Autonomous Technology-Assisted Language Learning/Exercise

Exercise and Courseware

Introduction Edit

While extensive L2 input, output and interaction may be necessary for developing L2 proficiency, for some (most?) learners input and interaction may not be sufficient to attain high levels of L2 proficiency and grammatical accuracy. There are often certain aspects of a L2 that are difficult to acquire without devoting special attention and practice to them.

Drills involve focused repetition of certain tasks designed to aid the acquisition of vocabulary or certain grammatical structures. WordChamp is an example of a program that allows learners to create their own vocabulary list and review them using a variety of drills using reading and audio.

Input enhancement refers to a group of techniques for focusing a learner's attention on aspects of the language that may otherwise go unnoticed and unlearned (see Wong, 2005). Enhanced input includes input flood, textual enhancement, and structured input activities.

Task-based language learning activities (see Nunan, 1999) may also be a way of helping language learners notice and learn form-function relationships in a second language. (perhaps this should be in the Interaction section of this Wikibook?)

Language reconstruction tasks may provide another way for L2 students to improve their L2 proficiency. Such tasks can involve either reading/writing or listening/speaking and involve the learner repeating (via writing or speaking) L2 segments that they have just read or heard. Tools to allow L2 learners to select their own audio or written text for such practice can be provided in a Web-based environment.

Finally, there are web- and computer-based language courses (see Courseware below) in a wide variety of formats, from total, structured immersion in the second language (e.g., Rosetta Stone) to approaches which rely heavily on the memorization of L1-L2 correspondences (e.g., the Pimsleur Method). Between these two extremes is a less commonly used method that gradually moves from L1 to L2 by gradually adding L2 words and phrases and removing L1 ones. An example of this can be found in Power-Glide's "Diglot Weave" (also called "sandwich stories in China).

For autonomous learners, factors such as cost (free or cheap being best), accessibility (web-based being best) and the ability for a learner to keep track of his or progress may be particularly important.

Vocabulary Edit

Multilingual Edit
  • Before You Know It (BYKI): For Windows and Macintosh computers, is a flash-card-type vocabulary exercise program. BYKI also allows users to download flashcards to their Palm or Pocket PC PDA.
  • 'Gradint: an open-source (GPL) program that can generate audio-only flashcards using spaced-interval repetition ("graduated-interval recall"), using recorded sounds or speech synthesis. Runs on Windows, Mac, Linux and RISC OS and supports a variety of free and commercial speech synthesizers.
  • WordChamp (see info) a Web-based program that provides vocabulary exercises with assessment and record keeping in many languages including English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese as well as for user-created lists. WordChamp includes flashcard-based drills involving text and/or audio available to all users without charge. Vocabulary lists can also be created by clicking on words via its web reader word-translation feature. Teachers can create lists for their students and share them by providing students with a course identification number. The latter service is free for educational institutions through the end of the 2006-07 academic year.
  • Flashcard Exchange create, review, and exchange flashcards
  • Language Guide A wonderful resource for sound integrated learning. This is offered in eleven different languages, enjoy!
  • The Compleat Lexical Tutor (see review), provides a wide range of corpus-based tools useful for learners of English and French.
German Edit
  • LEO German Vocabulary Trainer Saves vocabularly words as you look them up that can be used for assessment drills. It also records accuracy for the drills and has German-English, German-French, and German-Spanish dictionaries.
Japanese Edit
  • Japanese Kanji Driller provides multiple ways to review and drill the meanings and readings of over 1,600 kanji through simple selection of answers in a multiple-choice format. Unfortuately, there is neither input capability nor sound to supplement the text.
Spanish Edit
  • Spanish Vocabulary A page of basic vocabulary options in Spanish. From colors, to clothing, to family, numbers, adjectives, body parts and fruits you'll find a lot of different Spanish words that you can learn here.
English Edit
  • The Longman Vocabulary Website provides English vocabulary exercises focusing on word parts, contextual cues, synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, academic vocabulary, etc.
  • vocabulary.comincludes various kinds of exercises such as Fill-in-the-Blanks, Definition Match, Synonym/Antonym Encounter, Crosswords, Word Finds, True or False Sentences, and Contextual Stories.

