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Computer Assisted Language Learning

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Can synchronous computer-mediated communication (CMC) help beginninglevel foreign language learners speak?
Chao-Jung Ko
a a

General Education Center, National University of Tainan, Tainan, Taiwan Published online: 19 Mar 2012.

To cite this article: Chao-Jung Ko (2012) Can synchronous computer-mediated communication (CMC) help beginning-level foreign language learners speak?, Computer Assisted Language Learning, 25:3, 217-236, DOI: 10.1080/09588221.2011.649483 To link to this article:

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Computer Assisted Language Learning Vol. 25, No. 3, July 2012, 217236

Can synchronous computer-mediated communication (CMC) help beginning-level foreign language learners speak?
Chao-Jung Ko*
General Education Center, National University of Tainan, Tainan, Taiwan

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This study investigated the possibility that initial-level learners may acquire oral skills through synchronous computer-mediated communication (SCMC). Twelve Taiwanese French as a foreign language (FFL) students, divided into three groups, were required to conduct a variety of tasks in one of the three learning environments (video/audio, audio, and face-to-face (f2f)) over 18 weeks. The participants performance in three oral tests was compared to see if they had developed oral skills in the three environments. The other data such as their online chat records, interview transcriptions, learning journals, and the instructors observation journal provided further information about how they developed oral skills in their learning environment. The results suggested that factors (related to task design, learners strategy use) generated by the three environments, rather than the environments themselves, have the biggest impact on learners oral prociency development. In addition, all three environments held the potential to help dierent types of students to develop oral skills. Keywords: synchronous CMC; text chat; oral chat; oral prociency development; beginners

1. Introduction Oral communication in a foreign language (FL) often does not come easily, especially to beginning- and intermediate-level students because they need to speak by focusing attention on many things including developing an idea, mapping that idea onto appropriate structures, keeping conversational turns ongoing, and worrying about their interlocutors response (Kern, 1995). Some studies reported that communication activities implemented in both synchronous computer-mediated communication (SCMC) and asynchronous computer-mediated communication (ACMC) settings have benecial eects on learners oral prociency development (Abrams, 2003; Blake, 2009; Chun, 1994; Hirotani, 2009; Jepson, 2005; Mendelson, 2010; Payne & zdener, 2008; Sykes, 2005). Ross, 2005; Payne & Whitney, 2002; Satar & O However, some of these studies proposed that synchronous communication was more suitable to higher-level language learners (Ko tter, 2001; Stockwell, 2004). So far, few researchers have examined very early-stage FL learners oral prociency development in SCMC; thus, this study was undertaken to investigate whether FL

ISSN 0958-8221 print/ISSN 1744-3210 online 2012 Taylor & Francis


C.-J. Ko

learners in Taiwan at the elementary level develop oral skills in SCMC environments and to explore the factors that enhance and hinder their oral prociency development. 2. Background literature Computer-mediated communication (CMC) provides opportunities for L2 learners to interact with native speakers and other language learners outside the classroom, and facilitates collaborative and comprehensible interaction by oering learnercentered interaction occasions (Abrams, 2003; Kenning, 2010; Kitade, 2000). Direct interaction between learners also stimulates interest, encourages peer learning, and decreases dependence on the instructor (Kern, 1995). Although CMC can be compatible with most cognitive aspects of language learning and seems to enable learners of dierent levels to co-construct social activities (Jepson, 2005), Collentine and Collentine (1997) argued that it is particularly compatible with early-stage FL learners language acquisition, since most CMC entails input-oriented tasks, which provide a foundation for communicative competences. The ndings of some studies (Blake, Wilson, Cetto, & Pardo zdener, 2008) also suggest that CMC Ballester, 2008; Mendelson, 2010; Satar & O can have positive impacts on FL beginners language acquisition of productive skills. In Mendelsons (2010) study, the instructor successfully used asynchronous online forums to scaold Spanish beginners participation in later oral discussions. Blake et al. (2008) also found that the beginning and false beginning learners in their hybrid and distance-learning formats reached comparable levels of oral prociency by incorporating synchronous bimodal text and sound chat in the curriculum. Additionally, novice-level EFL learners of synchronous text and voice groups in zdeners (2008) study increased speaking prociency after four-week chat Satar and O practices on eight tasks. Nowadays, the application of synchronous chat in language learning is becoming more and more popular and important. Deutschmann, Panichi, and MolkaDanielsen (2009) pointed out four types of synchronous communication environments: audio and text chat, audio/video and text chat, audio-graphic conferencing environments, and virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life). Guided by Stockwells (2007) suggestion that teachers selection of technology use should be based on their familiarity with the technological options available and their suitability to particular learning goals, this study explores the suitability of audio and text chat, and audio/ video and text chat for early-stage learners oral prociency development, as the programs and tools for those communication modes were available in the study context and frequently used by the instructor. 2.1. Synchronous text-based CMC and language acquisition

