness of the importance on appropriate language usage (Zha, Kelly, Park & Fitzgerald, 2006). Computer-based instructional software such as Lexia primary reading program enhanced English reading comprehension skills ( Rodriguez, Filler, & Higgins, 2012). Electronic dictionaries helped secondary students to connect between their prior and new knowledge and served as a tool to clarify when confronted with words in reading comprehension (Tang, 2013). CALL programs also enhances word recognition, promotes extensive reading and vocabulary learning (Li, 2010). Liu (2011) found that using computerized concept maps as a pre-writing strategy improved learners writing and organizational skills and enhanced recall and memory. Computer based writing software such as Web quest significantly reduced students writing apprehension (Chuo, 2007). Information communication technology tools enable students to write many drafts before handing in a neat copy to their teachers (Yunus et al., 2013). Multimedia story writing helped ESL learners to bring alive their personal stories and feel pride in sharing their cultural differences (Peng et al, 2006). Computer assisted language learning enhanced pronunciation, vocabulary, choice of words in different contexts and comprehension (Bhatti, 2013). Computer mediated simulation programs such as Widget workshop, Oregon Trail improved student’s academic language (Lee, 2006). Technology-enhanced language learning approach addressed various dimensions of classroom environment such as involvement, student-cohesiveness, task-orientation, cooperation, teacher support and equity (Rahimi et al., 2013).

AbuSeileek, 2012 reported that computer assisted cooperative learning improved ESL learners communication skills. Lee (2006) found out that authoring software programs like once upon a time enabled ESL students to create multimedia stories by creating a scene prior to writing their story that helped them to organize and stay within the theme. Technology assisted multimedia story writing assisted learners to express their ideas through graphics, sounds, and animations (Peng, Park & Hitzgerald, 2006). The study conducted on ESL learners identified that web quest program and language input through the pre-selected web materials helped them to excel in writing performance (Chuo, 2007).


According to Dellicarpini (2012) the lack of computer literacy in teachers due to the limited exposure to technology in the teacher education programs can be solved by introducing computer courses in the teacher education to enhance teachers self efficacy and promote positive belief in computer technology. The prevalence of digital divide among teachers can be overcome through hands on technology courses in teacher education and funding from federal or local agencies for training (Lee, 2006). Another obstacle in implementing computer based instruction is selecting the variety of English: British, Canadian, American, Australian etc. Beckett et al., (1999) recommend to design geographically specific language software to suit the needs.

Tsai and Jenks (2009) reported that teachers fear losing class control when CALL activities are integrated in the classroom. They found that class room management issues can be minimized through teacher guided multimedia programs rather than student directed programs. Yunus, Nordin, Embi, and Salehi (2013) suggested that having a central control of computers avoid distraction and students visiting irrelevant websites. Green (2009) indicated that Japanese EFL students had an extra burden due to weak computer skills and unfamiliarity with the English operating systems. However, this problem can be overcome through basic computer instruction training before starting to integrate computer based instruction (Greene, 2009). The multimedia software used in teaching ESL in the western countries may contain information that is culturally sensitive and perceived offensive by the ESL learners (Beckett, Mcgivern, Reeder, & Semenova, 1999). This obstacle can be solved by designing the learning software carefully considering the cultural believability, and multicultural contexts of diverse learners (Beckett et al., 1999).


Abuseileek, A. (2012). The effect of computer-assisted cooperative learning methods and group size on the EFL learners’ achievement in communication skills. Computers & Education, 58 (1), pp. 231-239.

Beckett, G., Mcgivern, L., Reeder, K. and Semenova, D. (1999). Dilemmas in Designing Multimedia Software for Learners of English as a Second or Foreign Language. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 32 (2), pp. 287-97.

Bhatti, T. (2013). Teaching Reading through Computer-Assisted Language Learning. TESL-EJ, 17 (2).

Chuo, T. (2007). The effects of the Web Quest writing instruction program on EFL learners’ writing performance, writing apprehension, and perception. TESL-EJ, 11 (3), pp. 1-27.

Dellicarpini, M. (2012). Building Computer Technology Skills in TESOL Teacher Education. Language Learning & Technology, 16 (2), pp. 14-23.

Greene, D. (2000). A design model for beginner-level computer-mediated EFL writing. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 13 (3), pp. 239-252.

Li, J. (2010). Learning vocabulary via computer-assisted scaffolding for text processing. Computer Assisted Language Learning. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 23 (3), pp. 253-275.

Liaw, M. (1997). An analysis of ESL children's verbal interaction during computer book reading. Computers in the Schools, 13 (3-4), pp. 55-73.

Liu, P. (2011). A study on the use of computerized concept mapping to assist ESL learners’ writing. Computers & Education, 57 (4), pp. 2548-2558.

Peng, H., Fitzgerald, G. and Park, M. (2006). Producing multimedia stories with ESL children: A partnership approach. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 15 (3), pp. 261-284.

Rahimi, A., Ebrahimi, N., Esk and Ari, Z. (2013). The effects of using technology and the internet on some Iranian efl students’ perceptions of their communication classroom environment. Teaching English with Technology, (1), pp. 3-19.

Rodriguez, C., Filler, J. and Higgins, K. (2012). Using Primary Language Support via Computer to Improve Reading Comprehension Skills of First-Grade English Language Learners. Computers in the Schools, 29 (3), pp. 253-267.

Stvan, L. (2005). Inferring new vocabulary using online texts. Computers in the Schools, 22 (1-2), pp. 85-96.

Tang, G. (2013). Pocket Electronic Dictionaries for Second Language Learning: Help or Hindrance. TESL-CANADA, 15 (1), pp. 38-57.

Tanner, M., L and On, M. (2009). The effects of computer-assisted pronunciation readings on ESL learners’ use of pausing, stress, intonation, and overall comprehensibility. Language Learning & Technology, 13 (3), pp. 51-65.

Tsai, R. and Jenks, M. (2009). Teacher-guided interactive multimedia for teaching English in an EFL context. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 18 (1), pp. 91-111.

Ybarra, R. and Green, T. (2003). Using technology to help ESL/EFL students develop language skills. The Internet TESL Journal, 9 (3).

Yunus, M., Nordin, N., Salehi, H., Embi, M. and Salehi, Z. (2013). The Use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Teaching ESL Writing Skills. English Language Teaching, 6 (7), p. 1.

Zha, S., Kelly, P., Park, M. and Fitzgerald, G. (2006). An Investigation of Communicative Competence of ESL Students Using Electronic Discussion Boards. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 38 (3), pp. 349-367.