Structured Input Edit

Structured input (SI) activities, as developed by Van Patten and his associates, is a type of processing instruction (PI) developed to "force" L2 learners to pay attention to certain aspects of the L2, particularly those that are redundant and not salient, such as indefinite and definite articles for a Chinese learner of English and the subjunctive for American learners of French and Spanish. Structured output activities may also be useful to help L2 learners acquire difficult aspects of the L2. Providing such exercises on the Web would allow L2 learner worldwide to work on and acquire the "stubborn" aspects of their L2.

Language Reconstruction Edit

Verbatim Reconstruction Edit

Audio to Audio: Elicited Imitation Edit
  • Speak2easy ($24.95 for Windows; free trial) (official site) will present an audio language file segment by segment and allow the student to repeat the segment and have his or her production recorded for later playback and comparison with the audio file. Many audio formats are supported, as well as audio CDs.
Audio to Written: Dictation Edit

A program could be created to read from text (text to speech) and then check to see if the student types it correctly by comparing the student's typing with the original text.

Written to Audio: Reading Task Edit
Written to Written: Lectation Edit
  • Lectation (alpha version) Designed by Gary Cziko with Douglas Mills. Click on the last .swf file to try. You can paste any text in any language using a Western script into the windows, select how many words you want hidden, and then re-type the text. You will hear a sound (unless you turn it off) whenever you make an error. After three errors, the letter is revealed (you still have to type it). Punctuation and numerals are not hidden. Letters remained colored if you make an error: green for one miss, orange for two misses, and red for three or more misses.
  • TextPresenter version 0.1 for English by Richard Sproat
  • Some other ideas how this can be done can be found here.
  • Running dictation (extracted from IACC Newsletter, 18 November 2005, Issue 2 (

"Here's one of my favourite games called Running Dictation. It works extremely well and by doing this activity, the students get to practice all the skills.

Aims To develop clearer pronunciation. To wake up a sleepy class!

You need Choose a short piece of text (e.g. five lines) and make enough copies of the text for one per pair of students.


Stick the texts up around the room, away from where the students are sitting. Put students into pairs and allocate them a text on the wall. Give each pair a text that is far away from them. Now ask one person in each pair to sit where they are with a pen/pencil and paper. Their partner has to stand up and 'run' to their text, read it, probably chunk by chunk, memorise it, run back to their partner and dictate it, helping in any way they can. However they cannot actually write it (e.g. 'No, "actually" has got 2 "l"s.' 'There's a new line there.' etc.). The winners are the pair with the first absolutely correct version of the text.

Extension/variation The activity can then be redone, with a different text and with the other member of the pair acting as 'runner'. NB This activity can be very noisy so you may need to check with neighbouring classes that it will not disturb them too much.

Have Fun!!"

Another individual variation of this type of task it to provide a text on one side of a sheet of paper and the student has to copy it with no errors on the other side. This will force the student to memorize chunks of the text because the student will not be able to see the text while writing.

Conclusion Edit

Dictation (copy spoken language) and lectation (copy written language) exercises are easily provided via computer (e.g., as Moodle quiz) because the output to score is written.

These techniques can also be used as tools for assessment.

Meaning (Gloss) Reconstruction Edit

Dictogloss Edit

See Swain (1998).

Technology for Language Reconstruction Edit

Available from Multilingual Books, the Instant Replay Digital Cassette Recorder ($49), (also called "Language Repeater") is a combination audio cassette player/recorder and digital player/recorder that allows you to easily an automatically repeat phrases from an audio cassette tape. This allows a language learner opportunities for repeated listening. There is also a mode that automatically pauses after playing a phrase (as defined by breath pauses) and then switches automatically to record mode. After the user has finished recording the phrase, it will playback the learner's recording and then compare it to the cassette tape. It will repeat the same phrase over and over, providing multiple opportunities for listening and repeating until the user does not say anything, at which time it will play the next phrase.