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Synchronous text-based CMC involves two functions of language: interactive communication and meaningful interpretation. People can not only communicate interactively through text-based CMC, but also interpret and reect at the same time, due to the permanent nature of written texts. As a result, learners produce more language with a richer lexicon than in a face-to-face (f2f) environment (Beauvois, 1997). Warschauer (1999) proposed a number of ways that learners appear to benet from text-based CMC. Firstly, they can achieve greater written uency through

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computer-based writing. Also, text communication makes it possible for them to focus on linguistic structures. Above all, it provides additional opportunities for expression and reection (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000; Warschauer, 1999). Skehan (1998) proposed that L2 instruction should help learners focus attention on form while they focus on meaning. For Salaberry (2000), text-based CMC provides a natural method that links a focus on meaning with a focus on form (p. 6). Text-based chat, being visible and saved (Lee, 1999), encourages learners to notice their own errors (Chun & Yong, 2006; Shekary & Tahririan, 2006) and allows them to read, re-think, and re-formulate utterances before sending them to other interlocutors, although its synchronous feature limits this reworking of constructed messages (Kitade, 2000). Acting as a built-in external memory aid, text form also allows modied input occurring in interaction to be more easily perceived and may be more memorable (Warschauer, 1999). Nevertheless, the application of text-based CMC in language acquisition is not always promising. Muniandy (2002) pointed out that short forms and contractions are commonly used in text chat, where time constraints lead learners not to edit their speech and create a sense of urgency (p. 56). Lee (1999) pointed out that in text-based CMC, meta-linguistic factors such as gesture and facial impression, which are said to serve as facilitative factors for SLA (p. 11), are lacking. Furthermore, Smith (2003) claimed that unique features in CMC environments (e.g. more overlaps in turn taking and more processing time aorded than f2f exchanges) make negotiation in this mode slightly dierent from negotiation in f2f settings. Although some previous studies (Blake, 2009; Payne & Ross, 2005; Payne & Whitney, 2002) have showed that synchronous text chat can be benecial to learners oral skills development, Blake (2009) cautioned that the learners language development cannot be successful without eective instructional design. The ways teachers integrate CMC into instruction have a greater impact on students learning outcomes than the specic characteristics of the technologies used (Levy, 2009; Mendelson, 2010). 2.2. Synchronous voice-based CMC and language acquisition

Synchronous voice chat allows learners to practice face-to-face turn-adjacency conventions or adhere to discourse coherence structures (Jepson, 2005, p. 81) in online environments. The availability of facial visuals in synchronous oral communication could bring a change in learners output as well as their sociocultural, visual, and audio perception of the input (Volle, 2005, p. 156). Jepson (2005) found that a lot of repair work was related to pronunciation since non-verbal cues were not available in the voice chat module of his study, which might have led to ineective communication on the part of the mixed-level international e-learners. Barr, Leakey, and Ranchoux (2005) also found that their rst year undergraduate French as a foreign language (FFL) learners preferred using computer technology for drilling oral skills such as pronunciation but meeting f2f for meaningful communication, as visual cues seemed absent in oral communication of their treatment group whose learning occurred in a CALL environment. For Wang (2004), negotiation of meaning in interaction without visual cues can be dicult for low-prociency distant learners.


C.-J. Ko

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However, despite the paucity of non-verbal cues, the intermediate-level Spanish FL learners in the synchronous written chat group in Sykess (2005) study were found to communicate more explicitly. Chun and Yongs (2006) study also showed that the lack of paralinguistic cues in text chat made their intermediate-level English as a second language (ESL) participants feel less time pressure thus allowing them more time to monitor their language output. The adverse inuences of technology problems on students learning outcomes have also been recognized by other CMC researchers (Barr et al., 2005; Hampel & Hauck, 2004; Sykes, 2005; Volle, 2005; Wang, 2004). In Hampel and Haucks (2004) audio conferencing programs, the technical problems that the students encountered were to do with audio quality and Internet disconnection. Wang (2004) indicated that bandwidth and latency are two critical problems that face Internet-based videoconferencing and therefore suggested that the choice of a less congested Internet time and one-to-one (rather than many-to-many) videoconferencing are key conditions for successful videoconferencing sessions. Despite the mentioned weaknesses in SCMC communication, some of the studies discussed above provide evidence for the positive impact of CMC on FL beginners oral skill development. Since most students came to my French course with an interest in learning French oral skills but 2-h weekly learning was too short for them to acquire such skills, I proposed the use of SCMC to help them develop oral prociency outside the classroom. 3. Methodology 3.1. Participants The 12 FFL beginners whose L1 is Chinese Mandarin were from dierent departments at a Taiwanese university. Meeting for 2 h per week, they received only one semester of basic French instruction from the researcher as their instructor before the study. Ten of them (AJ) were females and two (K, L) were males. Most were in the habit of surng the Internet daily. All, but Participant B, considered their computer skills as good. 3.2. Technology tools

