Mobile-assisted language learning

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Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) describes an approach to language learning that is assisted or enhanced through the use of a handheld mobile device.[1][2]

MALL is a subset of both Mobile Learning (m-learning) and computer-assisted language learning (CALL). MALL has evolved to support students’ language learning with the increased use of mobile technologies such as mobile phones (cellphones), MP3 and MP4 players, PDAs and devices such as the iPhone or iPad. With MALL, students are able to access language learning materials and to communicate with their teachers and peers at any time, anywhere.



  • Twarog and Pereszlenyi Pinter used telephones to provide distant language learners with feedback and assistance.



  • Dickey (2001) utilized teleconferencing to teach an English conversation course to students in South Korea.
  • Stanford University learning lab used integrated mobile phones in a Spanish learning program in 2001 (Brown, 2001).
  • Thornton and Houser (2002; 2003; 2005) developed several innovative projects using mobile phones to teach English at a Japanese university. They also developed a course management system, Poodle, to facilitate deploying language learning material to mobile phones.
  • City College Southampton developed a web based "media board" (similar to a web-board but supporting Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) as well as Short Message Service (SMS) and supplied learners of English as a Second Language (ESL) with mobile phones with inbuilt cameras and voice recording facilities (JISC, 2005).
  • University of Wisconsin–Madison, developed several foreign language courses which have used wireless handheld computers for various classroom activities (Samuels, 2003).
  • Duke University provided all incoming freshmen with free iPods equipped with voice recorders. Amongst the pilot courses utilizing the players were several language courses, which utilized both their listening and recording capabilities (Belanger, 2005).
  • United Kingdom’s Open University used voice recorders and mini-camcorders to record interviews with other students and locals and to create audiovisual tours in distance-learning German and Spanish course (Kukulska-Hulme, 2005). The Open University also recently used mobile phones for language learning[3]
  • A project in Ireland used MALL for Irish Language learning and assessment [4][5]
  • The Le@rning Federation (TLF) used MALL for Indonesian Language learning across three states[6][7]
  • The first mobile phone language learning service, opens for business in English providing lessons in Italian, Spanish, German and French, providing 60 text message (SMS) lessons for €9.

Current trends[edit]

Today, due to the growth of wireless and emerging technologies, MALL is available through numerous devices including mobile phones, iPods, tablet PCs, hand-held computers, PDAs, MP3 players, Smartphones and more. MALL designers have begun to move away from merely copying the traditions of standard non-mobile language learning and are implementing techniques that maximize the benefits of these new devices. The increasing number of possible delivery tools has spawned a wide range of mobile language learning programs, from very-short tutorials to full courses. The number of people capable of producing MALL content is also on the rise, due largely to a combination of increased popularity, demand and the advent of content generation tools that simplify the programming process through the use of templates and macros.

MALL currently serves not only as a primary source of language education for students but also supports the retention and utilization of newly acquired language skills—however they were acquired. Through mobile participation in short exercises and tasks, learners are able to keep their linguistic talents sharp while reducing the risk of degradation of valuable knowledge, skills and abilities.

The future of MALL[edit]

Consensus among the limited literature and studies available specifically about MALL indicate that the demand for it will only increase—along with the demand for second language acquisition and learning flexibility. Predicted growth is reinforced by the overall decrease in free time. With people working longer hours, the time necessary for formal, traditional classroom-based or even standard online courses will decrease. MALL will be an ideal solution to busy students and professionals seeking to acquire one or more new languages.

What mobile devices lack in capability (regarding sound and video quality and screen size) they make up for in portability. In the future, however, we can expect mobile devices to deliver better quality than is currently available among most mobile devices. It is expected that designers will capitalize on this increase in quality—designing MALL programs that employ student-focused, media-rich, flexible and collaborative learning strategies. Additionally, changes in the cost and availability of wireless service—a luxury to most in the not-too-distant past—will make MALL available to a far wider and diverse audience.

Researchers are experimenting with the new way of learning using smart phone. For example Mobile Assisted Word-Learning (MAWL)[8] is an augmented reality based collaborative social-networking interface for learning new words using a smartphone. MAWL keeps track and saves all textual contexts during reading process along with providing augmented reality-based assistance such as images, translation into native language, synonyms, antonyms, sentence usage etc.[9]

MALL professional organizations[edit]

At the writing of this article, it is difficult to find organizations that focus specifically on Mobile Assisted Language Learning. Some of the resources for MALL are primarily language learning websites with some space dedicated to technology in language learning. Other resources are primarily educational technology websites that dedicate some of their efforts to language learning.