I [GC] believe that this playback and recording modes of this machine can be used for effective language-learning exercises. As the audio cassette is somewhat dated technology, it would be great if the same functions (and additional ones, such as variable speed playback) were made available on a portable music player for playing audio files and on computer software for playing audio and video files, CDs and DVDs.

This machine can also be a very useful tool for transcribing audio tapes. In the playback and compare mode, the user can just say "again" or "hey" (anything) and the machine will repeat the phrase again. If the user is silent, it will play the next phrase.

(Please note that the Instant Replay Digital CD/MP3 Recorder mentioned on the same webpage is no longer available, but the vendor is attempting to make a similar model available soon).

Here are what appear to be more sophisticated language repeaters.

The Text Presenter is a prototype developed by Richard Sproat of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It is a web-based exercise that allows the user to paste in any English text and have it presented by phrases in selectable lengths for retyping. It provides feedback after each entry by showing errors.

Hot Potatoes Edit

  • Hot Potatoes can be used for creating "interactive multiple-choice, short-answer, jumbled-sentence, crossword, matching/ordering and gap-fill exercises for the World Wide Web."

Speaking Edit

Online Language Labs Edit

Online language labs allow teachers to create collaborative multimedia resources for students to complete online. As students engage with the resources, teachers can supervise and give help in real time.

  • Schoolshape Language Lab - An online language lab that also includes a library of high quality French resources and a markbook.

Computer-Assisted Pronunciation Training (CAPT) Edit

  • Praat Language Lab. How to use Praat software to improve English pronunciation using visual feedback.

Writing Edit

  • CommonSpace
  • Daedulus Integrated Writing Environment (DIWE)
  • ESL Tutor
  • Intelligent Web-based Interactive Learning Learning (IWiLL)
  • internet-based Writing Resource for the Innovative Teaching of English (iWRITE). Volker Hegelheimer, Iowa State University (see Hegelheimer, 2006)
  • "Dianahacker-Rules for Writers" provides learners with writing and grammar exercise for English for academic purposes.
  • "" contains useful exercises under reading, speaking, vocabulary and writing sections for English for academic purposes.
  • "Spanish Grammar Exercises by Barbara Kuczun"
    • Designed for beginner to intermediate Spanish Learners
    • Content organized according to grammatical classification: i.e. reflexive verbs, ser vs. estar, etc.
    • Similar to an interactive workbook with blanks and answers given right away
    • Some areas more developed with audio and extended examples and explanations, others simply have drills
    • Exercises center around central theme to make experience more educational
    • About 15-20 practice sentences in each section

Text Exerciser Edit

Adapted from discussion between Gary Cziko and Errol O'Neill 2005.04.04

Errol discovered an interesting French exercise at that contrasts the imperfect and past perfect tenses in French.

What is nice is about this exercise is that (a) it takes place within a meaningful paragraph, (b) provides opportunities for needed input relevant to aspects of grammar to be acquired, and (d) "forces" the learner to pay attention to form, and (d) provides feedback for each right or wrong answer.

I am wondering if this type of exercise couldn't be adapted so that it provides input flood (i.e., many examples of a targeted structure), enhanced text and structured input all in one exercise (see Wong, 2005).

This could be accomplished with different views of the same paragraph as follows:

1. Normal view with correct tenses included. To the extent that there are many examples of a target structure, this would be input flood.

2. Clicking on a button would turn all the targeted tenses into a larger font with a distinctive color (e.g., Big and Green). This would be enhanced input.