In this study, webcams and/or headsets (with microphones attached) were used in the SCMC communication. The selected software was MSN messenger and Audacity. Each participant received a webcam and headset from me before the study. They were shown how to use the software and the tools before the rst task in the classroom. 3.3. Data collection

This research adopted a case study approach, which can allow researchers to observe causeeect relationship in the study context and to penetrate situations in ways that are not always susceptible to numerical analysis (Cohen, Lawrence, & Keith, 2003, p. 181). The data were collected from students performance on three oral tests (baseline test, mid-term test, and post-test), text chat records, voice-chat/f2f sound recordings, interview transcripts, students learning journals, and the instructors observation journal. The selection of interviews and journals as instruments was because interviews can allow access to data that researchers cannot observe (Merriam, 1990); and journals can provide

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insights into personal teaching and learning experiences over the course of the study (Burgess, 1984). The participants performance in three oral tests was assessed based on the rating scale created for this study ( Appendix 2). In addition to the researcher/instructor, two other French teachers were invited to be assessors in this study. They were trained to use the rating scale before the rst assessment. The inter-rater reliability among three assessors was 0.78 (the mid-term test) and 0.71 (the post-test). In the research literature, estimates ranging from 0.60 to 0.90 are described as acceptable (Lynch, 2003, p. 88). The participants scores in the three oral tests were compared to see if they had developed oral skills in the SCMC environments. In addition, their written/sound records, interview transcriptions, learning journals, and the instructors observation journal provided further information about the processes they developed oral abilities in the three learning environments (Table 1). All the participants performance was judged based on the same rating scale, which consists of seven criteria, in each of which there are three levels. The participants performance in each test was aggregated with their scores on seven criteria. I created this rating scale because I was aware that oral prociency testing instruments were not sensitive to the small gains in speaking ability made by beginner learners, as proposed by Blake et al. (2008). 3.4. Procedures

The 12 voluntary participants were divided into three groups. Having the similar opinion as Kennings (2010) that the factor of familiarity might inuence learners performance in online learning, I decided to examine the familiarity factor in this study and assigned Participants C and D, G and H as task partners, as they had not known each other before the study. At the beginning, all the pairs were required to conduct the rst task in SCMC text chat (pre-task activity). Then, Groups 1 and 2 carried out the same task in SCMC voice chat (Group 1 with headsets/webcams; Group 2 with headsets only) and Group 3 did it f2f (main-task activity). After the main-task activity, I randomly invited them to perform the same oral tasks in front of their classmates in a subsequent f2f session (post-task activity). The study constituted cycles of three-week practice on three tasks (Table 2). For each text chat, I provided the participants with individual feedback on grammar errors by email as well as explicit feedback with explanations of those errors in a later f2f session. For each oral chat, I pointed out each learners pronunciation and grammar errors individually by email and provided them with correct sounds for the common errors made by most of them in a later f2f session.
Example 1. Feedback on grammar errors in text chat. Original: Jai les cours du matin. Correction: Jai les cours le matin. Example 2. Feedback on grammar and pronunciation errors in oral chat. (Grammar errors were pointed in italics and pronunciation errors were underlined.) ` re ou second classe? Original: Premie ` re ou second classe? Correction: En premie

Table 1.

C.-J. Ko
Three learning modes. 1 2 (G, H) (unfamiliar pair) MSN MSN headsets only (E, F) (I, J) F2F 3 (K, L)

Group pair Text chat Voice chat

(A, B)

(C, D) (unfamiliar pair)

MSN webcams/headsets

Table 2.

A cycle of three-week practices for each task. Feedback on grammar errors (email) Main-task activity (F2F/voice chat) Week 2 Feedback on pronunciation/ grammar errors (email)

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Pre-task activity (text chat) Week 1

Post-task activity (F2F) Week 3

The task contents were inter-connected. The learners started by introducing themselves and one of their best friends to their partner. Then, they had to describe their daily lives to each other based on their timetable. The third task was an invitation to go on a trip. They had to plan a trip and work out the details for this trip. The three oral tests were developed based on the above three tasks. 3.5. Data analysis

Over the period of the study, the participants wrote their personal learning journals and emailed their entries to me after each task. They also saved their written and oral chat and sent them to me by email after each session. Towards the end of the study, six semi-structured interviews (Appendix 1) were conducted in the university. Each of them involved two of the participants. For data analysis, I transcribed and translated the interview data and learning journals from Chinese into English, noted patterns of participants experiences, classied these patterns, and compiled all the data in groups related to specic patterns. These related patterns were then combined and catalogued into subthemes. I calculated the frequency of themes and displayed them in a tabular form. The interview transcripts and learning journals were then analyzed based on the themes and their frequencies. 4. Results

Potential participants oral prociency development was measured by their performance in the three oral tests. The method employed to measure their performance is to transform the participants scores into z-scores to see if they had made progress over the period under study, since z-scores can be used to compare scores on dierent tests that have dierent means and standard deviations. For example, Participant A has a z-score of 71.06 on the baseline test. This means that she scores 1.06 standard deviations below the mean. So she did worse than the average person. However, she scored 0.01 standard deviations above the mean on the mid-term test, but 0.1 standard deviations below the mean on the nal

