Using MALL to teach various language skills

What research shows about implementing MALL in the Linguistic and Acquisitional Ecosystems


  •  Using students’ cultural and personal experiences in combination with a handwriting app for tablets improves students’ ability to organize written narratives. “ ‘Most of the kids are still in the ELL program because of writing because usually they pass the listening and speaking test by now and some of them have passed the reading test by now but it’s still the writing test that is keeping them in the program. The use of iPad and penultimate motivated them to keep writing,’ ” (Chen, Chris, & Smith, 2017).
  • The use of instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp in the target language improves students’ language accuracy, though there is no indication that it improves the complexity of their sentences or word choice. “The LREs [language-related episodes] taking place in the application constitute a fundamental source of knowledge for second language development, as students reflect and construct knowledge in an active manner, providing feedback and negotiating meaning,” (Andujar, 2016).
  •  A cooperative annotation system improved students’ reading comprehension when students used it in small groups. “Students who used the CALL system to support their English collaborative reading in heterogeneous groups of twos, threes, or fours had better reading comprehension outcomes than they did with individual reading; however, this was not found to any significant extent for those who were in groups of five,” (Chang & Hsu, 2011).
  •  The use of augmented reality allows teachers to make jigsaw activities more interesting by providing readings or videos beyond the textbook when students scan the triggering part of the textbook. “Students just open Aurasma, point the mobile phone’s camera to the triggering image and the material, I decided to give them, is right there on their screens,” (Antonopoulos, 2016).
  • Using texting abbreviations does not harm students’ spelling/reading ability: “Results show that the students’ correct translation of the text abbreviations were signifi-cantly correlated with those who had higher ratings of their reading and writing levels and that the students who rated themselves higher in reading and writing levels had more correct translations of the text abbreviations,” (Geng, 2013).
  • Using an instant messaging App, such as WhatsApp, allows the teacher to correct errors in writing immediately after an error is made and in a group setting. This type of error-correction is effective because all learners in the thread can see and learn from the corrections made to treat an error. “The teacher can signal errors and suggest corrections and/or improvements on the fly, nipping errors ‘in the bud’ and getting students to write correctly in real time, instead of them passively viewing their errors ‘cold’ perhaps days later after the teacher has returned homework and the student no longer remembers clearly what he/she was even writing about. (Winet, 2016, p. 1) 
  • Teachers can use social media sites, such as Twitter or Instagram, to scaffold language learners into producing socially appropriate texts and finding their voice/identity in a new language. “Although the participants’ digital curation practice relied heavily on the texts of others, this kind of explicitly heteroglossic practice is notable as a way for youth without extensive technical skill or elaborate hardware (such as those with only mobile phones) to begin to learn to compose online” (Warner, 2016, p. 184).
  • Incorporating MALL into curricula does not change the principles or pedagogical goals of a course. Instead, MALL-based curricula can increase student access to course content and provide opportunities for interaction with the course outside of the classroom. MALL is an affordance for reading and/or writing in that the student is able to produce or consume content on a readily available device of their choice. “It is important to note that the characteristics of the pedagogical underpinnings of this course are not unique to a mobile device course. These characteristics make good classroom pedagogy, no matter the course content, discipline, or delivery mode. However, when implemented in a classroom that leverages mobile devices, students have complete and unfettered access to high-quality course content created by their instructor at their fingertips, no matter where they are” (Siha, 2019, p. 202).
  • Using Tumblr in an academic writing class increased the language learners’ vocabulary breadth and ability to engage in a dialogue with other classmates. “Next, most of the students felt some of their writing aspects, such as organization, grammar, and mechanics, did not experience any significant improvement by using Tumblr. Actually, the comment feature on Tumblr helped them in giving comments to each other. This helped them a little in recognizing their mistakes without they realized it. The students, nevertheless, mostly agreed that Tumblr helped them improve their vocabulary” (Rahmanita & Cahyono, 2018, p. 983).
  • MALL games, such as Minecraft, can promote literacy development if a facilitator encourages the user to connect/interact with the real world in a real context. “As such, it can be argued that purposeful and meaningful literacy learning can be enriched through digital play when it is nested within authentic contexts and characteristics of play are activated” (Kervin, 2016, p. 70).