3. A different button would put the paragraph into the form of the original exercise, requiring the student to choose the correct verb form (Errol wants to make it even harder by providing only the infinitive and requiring the student to type the correct form rather than just recognize it). This would be structured input. Then as each correct form is chosen (or typed), it would turn back into normal text, that is back to no. 1, input flood again.

Students could repeat the cycle as many times as they wanted. All this could be easily set up by someone with basic computer programming and web design skills.

Now, wouldn't it be really neat if the preparation of these different views could be done automatically? That is, find an interesting text and have a program provide the three views above. For example, you find an authentic interesting text that has lots of articles, pronouns, and past tense varieties. You paste this text into a window and then tell the program that you want to focus on articles. Of course, nothing has to be done for view 1 (input flood). But then the learner tells the program that he or she wants to emphasize (enhance) the articles. The program then finds all the articles, enhances them by making them big and green, et voilà, you have enhanced text. Then the student presses another button and the program creates the structured input exercise by taking each article and adding the other two articles as choices (e.g., if the correct choice is "the", it adds "a" and [blank] (no article) as choices. This is the structured input view which requires that the student choose the correct article. As each correct article is chosen, the other choices disappear and it turns back into normal text and the cycle can be repeated, either with the same grammatical focus, of with and different one (e.g., past tense forms or pronouns).

This should also be pretty easy to set up for something as simple as articles (a, the, null) and pronouns (he, she , it , they) in English. Tenses are a bit tougher perhaps as the program would have to know how to generate other tenses to create the distractors, e.g., if it sees "bought" it would have to generate something like "was buying", "have bought", "had bought", etc.

An even more sophisticated program would first analyze the text and see what forms were most common and suggest what types of grammatical forms the student could use the text to focus on (it would not suggest focusing on pronouns if there were few pronouns).

I think this could be a very useful programming, combining the best of current input techniques that focus on form while allowing the learner to choose the text that he or she is interested in.

As it would create useful exercises from normal text, we could call it the "Text Exerciser" and would be a great ATALL tool.

Grammar Consciousness-Raising (GCR) Edit

See Fotos and Ellis in Wong (2005) input enhancement book (2005)

  • Grammar consciousness raising (GCR)
    • Target structure: many vs. much vs. a lot of vs. lots of
      • Correct: He has many brothers.
      • Incorrect: *He has many money.
      • Correct: He has much money
      • Incorrect: *He has much sisters.
      • Correct: He has a lot of good ideas.
      • Correct: He has a lot of confidence.
      • Correct: He has lots of good ideas.
      • Correct: He has lots of confidence.
    • Complete the following sentences and describe the rules that underlie the use of many, much and a lot of.
      • When you are describing something you can count (like apples) , you use ________, ________ or ________.
      • When you are describing something you cannot count (like apple sauce), you use ________, ________ or ________.
      • You can use __________ or ___________ with both things you can count (like apples) and things you cannot count (like apple sauce).

Note 1: You cannot use the trick of always using a lot of or lots of for asking questions. You must instead use how + many for count nouns and how + much for mass (uncountable) nouns.

Note 2: Many languages, such as French, German and Spanish, use the same word (beaucoup, viel, mucho) to describe "lots of" for both countable and mass nouns. So the use of much vs. many in English is likely to cause difficulty for natives speakers of these languages learning English as an additional language.

Courseware (Commercial and Free) Edit by language enthusiast Ron Tichenor provides reviews of commercial language learning courseware (and some free language learning products, too) for a about a dozen different languages.

Multilingual Edit

Chinese Edit

  • The Confucius Institute at Michigan State University has developed a variety of online Chinese learning materials (Chinese character, culture and language), Chinese podcasts, a Chinese culture appreciation curriculum and an online high school Chinese courseware. It also hosts one-on-one online tutoring system with native speakers from China. Most materials and services are free to use.