  • Handheld Learning – Promotes learning with mobile or ubiquitous technologies. Their conference is the international signature event for learning using mobile or ubiquitous technologies.
  • SALT conference include sessions on learning languages over mobile phones
  • Mobile Learning Global Consortium – This LinkedIn group serves as a collaborative forum for the ways and methods being used to push the envelope beyond the cutting edge of mobility, which help people learn, connect, and achieve, as it relates to academia, government, industry, and the mass consumer market.
  • WMUTE - Wireless, Mobile and Ubiquitous Technologies in Education. WMUTE provides opportunity for communication among local and international researchers, and for researchers to be acquainted with the market needs related to mobile learning.

Collaborative learning in MALL[edit]

Collaborative learning is the acquisition of knowledge, skills or attitudes occurring in individuals as a result of group interaction.[10] Collaborative learning is a student-centered approach to learning where the instructor is more like a facilitator than a teacher.

Unlike other techniques collaborative learning encourages all involved to help support and motivate each other to achieve the learning goal. Because the collaborative learning is student-centered it often succeeds in engaging the learner. A language can be learned through collaborative learning with the use of mobile devices But mobile devices don’t actually drive the learning, learners do. The devices, be they phones, palm pilots or laptops, are used as tools, like a pencil or calculator, to accentuate or aid the learning process.

Duke University's use of iPods in 2004 is an example of using collaborative learning in MALL. The university provided a new tool for the students, particularly those taking a language course. The students in language courses used the iPods in various ways, including working collaboratively with language tutors. The students would record themselves completing an oral assignment and the tutors provided feedback on their assignment. The students also used the iPods to record conversations in the language they were learning, downloading podcasts, store and listen to songs in the language they were learning.

Collaborating on mobile devices is dependent on the device. The following are examples of collaborative learning using mobile devices:

  • Collaboration on a mobile phone can be achieved by asynchronous text messaging and instant messaging or a phone conversation. In each instance learning can take place but the phones serve only as the delivery method for that information.
  • A tablet PC or a PDA can allow learners to collaborate on documents while at different locations, find information from multiple sources to build ideas with partners, and make information about learning activities portable and easily accessible.

The effectiveness of collaborating varies on the project and mobile device.

Affordances and constraints[edit]

Enhancing language learning through MALL affords some dynamics not available through the traditional classroom that the language learner can take advantage of. Some of these affordances are even unique to m-learning compared to regular e-learning. In the same way, there are some constraints to m-learning that limit what can be done in language acquisition through m-learning compared to traditional e-learning or classroom learning.

Among the most noted affordances for MALL is ubiquitous access to learning anytime at any place that the user has reception. Compared to classroom or e-learning, the user does not need to be sitting in a classroom or at a computer to access learning materials. This enables users to brush up on language skills just before or just after a conversation in the language they are learning. Handheld delivery also affords new dynamics for collaborative learning as users can share the language learning process in small synchronous groups (Nah, et al. 2008).

Kloper et al. (2002) claimed 5 properties of mobile devices which can produce unique educational affordances:

  • Portability-the small size and weight of mobile devices means they can be taken to different sites or moved around within a site.
  • Social interactivity-data exchange and collaboration with other learners can happen face-to-face.
  • Context sensitivity-mobile devices can both gather and respond to real or simulated data unique to the current location, environment and time.
  • Connectivity-a shared network can be created by connecting mobile devices to data collection devices, other devices or to a common network.
  • Individuality- scaffolding for difficult activities can be customized for individual learners.

The most notable constraints for earlier MALL include poor sound and display quality coupled with very limited devices and download speeds. Newer integrated PDA devices have narrowed the gap with higher access speeds, larger screens, having functions and capacities similar to laptop computers (Nah, et al. 2008).


  1. ^ Chinnery G. (2006) "Going to the MALL: Mobile Assisted Language Learning", Language Learning & Technology 10, 1: 9-16, [Online]:
  2. ^ Shield L. & Kukulska-Hulme A. (eds.) (2008) Special edition of ReCALL (20, 3: 2008) on Mobile Assisted Language Learning:
  3. ^ Open University Mobile Phone based language learning
  4. ^ NCCA MALL/ FÓN Project
  5. ^ Learnosity Voice with Irish language learners
  6. ^
  7. ^ The Le@rning Federation (TLF) MALL Project
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Stacey (2002), 17


As with Professional Organizations, resources that focus specifically on Mobile Assisted Language Learning are not common (check Augmented Reality Language Learning). We more often find resources that are primarily language learning websites with some space dedicated to technology in language learning and vice-versa.