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test. Since a z-score of 70.1 is better than 71.06, but worse than 0.01, we can know that Participant A did better on the mid-term test than she did on the other two tests, but she performed better on the nal test than the baseline test. Therefore, we can say she made slight progress over the study. The data showed that the three learning modes only brought benets for some (A, B, G, J, and L) participants oral prociency development (Table 3). In the following sections, the ways that the learning modes aected the participants oral skills development were described and the factors that inuenced their learning were introduced. The data from the interview transcripts and learning journals regarding their learning situations on text chat (pre-task) were presented rst, followed by those on their oral chat (main task). The displayed tables showed the frequency of themes generated from the data analysis, which gives a general idea of how often they mentioned conducting each activity or their feelings towards the activity concerned. 4.1. Text chat

All the participants (except Participant I) considered SCMC text chat useful for oral production (Table 4). According to them, it helped them to structure conversation contexts, formulate thoughts, and reect on French linguistic features. This real-time communication allowed them to think of language they needed to use or the meanings they wanted to express in the main tasks. Certain factors that occurred during the practice processes impacted their text chats. This is revealed in the discussion that follows.
Table 3. Performance in three oral tests. Participant G1 A B C D E F G H I J K L Baseline 15 18 17 17 16 16 16 17 17 17 17 13 16.33 1.56 1.25 z-score 71.06 1.34 0.54 0.54 70.26 70.26 70.26 0.54 0.54 0.54 0.54 72.67 Mid-term 14.5 15.2 12.8 15.7 13.3 13.7 13.5 16.2 17.2 18.2 13 10.3 14.47 4.3 2.07 z-score 0.01 0.35 70.81 0.59 70.56 70.37 70.47 0.83 1.32 1.80 70.71 72.01 Final 14.7 18 15 14.7 13.7 14 15.7 14 14.7 15.7 14.3 13.3 14.82 1.41 1.19 z-score 70.10 2.68 0.15 70.10 70.94 70.69 0.74 70.69 70.10 0.74 70.44 71.28



Mean Variance Standard deviation

Note: The highest score the participants can get on each test is 21.

Table 4.

Frequency of reported usefulness of the text chat. A Useful Not useful 1 B 1 C 3 D 1 E 3 F 4 G 3 H 1 4 I J 1 K 2 L 1

Participant Frequency

224 4.1.1.

C.-J. Ko Pre-chat activities

Before the pre-tasks, they had pre-discussions together in order to scaold conversations (Table 5). Those (Participants G, H, K, and L) who skipped the pre-discussion step found it dicult to put themselves into the task situations, as Participant L stated in the following:
L: For me, the conversation situations . . . in the classroom, you described them to us . . . but after the classroom, I still had diculties in imaging them . . .

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4.1.2. Chinese or English use They either used Chinese (their mother tongue) or English (L2) to facilitate discussions before and during the chat (Table 6). Participant B explained that she used English because using Chinese required translation. Using English was easier. Thus, it would appear that a possible reason why some used English was because they felt that using L1 could slow down their communication process since it would involve an additional translation process. The Chinese or English use here fullled several purposes. It allowed them to construct the task situations, provide linguistic support, clarify semantic problems, facilitate discussions, and revise the texts. 4.1.3. Diculties

They encountered some diculties in text communication (Table 7). All but one (Participant B) had diculty producing output. Participants G, H, and L felt it was dicult to apply their learning to the task situations. Typing was another problem encountered in their text communication. Nine participants (except A, D, and E) stated they typed French slowly. Having to type specic French symbols increased typing diculties and complicated their communication processes. Moreover, eight participants (except A, B, J, and K) felt that their knowledge of French was not sucient for them to express their thoughts or describe their favorite conversation contexts adequately.


Spoken chat

4.2.1. Practice repetition All the participants did several practices before oral-chat recordings (Table 8). Their practices were mainly focused on pronunciation, since all except Participants A and B spoke with the use of prepared written texts (Table 9). Only two participants (I and J) modied their written records to adapt them to the oral situations before the tasks. Participant I explained she found a sense of
Table 5. Frequency of reported pre-discussions that participants conducted. A Pre-discussion 2 B 4 C 2 D 2 E 1 F 2 G H I 2 J 1 K L

Participant Frequency

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freedom in the text chat because she did not need to abide by the turn-taking rules of conventional oral interaction. 4.2.2. Aids used The participants used various means to assist task completion (Table 9). Participants C, D, G, and J resorted to the telephone when they were not able to convey thoughts to each other through text chat. Participants C, D, G, and H included the webcam in communication although this was not allowed. Additionally, some obtained help from dictionaries, websites, other classmates, and their teacher, particularly in pronunciation. Most participants (except A and B) spoke according to their prepared written texts. For some (Participants C, G, I, J, K, and L), this use could reduce cognitive

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Table 6.