French Edit

  • French Online from Carnegie Mellon University's Open Learning Initiative (free). "French Online is an interactive video-based course intended for use by university students and independent learners on the Internet. Please give us feedback about the course or about OLI. . . . The first-semester course is divided into five thematic modules, with three lessons within each module. Each lesson is designed to take approximately one week to complete so working through the entire course will take the average learner approximately fifteen weeks." (from website)

Spanish Edit

  • Learn Spanish A great resource for learning Spanish including vocabulary and grammar exercises as well as organized interaction with native speakers via email and chat.
  • Learn Spanish Grammar, Vocabulary, and Culture
  • Unforgettable Languages This is a website that advertises courseware to help users learn Spanish. Unforgettable Languages uses a very unorthodox way to teach Spanish by using English pronunciations and likening them to Spanish pronunciations, in addition to drawing analogies between Spanish words and English sounds. This seems as though it would be helpful in the pronunciation and vocabulary area of Spanish (quick learning).
  • Aula Diez Great courseware for any level Spanish learner. You can test your Spanish level in addition to using multiple demos online before actually purchasing the product. You can practice your grammar, punctuation, use of prepositions, certain verbs and much more. There are CD-ROMs, online classes and personal classes that can be purchased through Aula Diez.
  • Spanish software free trial This is a great site! Try out a free lesson and get a free download of the entire course for 7 days. There is an 'instructor' guiding you through the entire course, explaining the directions and pronouncing all of the information topics. There are also visuals so that you are not only able to hear the way the words, phrases and sentences are pronounced in Spanish but also see and read them. The software also has exercises and quizzes that you can use to test your apprehension of the knowledge.
  • Multilingual Center--Spanish Another form of coursware to help learn Spanish. Seems a little more business-Spanish oriented. You can do practice exercises and also watch movies in Spanish to learn the language.
  • Spanish Grammar Exercises A great resource for Grammar information and online quizzes.

French and Dutch Edit

Chinese and English Edit

  • Electronic Language Learning System (English, Chinese)
  • Chinese Chengo
    • CHENGO stands for Chinese English on the Go
    • A joint project of E-language Learning System (ELLS) is originated from a bilateral MOU of E-Language Learning System (ELLS) signed by American Department of Education and the Chinese Ministry of Education on behalf of the two governments in Washington in October 2002.
    • Cartoon, mystery, sound, and Olympic based - designed to be fun and interactive
      • Lessons divided into "episodes"
    • Includes downloadable instructor manuals (in .rar format)
    • Flash based - exceptionally slow loading time of interface
    • Professional finish and feel

Chinese Edit

English Edit

English and Japanese Edit

  • iPod Selection Eikaiwa software for iPods that presents situational dialogues in English and Japanese (text and sound), along with vocabulary focus and comprehension quizzes.

German Edit

  • Chicago Architektour Bauhaus and beyond: Influences on Chicago's skyline. An interactive videotour for students of German
  • German for Beginners. "The core of the course, a sociorealistic video series for absolute beginners, has produced unexpected positive results as a framework programme for university presence teaching. It is a soap opera like Lindenstraβe or Coronation Street, although this one is with true stories and real people. The video shows us the feelings, hopes, problems and chances of people in Germany during the times of globalization. The story-telling concept which includes relevance, authenticity and actuality respects fundamental motivational skills and offers unique types of online-exercises. The latter work with mental techniques which enable activation of all human senses and take into consideration the individual learner`s biography. The entire accompanying material is available free of charge - as a combination of online excercises and download material in different languages." (from message from Susanne Hecht <>).
  • Web German Chatting / Online Lernwelten / Grammatik / Texte / Geschichte / Germanistik / Nachschlagewerke / Lehrquellen / Kataloge / Suchmaschnen / Politik u. Aktuell / Humor, Spiele, Raetzel, Comics / Audio / Video / Musik / Virtuelle Wirklichkeit / Kultur, Freizeit u. Reisen / Cyber-Zeitschriften / andere germanistische Sprachen / Sprachvereine / Geschäftsdeutsch / Sonstiges