These studies suggest the positive effects of video feedback on English speaking skills, such as promoting interaction, fostering engagement, and enhancing presentation skills and speaking performance. Teachers are therefore encouraged to use video feedback to improve students’ intonationA teaching approach targeting language learners’ speaking proficiency, such as communicative language teaching (Nunan, 1987), can be complemented with video feedback throughout a semester to help students improve and internalize pronunciation and speaking fluency.(Tseng, S.-S., & Yeh, H.-C. (2019). The impact of video and written feedback on student preferences of English speaking practice. Language Learning & Technology, 23(2), 145–158.)

 The affordances of mobile technologies contribute to the creation of innovative learning environments and authentic language learning experiences that support and promote the production of oral language among young language learners. (Martine Pellerin,Using Mobile Technologies with Young Language Learners to Support and Promote Oral Language Production)

The findings revealed positive attitudes by students toward mobile-assisted feedback and confirmed the facilitative role of WeChat feedback in enhancing their speaking ability. It is therefore suggested that smartphone social communication apps be applied to foreign language teaching for the provision of feedback and other learning activities.(Qi Xu,Investigating mobile-assisted oral feedback in teaching Chinese as a second language)

Game-based learning activities can significantly improve students’ speaking skills if driven by a mobile system. Furthermore, these results suggest that learning activities with a mobile system foster students to (1) practice speaking English as a foreign language (EFL) more frequently as well as to reflect on their speech; (2) create meaningful sentences and speak with greater accuracy and confidence; and (3) practice speaking EFL in an authentic context.( Evaluating listening and speaking skills in a mobile game-based learning environment with situational contexts

Wu-Yuin Hwang,Timothy K. Shih,Zhao-Heng Ma,Rustam Shadiev &Shu-Yu Chen)

  • Vodcast can be a learning model that enables learners to select and use target language accurately. It can also be used to learn culture especially that of the English speaking country and shows how people converse, take attitude and think about something. Alternate video forms (vodcast) provides an authentic representation of language use other than movies, TV shows and even commercials that can be helpful in teaching non-native English speakers .Vodcast is a valuable and possibly underused classroom tool. (Vodcast as Instruction Material in Teaching Listening and Speaking Skills Dr. G. Shaik Abdul Wahab Zaheer Abdul Ghafoor.Y.A )

Utilizing a mobile music application, such as Bande à Part, enhances listening inputs. For example, the application highlights grammatical gender, has subtitles, and offers translations that help learners (Sundberg & Cardoso, 2018). Plus, everyone loves music!

Using video applications such as Vodcast for in-class and out-of-class activities  can facilitate understanding of speaking and listening. They can provide a variety of authentic (more real-life like) expressions. By connecting images, words, (through highlighted subtitles) and sounds, video apps can also help students recognize regional accents as well as grammar and syntax moreso than traditional DVDs (Wahab & Ghafoor, 2013). Goodbye DVD, Hello Vodcast!

 Use of voice recording applications such as WeChat (Xu & Peng, 2017) WhatsApp (Han & Keskin, 2016) or on a recording device on their phone (Moghaddas & Bashinerzhad) to both communicate with the teacher and record answers to activities can improve students’ noticing of their errors, self correction, and autonomy in speaking (enhances self-evaluation and self-monitoring). Who doesn’t love their phone blowing up with student learning? (note: there is a “silence messages” option on WhatsApp)

Using voice-recording apps like WhatsApp, to have students record monologues and create dialogues, has various affective (emotional and social) benefits for speaking/listening. These types of activities can foster creativity, reduce anxiety (Han & Keskin, 2016), increase confidence (Hwang, Shih, & Ma, 2015), and increase reflection when speaking. You’ll really get to know who they are!

Game-based mobile learning activities on phones (interactive games like jigsaws and card games) can help students practice in a realistic environment and increase accuracy and confidence (Hwana, Shih & Ma, 2015). 

  • Check out the Handheld English language Learning Organization (HELLO) – it’s a platform for managing English language learning and has cool tools like augmented reality and sensors! (used in study)


The recording feature of a cell phone can be used to allow students to practice their spoken grammar and reflect afterward. [“[T]his study showed that mobile phones can play a crucial part in improving the speaking quality of the students” (Baleghizadeh & Oladrostam 2011).]