Frequency of reported use of Chinese/English in text chat and their functions. A Chinese English Functions Construct task situations Provide linguistic support Clarify semantic problems Facilitate discussions Revise texts 3 B 2 1 v v C 2 D 1 E 2 F 2 G 3 1 H 1 I 2 J 1 K 1 1 L 2 1

Participant Frequency

v v

v v

v v

v v

v v v v v v

v v v v v v

v v v

Note: The symbol v refers to the reasons that the participants mentioned using Chinese or English.

Table 7.

Frequency of reported diculties that participants encountered in text chat. A Put into task situations Output Typing Perception of insucient learning 1 1 B C 1 6 2 D 2 1 E 2 1 F 1 2 4 G 1 2 2 1 H 1 3 1 1 I 5 1 1 J 3 1 K 1 1 L 1 2 1 2

Participant Frequency

Table 8.

Frequency of reported practices that participants conducted. A Several recordings Conversation modication 3 B 2 C 5 D 2 E 1 F 1 G 3 H 1 I 3 2 J 2 1 K 2 L 3

Participant Frequency


C.-J. Ko

load, which allowed them to pay more attention to pronunciation (Table 10). They could, therefore, speak more uently and condently. Speaking with the texts might make some of them produce output mechanically without thinking of what they were speaking and therefore they might perceive the spoken tasks as not challenge. However, this was not avoidable in many cases as many found it dicult to produce texts spontaneously as indicated in the comment below:
C: With the written records, I practised pronunciation. Without the written records, I might need to think for a long time before speaking sentences.

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4.2.3. Diculties Some problems related to breakdown in technology occurred during their task practices (Table 11). Firstly, the bad quality of the Internet connection in the university dormitory delayed images or sound transmission, which impacted negatively on their practice processes. Additionally, communication was sometimes disrupted by sudden computer crashes and tools that failed to work properly. There was some problem with the Audacity program too. Although participants from Groups 1 and 2 (except E and F) said that they knew how to use Audacity in the interviews, they were unable to record their partners sound with the program in their rst oral practice. However, they did not inform me regarding this and instead made f2f recordings using an MP3 player. Participants E and F explained that they

Table 9.

Frequency of reported aids that participants used. A Telephone Written texts Webcam Dictionary Websites Peers Teacher B C 2 1 1 2 1 1 1 D 2 2 1 1 E 2 F 2 G 1 3 4 2 2 H 2 1 2 1 1 1 I 3 J 1 1 1 1 2 1 K 3 L 1

Participant Frequency

Table 10. Participant Frequency

Frequency of reported focus on pronunciation. A Focus on pronunciation B C 2 D E F G 1 H I 1 J 5 K 1 L 1

Note: Frequency here denotes the number of times the participants mentioned they paid more attention to pronunciation when speaking with prepared written texts.

Table 11. Participant Frequency

Frequency of reported diculties that participants encountered in oral chat. A Technology Pronunciation 4 B 3 1 C 5 3 D 3 4 E 2 7 F 1 6 G 2 2 H 2 1 I 4 J 6 K 1 L 4

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did not mention the problem to me because they were afraid to do so as shown in the transcripts below:
F: (laughs) we are afraid of the teacher . . . E: . . . from our past learning experiences, if we raised our problems to the teacher, some of them would tell you how to solve problems, but some of them would scold you . . . F: Right . . .and because we told you rst we havent had problems to use the Audacity program. . . E: We were afraid that you scolded us when we really encountered the using problems. . .

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Moreover, all the participants (except A) had diculties in pronunciation (Table 11). I later learnt that Participant A did not have this problem because she found a website that provided her pronunciation assistance. From their spoken les, I discovered that their pronunciation errors were led to occasions where they picked up erroneous pronunciation from their partner. However, they seemed less capable of picking up correct pronunciation as observed by the instructor:
T: They repeat each others pronunciation errors. But when one pronounces correctly, the other one doesnt repeat correct sound after his/her partner.

These are some examples of their erroneous repetitions:

Example 3. Repetition of pronunciation errors E: Quelles langues vous parlez/parle/? (What languages do you speak?) F: Je parle/pel/chinois, anglais, et taiwanaise. Et vous? (I speak Chinese, English, and Taiwanese. How about you?) E: Je parle/pel/chinois, anglais, et taiwanais. (I speak Chinese, English, and Taiwanese.)

