Mobile-Assisted Language Learning: Research-Based Best Practices for Maximizing Learner Success

Mobile-Assisted Language Learning: Research-Based Best Practices for Maximizing Learner Success

Katharine B. Nielson (Voxy, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0251-7.ch004
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This chapter outlines practical findings from the emerging body of research on Mobile-Assisted Language Learning (MALL). After briefly situating the conversation within a framework of how best to use technology for language instruction, the chapter opens with a review of what we know about how to use mobile technology for language learning. Then, the discussion turns to how to best apply these findings in various instructional contexts, including K–12, higher education, and workplace training. By the end of the chapter, students will have both a solid understanding of how mobile technology can facilitate second language learning as well as concrete examples of how to develop and execute a mobile language learning strategy in various educational contexts.
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Mobile-Assisted Language Learning (MALL) is a relatively new subfield of Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL), and best practices for how to incorporate it into an overall language learning curriculum are just beginning to emerge. As with all mobile learning, MALL offers a convenient way for learners to access instructional materials on the go, and it also provides access to instruction for learners who lack desktop computers or laptops. Further, unlike many other instructional domains, MALL has the potential to offer learners significant real-world practice with their field of study.

At its most basic, people learn languages in order to communicate with other people—through conversations, written exchanges, and audio- and video-recordings. And the primary use of mobile phones is to talk to people and to send them written messages. Any discussion of MALL, therefore, needs to include both using mobile devices for specific “educational” programming as well as using the features of mobile devices themselves as a means to foster the real-world practice that we know results in language learning.

The aim of this chapter is to consider what is currently known about how MALL can influence the second language learning process through an examination of existing empirical findings, both those that investigate the use of mobile devices for instructional materials as well as those that evaluate the benefits of using the devices for genuine communicative practice. Because MALL research is relatively new, the discussion will also include areas where MALL has the potential to be effective given established best practices for second language instruction. The chapter will conclude with concrete examples of how to develop, execute, and evaluate a cohesive mobile strategy in instructional settings. Each instructional setting, from K-12 to corporate training, has unique needs, so the settings will be considered one by one in terms of how to best use MALL to maximize learning outcomes.

Key Terms in this Chapter

First Language: This is a learner’s mother tongue, or native language. Also referred to commonly as an “L1,” and contrasted with an “L2,” which is a second, third, or subsequent language, and which is learned at some point after the first language, or L1, has been acquired.

Target Language: The language that a non-native speaker has undertaken to learn in either an instructed or immersive setting. For example, a native Chinese speaker learning English, would have a first language of Chinese and a target language of English.

Interlocutors: The people—teachers, language learners, fluent speakers—with whom students practice producing the target language. Interlocutors can participate in real-time speech or text chat or asynchronous discussions, and they offer valuable feedback to language learners.

Distance Learning: Any learning that occurs when the instructor and the students are physically separated; this can be any combination of synchronous, asynchronous, and autonomous learning mediated by technology. This is sometimes referred to as “online learning” or “e-learning.”

Technology-Mediated Instruction: Any instruction that is mediated in some way by technology (e.g., distance learning, blended learning, autonomous out-of-class practice with mobile devices, etc.).

Task-Based Language Teaching: An approach to language teaching that uses the task as the unit of analysis, from syllabus creation to assessment. Instead of sequencing syllabi and instructional materials by pre-determined grammatical concepts or vocabulary items, courses are sequenced by “target tasks,” and learners acquire language by exposure to and practice with specific tasks (such as following street directions or negotiating for goods and services) that have been determined through an analysis of their real-world needs.

Blended Learning: A combination of synchronous, in-person instruction and technology-mediated, autonomous learning. The in-person instruction can either be in-person in a traditional classroom setting, or accomplished virtually with video chat. This is sometimes referred to as “hybrid learning,” and it differs from the traditional approach of simply assigning homework to learners to complete outside of class because a deliberate effort has been made to move some instructional hours out of the classroom and online.

Second Language Acquisition: The study of how people learn second (and subsequent) languages; this is a subfield of Applied Linguistics, and researchers generally focus on the cognitive processes underlying second language learning, how second language acquisition differs from first language acquisition, how best to measure and assess the extent to which learners have acquired second languages, and how to facilitate instructed second language acquisition.

Time-on-Task: The amount of time that learners spend engaged with learning materials and/or in real-world practice. Because learning a language is learning a skill, time-on-task is a significant predictor of learner success.

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