Using gamified mobile activities can be used to help students conjugate verbs better and with more consistency. [“Pre- and posttest results show that these activities helped students improve not only accuracy but also confidence in conjugating Spanish verbs” (Castañeda & Cho, 2016).]

Social media can be used to allow students to witness authentic content in real-world situations and on a platform in which they are interested while also allowing teachers to guide a study and analyze the grammar. [“Twitter is a powerful tool to get teens engaged in learning grammar and vocabulary outside school or class which includes activities like finding grammar mistakes in real life situations and tweeting a sentence using the assigned word of the day or snapping a picture of a vocabulary word used in an everyday situation.” (Shylaja & Ravindran, 2014).]

Gamified language-learning applications like Duolingo can be used to encourage persistence when learning grammar by allowing social interaction and competitiveness among students. [“Dan’s approach of following his friends and striving to stand out among them highlights a sense of his persistent investment, and all three of [the students] persisted in response to their obligations to their peers and to the class project, to varying degrees” (Isbell et al., 2017).]

The feedback feature of the app Busuu encouraged students to correct their grammar mistakes and improve their quality of speech. [“The quality of the automated feedback that users receive from the app (which within the app is limited to whether the answer is right or wrong) was positively regarded. Of the 3751 participants who replied to the question about feedback quality, 43.8% considered it ‘very good’ and a further 32.3% rated it ‘good’” (Rosell-Aguilar, 2018).]

Researchers used text messages that targeted a grammar point covered in class to engage students outside of the classroom to encourage more language learning. (“The findings suggest that text messages can be useful for learning grammar points, since they engage learners’ interest and encourage them to study more in order to text the correct answers when they are outside their classrooms.” (Kukulska-Hulme, A. & Bull, S., 2009))

 The web-based Grammar Clinic provides students with a chance to complete extra grammar tasks through self-editing activities. (“Overall, Grammar Clinic is a positive example of mobile-assisted language learning as it was perceived by students as a useful learning application in an ESL writing class. Grammar Clinic was regarded as beneficial in helping learners raise their metalinguistic awareness and improve their self-editing ability in English writing. (Li, Z. & Hegelheimer, V.,2013))

 MALL breaks down the walls of the classroom and allows for students to have more real-world learning experiences and that grammar points would benefit from MALL under certain conditions. (“In this paper, we have argued that mobile user generated media such as photos or audio recordings can support learners in connecting words and phrases to episodes relevant to their everyday life.” (Joseph, S. & Uther, M., 2009))

 Students are most likely to engage with content material that is relevant, playful, and not too demanding aside from the material other conditions must be met for students to help coax student’s engagement. (”(a) providing engaging learning materials that are neither too long nor overly-demanding; (b) a proper degree of teacher monitoring; (c) student involvement; (d) the need for incentives; (e) a respect for privacy; and (f) a safe and secure mobile-learning technical environment.”( Wang, S. & Smith, S., 2013))

Students benefit from having grammar exercises sent to them via text messaging. (“The findings suggest that text messages can be useful for learning grammar points, since they engage learners’ interest and encourage them to study more in order to text the correct answers when they are outside their classrooms.” (Hedjazi Moghari, M., & Marandi, S. S., 2017)


Measuring the Effectiveness of Using “Memrise” on High School Students’ Perceptions of Learning EFL: “Green (2005) indicated that the greater interactivity of technology could make a positive impact on English language skills. Green has also noted that children who have access to high-quality smartphones with features like authentic audio, sound effects, text that highlights itself as it is read, and vocabulary instruction score much higher on standardized tests. MALL applications are nowadays designed to appeal to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners through interactive protocols, thus promoting internalization of the language” (Abarghoui & Taki 2018). 

Effects of Mobile Game-Based English Vocabulary Learning APP on Learners’ Perceptions and Learning Performance: A Case Study of Taiwanese EFL Learners:  “In addition, the rapid developments of mobile technologies have enabled people to consider the potentials of Mobile-Assisted Language Learning (MALL), and the effectiveness of MALL has been greatly confirmed in many previous studies. Among previous studies of MALL, Motallebzadeh and Ganjali (2011) found that MALL can assist learners in accomplishing better vocabulary retention and reading comprehension. In short, vocabulary learning via mobile devices can indeed be regarded as a promising means for enlarging learners’ vocabulary size.” (Chen,  Liu & Huang, 2019).