Example 3 showed Participant E shifting her correct pronunciation to follow Participant Fs incorrect pronunciation and Participant Fs incorrect pronunciation was probably caused by the transfer from L2 (English) to L3 (French). In addition to the factors that occurred during their practice processes, certain factors related to curriculum design also aected the participants performance. 4.2.4. Feedback

All of them considered my feedback of their written records useful (as shown in Table 12). In particular, Participants E and F were inspired by my comments on their performance. Nevertheless, only three (Participants A, B, and I) beneted from the pronunciation feedback. The students who felt that the pronunciation feedback was helpful explained that they used additional means (e.g. websites, the teacher) to improve their pronunciation. I was not surprised with the dismal response to the pronunciation feedback I gave in view of the fact that it was the rst time I tried to support pronunciation learning through CMC. In the f2f sessions, I provided them with explicit feedback with explanation of the common errors in their written records and also provided sound models for their


C.-J. Ko

common pronunciation errors. Most (except Participants B, E, F, and G) said that the sound models (in the form of conversation sound les) which I uploaded to the class bulletin board supported their pronunciation learning. This was supported by the interview and journal data. 4.2.5. Practices in cycle

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All except two participants (D and H) found the cyclical design benecial (as indicated in Table 13). The interview and journal data revealed that many felt nervous and stressed when performing text chat with their partner or recording their oral conversation because of their lack of familiarity with French typing. They mentioned that the cyclical design enabled them to get used to the new communication means and hence they could focus on their performance. Some further stated that they gained more courage to speak and this led to a sense of accomplishment after performing better.
C: After these spoken practices, I am more courageous to speak. It seems that I speak to the person face-to-face through the microphone and the webcam (in spite of the transfer delay problem). It might be very interesting to talk with French native speakers online.

4.2.6. Task partner Four participants (A, E, F, and L) stated they preferred someone they know as their partner (Table 14). Participants E and Fs preference for someone familiar was
Table 12. Participant Frequency CMC Written records Pronunciation Sound les F2F Written records Sound models Frequency of reported usefulness of the feedback. A 1 2 1 B 1 1 1 1 1 1 C 1 D 1 2 1 1 1 E 2 F 2 G 1 2 H 1 1 2 1 I 1 1 2 1 1 4 1 1 4 1 1 J 1 K 1 L 1

Table 13. Participant Frequency

Frequency of reported usefulness of cyclical design. A Cyclical design 2 B 1 C 2 D E 4 F 5 G 1 H I 1 J 2 K 2 L 2

Table 14. Participant

Preference for task partner. A Someone familiar Someone non-familiar No dierence v v v v B C D E v F v v v v v v G H I J K L v

Note: The symbol v here denotes that the participants mentioned their preference for their task partner.

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because they considered it easier to arrange meeting times. Participant A favored someone familiar because she was shy to talk with someone unfamiliar. For Participant L, his main worry was that an unfamiliar partner might be impatient with his slow reactions in communication. Surprisingly, Participants C, D, G, and H were happy with the non-familiar partner they were assigned to although Participants C and D initially felt shy or embarrassed. In addition, Participants C and G said they preferred being paired with someone non-familiar as that would oer them the opportunities to make new friends and to get more linguistic and phonological help. As for Participant D, she felt that a non-familiar partner can increase task authenticity, which can make her more interested in doing the tasks. Participant H was more willing to collaborate with a non-familiar partner because she got along well with her current task partner. The rest of them (B, I, J, and K) were more concerned about partners learning attitudes. For them, being familiar with a partner or not made no dierence as long as their partners were committed, open-minded, collaborative, and not dicult to get along with. 4.2.7. Another L2 English, their rst FL, had some eects on the participants learning of French. The interview data revealed that the participants aected most by these were those two (D and H) who were majoring in English. They beneted from some similarities shared by the two language systems, especially in the lexical aspect, but had problem with pronunciation and tended to pronounce in an English way when faced with unfamiliar words.
D: But French learning aects English learning as well. H: Right. . . .They share some similarities.



The ndings showed that only some participants (A, B, G, J, and L) oral prociency development improved after the intervention program. This suggests that the learners oral prociency development did not strongly correlate with the three learning modes. Factors involved in the learning processes of this study seem quite varied and complex. In the following sections, the factors that enhanced and hindered the participants spoken outcomes were discussed. At the text chat stage, the factors aecting positively the participants learning included the use of the text chat as a preliminary activity and their L1 use. As noted in Abrams (2003) study, almost all reported the eective use of the text chat focusing mainly on thought formulation and reection on language use. They got the chance to express and respond to a large number of ideas (Kern, 1995, p. 462) in text chat. The great number of similarities found between the participants text and oral chat provides evidence to support the hypothesis that competence gained from using CMC can be transferred to oral discourse competency (Abrams, 2003; Chun, 1994; Payne & Ross, 2005). In addition, some learners used Chinese or English to assist their task completion. The functions of L1 use in this study were similar to those in some previous studies (Brooks & Donato, 1994; Storch & Wigglesworth, 2003; Swain & Lapkin, 2000).