  • Belanger, Y. "Duke University iPod first year experience final evaluation report".2005.
  • BJET - British Journal of Educational Technology (2008 vol. 39)
  • Brown, E. (Ed.) "Mobile learning explorations at Stanford Learning Lab."
  • Green, B.A.,Collier, K.J., & Evans, N. "Teaching tomorrow's class today:English by telephone and computer from Hawaii to Tonga." In L.E. Henrichsen (Ed.), Distance-;earning program (pp. 71–82). Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Language, Inc. 2001
  • IJEL - International Journal on e-Learning (Specific volumes dedicated to m-learning)
  • IRRODL - International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (2007 Vol. 8, No. 2)
  • JCAL - Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2003 vol. 19, 2005 vol. 21)
  • JISC - Joint Information Systems Committee. Multimedia learning with mobile phones. Innovative Practices with Elearning. Case studies: Anytime, any place Learning. 2005
  • Klopfer, Eric. "Augmented Learning: Research and Design of Mobile Educational Games." MIT Press, 2008.
  • Klopfer, E, Squire, K and Jenkins, H. "Environmental Detectives: PDAs as a window into a virtual simulated world." Proceedings of IEEE International Workshop on Wireless and Mobile Technologies in Education. Vaxjo, Sweden: IEEE Computer Society, 95-98 2002
  • Kululska-Hulme, Agnes. Traxler, John. "Mobile Learning: A Handbook For Educators and Trainers (The Open and Flexible Learning Series)." Routledge, 2005.
  • Language Learning & Technology - Language Learning & Technology is a refereed journal which began publication in July 1997. The journal seeks to disseminate research to foreign and second language educators in the US and around the world on issues related to technology and language education.
  • Menzies, David. "Duke University iPod First-Year Experience." Duke's University Center for Instructional Technology coordinated an evaluation of the academic use of iPod, drawing on course-level feedback; student and faculty focus groups; a broad survey of first-year students and faculty; and discussions and feedback among staff, administrators and important campus stakeholder groups. This evaluation focused on the feasibility and effectiveness of the iPod as a tool for faculty and student academic use. This report summarizes the main findings of this collaborative assessment effort.
  • Metcalf, David S. "mLearning: Mobile Learning and Performance in the Palm of Your Hand." HRD Press. 2006
  • mLearnopedia – By using the "search" function, you can enter "language learning" as an exact phrase and turn up some resources specific to MALL.
  • Samuels, J. "Wireless and handheld devices for language learning." Proceedings of the 19th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning, Madison, WI. 2003.
  • Stacey, E. (2002). "Learning links online: Establishing constructivist and collaborative learning environments." In S. McNamara and E. Stacey (Eds), Untangling the Web: Establishing Learning Links. Proceedings ASET Conference 2002. Melbourne, 7–10 July.
  • Twarong, L., & Pereszlenyi-Pinter, M. "Telephone-assisted language study and Ohio University: A report." The Modern Language Journal, 72, 426–434. 2006
  • Thornton, P., & Houser, C. "M-learning in transit." In P. Lewis (Ed.), The changing face of CALL(pp. 229–243). 2002
  • Thornton, P., & Houser, C. "Using mobile web and video phones in English language teaching: Projects with Japanese college students. " In B. Morrison, C. Green, & G. Motteram (Eds.), Directions in CALL: Experience, experiments & evaluation (pp. 207–224). 2003
  • Thornton, P., & Houser, C. "Using mobile phones in English Education in Japan." Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 21, 217–228. 2005
  • Nah, Ki-Chune. White, Peter. and Sussex, Roland. "The Potential of Using mobile Phone to Access the Internet for Learning EFL Listening Skills Within a Korean Context." ReCALL. 20 (3): 331-347 2008
  • Askraba, V. (2008). Mobile Assisted Language Learning and its Impact on Student Motivation and Acquisition. MNetComp Thesis. Monash University, Australia.
  • Wong, L.-H., Boticki, I., Sun, J., & Looi, C.-K. (2011). Improving the scaffolds of a mobile-assisted Chinese character forming game via a design-based research cycle. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(5), 1783–793. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2011.03.005
  • Wong, L.-H., Chin, C.-K., Tan, C.-L., & Liu, M. (2010). Students’ personal and social meaning making in a Chinese idiom mobile learning environment. Educational Technology & Society, 13(4), 15–26.