Invited Commentary: Vocabulary. Language Learning & Technology: “Moreover, with the increasing integration of media and technologies into mobile devices that once only existed in DVD players and personal computers, the suggestion that electronic vocabulary resources may one day overtake more conventional ones (e.g., paper textbooks) as the main learning tool is not farfetched. In other words, while we still have much to understand about how vocabulary is learned through multimedia, and though technology still has a long way to go as a vocabulary teaching and learning tool, it is far from game over” (Martinez, & Schmitt, 2010)

AUGMENTED REALITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING: FROM ANNOTATED VOCABULARY TO PLACE-BASED MOBILE GAMES:“ With advanced mixed media, there would be many more options available, and the information could be personalized according to user profiles and preferences. Language learners could in this way be supplied with a rich just-in-time support environment as they navigate through a city, have a service encounter, or even engage in conversations. Ideally the system would rely on an online learner model for that particular user, which would inform the kind of support provided.” (Godwin-Jones, 2016)

“In essence, it provides a cheaper alternative and access to not only synchronous and asynchronous online communication but also to information resources on the World Wide Web, as most mobile phones do nowadays. When combined with the ubiquity and affordability of an instant messaging service like WhatsApp (which can serve as a learning platform), it opens up a myriad of possibilities for m-learning, which in turn makes it more accessible to more learners and, in doing so, extends the use of mobile phones beyond the walls of the classroom.” (Lawrence, 2016)

  • Developing MALL in the future and pushing for integration into a broader language-learning context needs to address the diverse technological and cultural backgrounds of users. As one size does NOT fit all, developing (in-app) measures to personalize the MALL experience is recommended. 

“…even if the same tools are used in a comparable learning environment, the technologies will likely be used differently, and teachers need to be aware of the complete learning context to enhance usage as much as possible.” (Stockwell & Liu, 2015)

  • Online flashcard options generally offer more functions and features than traditional paper-based cards, but the affordances of using digital versions (e.g.. learner training) need to be considered as possible obstacles. 

“However, the lack of consensus between participants concerning the best approach to integrate a CAVL tool in their practice may potentially present a barrier to incorporating digital flashcards in their ELT” (Alnajjar & Brick, 2017)

  • Self Regulated Learning Mechanisms in vocabulary learning apps lead to significantly greater learning performance and motivation in field-dependent learners regardless of gender. 

“We suspect that field-dependent learners may especially benefit from SRL mechanisms in learning apps, perhaps by supplying them with more learning structure or insight into the critical cognitive processes involved in this kind of learning.” (Chen, Chen, & Yang, 2019)

  • AR (Augmented Reality) signifies exciting new opportunities for mixed media learning experiences and contextualized learning, but should be approached with a careful understanding of the nature and source of the information being consumed. 

“As we look towards a future of increased AR penetration into our daily lives, it is good to remind ourselves that tools, services, and data generating our digitally enhanced view of the world are neither neutral nor universal.” (Godwin-Jones 2016) 

  • Incidental vocabulary learning (traditionally through print media) offers small but tangible learning gains. However, there is no significant difference between paper books, e-books with dictionaries, and e-books with adaptive software for vocabulary learning. 

“Adaptive software linked to e-books running on mobile devices could offer an engaging means for students to improve their knowledge of a foreign language through incidental learning. But a number of factors need to be considered when designing such systems.” (Fisher, Pemberton et. al, 2009)