C.-J. Ko

At the spoken chat stage, the participants used a number of strategies to facilitate their task completion. Those strategies consisted of task practice repetition and the use of some aids involving the telephone, the webcam, websites, the written texts, and so on. Among the participants (A, B, G, J, and L) whose oral prociency improved after the program, it was noticeable that Participants A, B, G, and J actively sought and used a variety of learning strategies to help them overcome problems in task completion. Their cases evidenced Bensons (2001) statement that the provision of opportunities for learners to interact independently with educational technologies can promote their autonomy development. The participants reliance on the written texts in spoken tasks seemed to be unavoidable, but had great eects on the following oral production. Although using the written texts allowed them to focus attention on pronunciation and facilitated later spoken communication, they could not speak spontaneously in the oral tests and therefore most found the nal oral test was dicult. However, if they had spoken without looking at the written texts, their communication might have been hampered by pronunciation errors (Abrams, 2003) that would have frustrated them. Thus, I suggest that teachers of beginner-level classes should clearly set task goals, based on which they decide whether or not to allow learners to use written texts as an aid in spoken tasks. Moreover, my perception that the learners direct application of chat discussions in oral performance was unnatural tends to suggest that learners cannot directly transfer their chat discussions to spoken conversation, either in SCMC or f2f contexts. They need to be made aware that discourse in dierent learning environments may be dierent, so that they are prepared to adapt their discourse to dierent situations. Finally, most participants reported that cyclical design increased their familiarity with the learning environment and encouraged them to speak without fear. They, therefore, focused more attention on oral production. This nding recalls Skehans (1996) statement that the organization of cycles of activity can help learners be more able to bring to bear the eects of recent restructuring, but at the same time achieve a level of uency (p. 49). As a result, learners can give a balance of attention to form and to communication (VanPatten, 1990). A number of diculties encountered over the study negatively inuenced the learners production. Those mentioned most frequently included output, typing, pronunciation, and technology. Among these, technology (Hampel, 2006; Wang, 2004) and typing problems (Chun & Yong, 2006; Payne & Ross, 2005) had been reported by previous CMC researchers. As far as the learners output diculties were concerned, they might have been caused by unfamiliarity with a task-based curriculum, since this was the rst time they had learnt a FL through this method. In their previous learning experiences, the only opportunities for them to produce output were in tests. Their experiences evidenced Swains (1985) claim that comprehensible input is not sucient for learners language acquisition. Learners need to be provided with output opportunities to nd out what they can and cannot do (Swain, 1995). Pronunciation also caused great obstacles to their learning, since for most students my classroom instruction was the major source of pronunciation input. However, the solution I devised the sound models provided on the classroom bulletin board was welcomed by many participants, who recommended their inclusion in the future.

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Computer Assisted Language Learning


In addition, some problems occurring during the participants learning processes inuenced the validity of this study. Firstly, the action that Groups 1 and 2 took in order to solve the recording problem had not been foreseen in my study design and consequently reduced the discreteness of the three modes that I set out to study. Secondly, some participants overused the webcam. Participants C and D used the webcam in text chat; and G and H used it in oral chat. And this time, the eect was to increase the level of group dierences. It is worth remembering that these actions by participants occurred in the Confucian educational context, where the teacher is considered a symbol of authority and where students generally learn a subject (in this case, a language) passively, and without posing any questions in a classroom. It may well be easier for teachers/researchers to control learning situations if my study is replicated in an educational setting where learners are used to expressing opinions and communicating problems openly with the teacher, as is the case in many western countries. Moreover, the participants major and past language learning experiences may inuence their learning of this target language to a certain extent. For example, Participants D and H in this study were found to encounter more pronunciation problems than the others, which might be caused by their better knowledge of English that interfered with their French learning, since both English and French are alphabetic languages. The above discussions suggest that most of the factors that impacts on oral prociency development were in terms of task design and the learners strategy use. This echoes some researchers claim (Levy, 2009; Mendelson, 2010) that teachers instructional design in online curriculum, rather than technologies themselves, has more inuence on learners outcomes. However, the fact that Participant L beneted from the program tends to suggest that his learning mode (text-based CMC f2f) may be benecial to low-ability students oral skill development, since he was able to receive a great deal of support (particularly peer support), which would not be available in a traditional language classroom. Although peer collaboration was also available in the two other learning modes, it is dicult to tell whether Participant L could have received the same learning outcomes if he had conducted the tasks in them. Further investigation is needed into which factors are benecial to low-ability students language learning in CMC contexts. The collaboration between Participants K and L provides counter evidence to Kowal and Swains (1994) suggestion that large dierences between learners prociency level may reduce the extent of collaboration degree and tends to support Storchs (2002) assumption that collaboration may be inuenced by other factors, such as their attitude to pair work and to the tasks, and their motives and goals. 6. Conclusion

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In conclusion, some factors generated by the three learning environments, rather than the environments themselves, have the largest impact on the learners oral prociency development in this study and all three environments created in this study seem to possess potentialities to help dierent types of students to develop oral skills. The participants ability to discover strategies and employ a variety of forms of support (e.g. written texts and online resources) to assist learning and overcome diculties during the study inuenced their outcomes to a great degree. As suggested in some previous studies (e.g. Abrams, 2003; Blake, 2009; Mendelson, 2010; Payne &


