The way we use language has been transformed by the technology it is embedded in. So, do we need to reconsider the role technology plays in language teaching and learning? Warschauer laid out three phrases of ‘CALL’ Computer-Assisted Language Learning; ‘Behaviouristic CALL’, ‘Communicative CALL’ and ‘Integrative CALL’. (Warchauer, M. 1996). However, due to the development, ubiquity and normalisation of digital technologies in our daily lives, experts are now calling for a new phase or even approach called ‘TELL’ Technology Enhanced Language Learning. (Walker, A. & White, Goodith. 2013). One of the key differences between previous approaches and ‘TELL’ is that digital technology is seen as the environment in which language is learned and used, not just a tool.

From pen and paper to word processors

Here is one example of how written communication has been affected by its technological environment.

Nowadays, when we want to write to someone, apply for a job or compose an essay we are most likely to turn to a word processor rather than pen and paper. Word processors now come in many shapes and sizes, which can potentially transform the writing process. Using a computer or device learners can edit their text at any time without prior planning and use spelling and grammar checkers to aid fluency. (Beatty, K. 2003)

From Wikis and blogs to microblogs

Wikis take writing composition to a new level by making it collaborative and connected to the web. Here learners can incorporate hyperlinks into their text, making the experience interactive and non-linear. Blogs can be interactive and non-linear too, but they also facilitate social elements, such as comments and discussion. Microblogs on the other hand, have created a truly unique etiquette of their own, a style of written communication that did not exist before that is potentially synchronous.

From SCMC text to multi-media

Adding to this, text messaging or chat applications like WhatsApp have blurred the line between written and spoken interaction and now you can even include voice messages, videos or images into your conversation. There is also a new repertoire of symbols that have come into play to express emotion, the emoticon.

From assisting language learning to language ownership

By using WhatsApp groups, learners can simultaneously communicate with a large number of peers from anywhere in the world and possibly create their own communities with unique cultural norms and etiquette. Therefore, the affordances of digital technologies allow communities of interest and language learners to shape the way language is used. This goes way beyond the role of assisting language learning and into the realm of genuine language use and ownership. This, I hope, goes some way to explain why our perception of the role of digital technologies in education may need to change from CALL to TELL.

From TELL to the normalisation of change

In order to fully implement a TELL ‘approach’ you need a certain amount of normalisation or invisibility of digital technology, which may not always be feasible in some educational contexts. At the same time, digital technologies are continuously evolving and we will always be playing catch up as educators and learners. In fact, this could be said of many other areas of our lives at the moment where technology is playing an ever increasing role, such as in our professional lives and relationships. It is natural for people to crave stability and feel unsettled by the unpredictability life offers. However, we shouldn’t be hiding away from these technological developments for fear of failure, but rather view these changes as an opportunity to constantly improve on the way we live and learn.


Warschauer M. (1996) “Computer Assisted Language Learning: an Introduction”.

In Fotos S. (ed) Multimedia language teaching, Tokyo: Logos International: 3-20.

Aisha Walker & Goodith White. ‘ Technology Enhanced Language Learning’ Connecting theory and practice (OUP 2013).

Ken Beatty. ‘Teaching and Researching Computer-Assisted language Learning’ (Pearson, 2003).