Information and Communications Technology
Modern Foreign Languages in the National Curriculum:
ome personal views
Graham Davies


Links checked 9 December 2011

1. ICT and Modern Foreign Languages in the National Curriculum

Languages in crisis

The introduction of the National Curriculum in 1992 made it compulsory for all secondary school children in England and Wales to study a Modern Foreign Language up to the age of 16, but little was done to encourage students to continue studying a Modern Foreign Language beyond the age of 16, with the result that the number of students taking an A-Level in a Modern Foreign Language declined alarmingly. As a result, university languages departments were forced to close due to lack of recruitment of suitably qualified candidates: see the report resulting from The Nuffield Languages Inquiry, Languages: the next generation (2000), which makes depressing reading.

A document with the title Languages for all: languages for life - a strategy for England was published by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) in December 2002. The document described two radical new initiatives:

The Languages for all document is peppered with references to ICT, which was perceived as playing a key role in the strategy, for example:

Some schools have made good use of ICT in addressing the crisis situation, but on the whole the use of ICT has made no perceivable difference. The latest major initiative is MYLO (My Languages Online), the official name of the Open School for Languages, as recommended in the Dearing Languages Review (2007). There is also a MYLO blog. Just under £6 million worth of funding was awarded to Lightbox Education, a subsidiary of RM, Oxfordshire, to set up MYLO. MYLO describes itself as a "new way to learn languages", but just how new is it? See the ICT4LT blog, 11 November 2010.

The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for Languages

The Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for Languages (also known simply as the CEF) is mentioned several times in the Languages for all document (see above), the government’s aim being to introduce a new voluntary recognition system to complement existing national qualifications frameworks and the CEFR. Bringing our examinations into line with the six CEFR levels is long overdue. Our continental cousins and EFL/ESOL examination boards in this country have been using the CEFR as a yardstick for many years. What I find most surprising is that the vacuous waffle used by government departments has not been shot down in flames long before now and replaced by the CEFR descriptors, especially the "can do" descriptors for the different levels and different skills, which are more precise and make much more sense to language teachers, to language learners and to the public at large. Language teachers have been too tolerant for too long in accepting the vagueness of "EduSpeak". Compare the following:

National Curriculum: Modern Foreign Languages

Level 4: Listening and responding

Pupils show that they understand the main points and some of the detail from spoken passages made up of familiar language in simple sentences. They may need some items to be repeated.

CEFR "can do" statements

A2 listening skills (2 "can do's" are listed here out of a list of 10)

As for the following descriptions of the NC Level 8 (= GCSE, = CEFR B1) I think this must be a joke. I have NEVER met anyone with a GCSE who can do the following:

Level 8: Listening and responding
Pupils show that they understand passages including some unfamiliar material and recognise attitudes and emotions. These passages include different types of spoken material from a range of sources. When listening to familiar and less familiar material, they draw inferences, and need little repetition.

Level 8: Speaking
Pupils narrate events, tell a story or relate the plot of a book or film and give their opinions. They justify their opinions and discuss facts, ideas and experiences. They use a range of vocabulary, structures and time references. They adapt language to deal with unprepared situations. They speak confidently, with good pronunciation and intonation. Their language is largely accurate, with few mistakes of any significance.

Level 8: Reading and responding
Pupils show that they understand texts including some unfamiliar material and recognise attitudes and emotions. These texts cover a wide variety of types of written material, including unfamiliar topics and more complex language. When reading for personal interest and for information, pupils consult a range of reference sources where appropriate.

Level 8: Writing
Pupils produce formal and informal texts in an appropriate style on familiar topics. They express and justify ideas, opinions or personal points of view and seek the views of others. They develop the content of what they have read, seen or heard. Their spelling and grammar are generally accurate. They use reference materials to extend their range of language and improve their accuracy.

See the Department for Education website, Modern Foreign Languages (MFL), Attainment Target Level Descriptions.

The people who wrote the Level 8 descriptions are clearly not living in the real world. The above describes what one might expect from a UK university graduate.

While many European countries have already adopted the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) as a standard for assessing language proficiency, the UK has been somewhat slow in recognising the importance of the CEFR. See the ICT4LT website, Module 4.1, Section 2.2, for more information on the CEFR.

However, progess is being made. Asset Languages is a new way of recognising achievement in foreign languages learning. The Asset Languages assessment scheme is designed to provide voluntary accreditation options for language learners of all ages and abilities, from primary school through to further, higher and adult education. Like the CEFR, Asset Languages offers sets of "can do" statements that describe what the learner is capable of doing in the different skills. The "can do" statements can be downloaded from the Asset Languages website in PDF format, e.g.

Writing Grade 3: (Stages 1-3 = Breakthrough Level = CEFR A1 = NQF Entry Level)
I can write a few short sentences with support using expressions which I have already learned.

Listening Grade 4: (Stages 4-6 = Preliminary Level = CEFR A2 = Foundation GCSE)
I can understand the main points and some of the detail from a short spoken passage.

Speaking Grade 5: (Stages 4-6 = Preliminary Level = CEFR A2 = Foundation GCSE)
I can give a short prepared talk, on a topic of my choice, including expressing my opinions.