C.-J. Ko

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zdener, 2008), the inclusion of particular tasks in CMC Whitney, 2002; Satar & O learning, such as the written pre-tasks and task recycling, also created favorable conditions for their learning. In addition, most of the participants had a good opinion of some types of support (e.g. sound les and feedback) that I oered through CMC and f2f to help their oral skills development, as noted in Blakes (2009) study. As with all studies, this study has its limitations. The following are limitations of the design that I felt should be pointed out. Firstly, given the intentionally small scale of my study, its results are not easily generalizable. Next, although the eort to balance the research design has been made, it still did not appear to be a complete one. For example, the ndings showed that the factor familiarity seemed to be an intervening variable in this study. However, an unfamiliar pair was missing in Group 3. Also, the measurement of the participants oral prociency development according to z-scores may not persuade all readers. Despite that, I hope that the learner data reported in this study will provide some useful insights for researchers interested in undertaking similar research in future. Finally, only limited statistical data analysis was utilized in this study in view of the fact that this study was predominantly qualitative in nature. A more balance approach should be considered in future to provide deeper insights into participants learning situations. Until now, research into beginner FL learners spoken language development in CMC environments has been limited. It is hoped that the ndings of this study can make a modest empirical contribution to the area of modern technology application in early-stage FL classrooms. Acknowledgements The author would like to thank Dr Tony Lynch, Dr Cathy Benson and Mr Eric Glendinning for their valuable suggestions and comments on an earlier draft of this paper, extracted from her unpublished PhD thesis. Special thanks also to the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. Notes on contributor
Chao-Jung Ko is currently teaching English and French as an assistant professor at some universities in Taiwan. She holds a PhD in applied linguistics from the University of Edinburgh in UK. Her research interests include CALL, foreign language acquisition, oral prociency development, and language learning motivation.

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Computer Assisted Language Learning


Appendix 1. Interview guided questions (translated from Chinese by the researcher)

(1) Do you think that the instructions before the study were clear? (2) Have you encountered any problems with software use during the study? (3) About the tasks: . Do you think the written tasks were helpful to the oral tasks? . Please describe your task practice process. (4) About the feedback: . Do you think that the written, pronunciation, and classroom feedback were helpful to your learning? How? . Which feedback did you consider the most helpful? (5) Do you think that being familiar with your task partner before the study was important for you to conduct the tasks? Why?

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Appendix 2.

The rating scales.

Scale A. B. Comment

Flow of speech Pronunciation Vocabulary Grammar Range of vocabulary Range of grammar Communicative eort Flow of speech


Appropriacy of vocabulary

Appropriacy of grammar

1__ 2__ 3__ 1__ 2__ 3__ 1__ 2__ 3__ 1__ 2__ 3__ 1__ 2__ 3__ 1__ 2__ 3__ 1__ 2__ 3__ 1__ 2__ 3__ 1__ 2 __ 3__ 1__ 2 __ 3__ 1__ 2 __ 3__ 1__ 2 __ 3__ 1__ 2__ 3__ 1__ 2__ 3__ Scale denition (1) Speech is halting and fragmentary; utterances are incoherent. (2) Speech is sometimes hesitant or utterances are sometimes incoherent. (3) Speech is uent/unbroken; utterances are coherent. (1) Unable to produce some sounds; strong interference from L1/L2 in rhythm, intonation, and pronunciation; understanding is dicult but can be achieved after frequent repetition. (2) Some sounds are not well pronounced, but little misunderstanding is caused or repetition is required. (3) Able to pronounce well almost all sounds; no misunderstanding is caused or repetition is required. (1) Unable to use some vocabulary, which causes the interruption of communication; may resort to LI or may cause their partner to resort to L1 to achieve/ maintain communication. (2) Some inadequate or inaccurate vocabulary used which causes misunderstanding. (3) No inadequate or inaccurate vocabulary used during the communication. (1) Almost all grammatical patterns inaccurate. (2) Some grammatical inaccuracies. (3) Almost no grammatical inaccuracies. (continued)


C.-J. Ko

Appendix 2. (Continued).
Criteria A. Range of vocabulary Scale B. Comment

Range of grammar

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Communicative eort

(1) Limited vocabulary; usage less than what has been frequently practised in the classroom. (2) Moderate vocabulary; usage about what has been frequently practised in the classroom. (3) Extensive vocabulary; usage more than what has been frequently practised in the classroom (1) Limited range of verb tenses/sentence patterns used. (2) Reasonable range of verb tenses/sentence patterns used. (3) Wild range of verb tenses/sentence patterns used. (1) Unable to initiate the conversation; communication totally reliant on the interlocutor. No strategies for maintaining communication. (2) Sometimes able to initiate the conversation; able to take turns to continue the communication. Can sometimes cope with not understanding and/or not being understood. (3) Able to initiate the conversation; able to help the interlocutor continue the communication. Eective strategies for maintaining communication.