  •  When learning a new language it is important to revise new vocabulary outside the classroom.Using mobile devices in and outside of the classroom enables learners to perform their learning anytime and anywhere, mobile devices are easy to carry and usually adapted to learners’ needs.  “The findings of this study, as well as of other research studies on this topic, confirm the effectiveness of mobile apps on the learning of foreign-language vocabulary. However, they also indicate that especially teacher’s encouragement enhanced through different methods, such as feedback or notifications, is essential for students’ motivation to use the mobile application and study the new words and phrases.” Klímová B. (2019)
  •  This study demonstrated how text messaging on a mobile phone can increase English Language Learners’ (ELL) academic vocabulary. “The results indicated that, with the intervention, students learned significantly more target words.”
    Li, J., & Cummins, J. (2019). 
  •  This vocabulary app was designed to increase learner’s motivation and learning abilities via a self-regulated learning mechanism called (EVALAPP-SRLM). “Experimental results indicate that the learners in the experimental group exhibited significantly better learning performance and motivation than those in the control group. Moreover, the learners who used EVLAPP-SRLM exhibited significantly greater learning performance and motivation than those who used EVLAPP-NSRLM, regardless of gender.”
    Chen, C., Chen, L., & Yang, S. (2019). 
  • The app PHONE Words is used to help beginner level English learners increase their vocabulary using game-related functions. “Analytical results show that performance in vocabulary acquisition and retention by the experimental group was significantly higher than that of the control group. Moreover, questionnaire results confirm that MEVLA-GF is more effective and satisfying for English vocabulary learning than MEVLA-NGF. Spearman rank correlation results show that involvement and dependence on gamified functions were positively correlated with vocabulary learning performance.” Çakmak, F., & Erçetin, G. (2018).
  • Memrise is a mobile app that supports vocabulary skills in the EL classroom. “The findins of this research suggst that Memrise is an effective method of English language instruction. It is important to note that Memrise is not meant to replace direct language instruction, but its purpose is to serve as an effective supplement to state language instruction.” Abarghoui, M. A., & Taki, S. (2018).


Intercultural Communicative Competence

Technology can positively affect foreign language learning, and sizeable evidence supports this from research on computer-assisted pronunciation training, including automatic speech recognition (ASR).  This research concludes that ASR “can facilitate the improvement of pronunciation and can provide feedback effectively.” The use of chat in foreign language learning demonstrated that “the amount of learners’ language production and its complexity significantly increased.” 

Golonka, E.M., Bowles, A.R., Frank, V.M., Richardson, D.L. & Freynik, S. (2014). Technologies for Foreign Language Learning: A Review of Technology Types and Their Effectiveness. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 27(1), 70-105. Retrieved September 13, 2019 from

  • The use of WhatsApp has been studied in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classes to determine its effect on countering the feelings of foreign language speaking anxiety (FLSA).  In a study of thirty-nine undergraduate students, students used Whats App over four weeks. The WhatsApp study “significantly impacted the students’ language acquisition by lowering EFL speaking anxiety”.

Han, T., & Keskin, F. (2016). Using a Mobile Application (WhatsApp) to Reduce EFL Speaking Anxiety. GiST Education and Learning Research Journal, (12), 29-50.

  •  The efficacy of game-based learning and its effects on students’ listening and speaking skills were central to this study.  In a control group, students performed learning activities using traditional learning techniques. An experimental group of students learned via mobile systems.  “…The experimental-group students significantly outperformed the control-group students on the verbal post-test.” There were two characteristics of the gaming activities that correlated with a significant improvement in students’ speaking skills when mobile systems were involved.  Students generally positively received learning by the mobile systems. Additionally, learning with a mobile system encouraged students to “(1) practice speaking English as a foreign language (EFL) more frequently as well as to reflect on their speech; (2) create meaningful sentences and speak with greater accuracy and confidence; and (3) practice speaking EFL in an authentic context.”

Wu-Yuin Hwang, Timothy K. Shih, Zhao-Heng Ma, Rustam Shadiev & Shu-Yu Chen (2016) Evaluating listening and speaking skills in a mobile game-based learning environment with situational contexts, Computer Assisted Language Learning, 29:4, 639-657, DOI: 10.1080/09588221.2015.1016438

  • Language learners of a young age can have more language learning success with the use of mobile technologies (i.e. tablets and handheld MP3 players).  The technologies can encourage and develop oral language production among the young population. The study “emphasizes the role of dialogue and social interaction among young language learners…Findings show that the affordances of mobile technologies contribute to the creation of innovative learning environments and authentic language learning experiences that support and promote the production of oral language among young language learners.”

Pellerin, Martine.  International Journal of Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Teaching (IJCALLT), 2014, vol. 4, issue 4, 14-28