Moodle for Language Teaching Edit

Resources Edit

Multilingual Edit
    • Reviews of software from Language Learning & Technology
    • The CALICO Review - reviews of language instruction software
    • Free Language Learning Software - Dozens of shareware, freeware, and other software programs for learning over 20 different languages.
    • LangMedia This is a terrific site full of vocabulary, expressions, and transcripts for a variety of languages. There are videos accompanying each topic in which you can see and hear the conversation along with reading the transcripts. The videos are all recorded in the specific country in which the language is spoken. Languages that are featured on this website include Spanish, French, Indonesian, Greek, German, Romanian, Arabic, Thai, Turkish, Wolof, Japanese, Korean, and more.
    • BBC Languages Offers exercises for many European languages, but it also includes some Chinese. It also offers vocabulary lists of slang terms in various languages and business phrases.
    • Vokabel vocabulary training for German, French, and Spanish. You can even create your own test!
    • Munro Language Resources a comprehensive directory for second language learning in Chinese, English (ESL), German, Indonesian, and Japanese. It includes over 3000 exercise for German learners as well as exercises for other languages, courseware, and sources for translation.
    • Verb Practice Verb conjugation training in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, Galician and Catalan.
English Edit
  • is a project of The Internet TESL Journal that has "quizzes, tests, exercises and puzzles to help you learn English as a Second Language (ESL)" (from website).
  • The English Learner Movie Guide
  • ManyThings This is a very resourceful site for English learners. It has different sections for language skills practice--vocabulary, grammar, proverbs, slang and idioms, pronunciation, listening, reading, spelling, and much more.
  • Adult Learning Activities Eleven life-related topics with abundant stories can be found on this site. Each story is accompanied with an audio recording. Some stories have video recordings as well. After reading and listening to the stories, several follow-up activities focusing on different vocabulary and reading comprehension are at users' choice.
  • Virtual Grammar Lab is a searchable database of free online English grammar study materials and activities. Students and teachers can sign up to track their studies, but the site can also be used without logging in.
  • English for Chinese Speakers
  • Exercises for ESL beginners
Spanish Edit
    • Spanish grammar lessons (in English)
    • Spanish Verb Conjugator Trainer
    • Talk Spanish
    • Study Spanish
    • Colby University An extensive list of vocabulary practice and grammar exercises provided by Colby. There are listening sections, fill in the bank, songs with lyrics, transcripts, games and much more. A great website full of Spanish exercises!
    • Dot Lingo Another extensive website full of Spanish grammar exercises and practice. You can click on the grammar topic and read vocabulary and different examples. The neat thing about this site is that you can also scramble the vocab lists right on your page and test your knowledge that way and also highlight the words for English translation.
    • Spanish Grammar Exercises This website is full of different grammar topics such as Subjunctive, Preterit, Verb Forms, Verb Usage, Por y Para, Pronouns and more. You get instant feedback as to which answers you had right or wrong as you type them directly into the formatted exercises.
    • E. L. Easton This is a comprehensive, extensive directory full of Spanish exercise references. It's broken down into Listening, Speaking, Writing, Dictionaries, Exercises, Quizzes and Tests, and Grammar.
German Edit
    • E.L. Easton Languages directory for a wide variety of exercises in German
    • Foto-Fun Exercises for intermediate and beginner German learners about vocab and culture. This exercise uses photographs from Germany and Austria to teach German.
    • Georgia Southern German grammar exercises
    • WebGerman comprehensive exercises for German vocabulary and grammar
    • Goethe Institue German Exercises The Goethe Institute has created exercises for German learners ranging from beginners to advanced learners.
Japanese Edit
  • Japanese self-study Each Japanese character is presented with its sound, stroke, and origin from Chinese characters.

Miscellaneous Edit

  • Anki allows language users to create their own electronic flashcards on Palm PDAs.

Conclusion Edit

References Edit