Speaking Grade 6: (Stages 4-6 = Preliminary Level = CEFR A2 = Foundation GCSE)
I can give a short prepared talk, on a topic of my choice, expressing opinions and answering simple questions about it.

Reading Grade 7: (Stages 7-9 = Preliminary Level = CEFR B1 = Higher GCSE)
I can understand longer texts and recognise people's points of view.


A government document titled Towards a unified e-learning strategy was produced in July 2003. It referred to a number of different possible uses of ICT that are relevant to the teaching and learning of Modern Foreign Languages, e.g.

In the meantime little has been heard about the e-learning strategy.


There used to be a few links and bits of advice relating to Modern Foreign Languages at BECTA's website, but BECTA began to become less interested in pedagogy, finally focusing on technology rather than pedagogy. Better resources are available elsewhere. BECTA was finally closed down in January 2011.

National Curriculum statutory requirements

In an earlier version of this document I was very critical of the National Curriculum (NC), in particular the vagueness of ICT in general and the lack of information about ICT in the context of Modern Foreign Languages. Important changes have now taken place, and the latest version of the NC is more specific - but it still has enormous shortcomings. Language teachers in England who are already in service can no longer avoid ICT. Here's the message from the horse's mouth under the heading Use of ICT at the Department for Education website:

Pupils should be given opportunities to apply and develop their ICT capability through the use of ICT tools to support their learning in all subjects. At Key Stage 1, it is statutory to teach the use of ICT in English, mathematics and science. Teachers should use their own judgement to decide where it is appropriate across these subjects. At other key stages, there are statutory requirements to use ICT in all statutory subjects, except PE. Pupils should be given opportunities to support their work by being taught to:

Think carefully about this. You are not only expected to be familiar with the basics of ICT but you are also expected to apply ICT in your subject area. In other words, you are helping the staff of the ICT department to do their jobs. Let's suppose that the above statement read as follows:

As a general requirement, teachers should provide pupils with opportunities to apply and develop their Modern Foreign Languages capability in all subjects. For each subject, these translate into specific, statutory requirements to use Modern Foreign Languages in subject teaching.

Is this unreasonable? Not really, given the right circumstances. This is what happens in bilingual schools all over the world - and the outcomes are probably more useful. Anyway, we are stuck the the government's requirement for the time being - although I think it needs questioning in view of the millions of pounds that are currently being squandered on ICT in education at the expense of other subject areas, e.g. £230 million spent on the NOF training initiative (which was regarded by OFSTED and many teachers who received NOF training as a failed initiative), the 9 million pounds per year (2004 figure) spent by the government maintaining education websites, e.g. the under-used NGfL website (now defunct) and the Curriculum Online website (now defunct), the E-Strategy initiative (now defunct), and the disaster of the UK E-University (UKEU) which collapsed spectacularly in June 2004.

Here's what the National Curriculum says about ways in which pupils can make use of ICT in learning a foreign language:

Developing language skills
2h: techniques for skimming and for scanning written texts for information, including those from ICT-based sources;
2j: how to redraft their writing to improve its accuracy and presentation, including the use of ICT.

Developing cultural awareness
4a: working with authentic materials in the target language, including some from ICT-based sources [for example, handwritten texts, newspapers, magazines, books, video, satellite television, texts from the Internet].

Breadth of study
5d: producing and responding to different types of spoken and written language, including texts produced using ICT;
5e: using a range of resources, including ICT, for accessing and communicating information.

The following are mentioned under the heading ICT opportunities:

Pupils should be given the opportunities to apply and develop their ICT capability through the use of ICT tools to support their learning. Here are the opportunities to use ICT in the Modern Foreign Languages programme of study:

Key stages 3 and 4
4b: communicating with native speakers (for example, in person, by correspondence) Pupils could communicate by e-mail with speakers of the target language, including those in more distant countries.

Breadth of study
5h: Pupils should be taught the knowledge, skills and understanding through using the target language for real purposes (for example, by sending and receiving messages by telephone, letter, fax or e-mail).

OK, there's nothing revolutionary here, but that's fairly typical of the National Curriculum, which - to use the jargon contained in NC documents - is mainly about content, standards, entitlement, inclusion, learning opportunities and attainment targets. It appears that the sections referring to ICT in the context of Modern Foreign Languages have not been written by Modern Foreign Languages/ICT specialists, otherwise they would have included references - even in general terms - to a wider and more relevant range of software applications, such as those mentioned below in Section 3. And, of course, there's no mention of CALL software - because the NC is more concerned with outcomes rather than innovative ways of teaching. It is quite clear that Modern Foreign Languages/ICT is a subject area that the bureaucrats who drew up the National Curriculum simply don't understand. I had a look at other subject areas to see if the NC had more interesting things to say about ICT and how it might be applied to Art and Design, Music and Geography. It fared slightly better, but not a lot.

ICT and Modern Foreign Languages in Europe as a whole

Regarding the situation in Europe as a whole, see:

2. Training in ICT for language teachers

The importance of training

The key to making good use of ICT in Modern Foreign Languages teaching is training. The following statement appeared at the Training and Development Agency for Schools website (formerly the website of the Teacher Training Agency):

ICT is more than just another teaching tool. BECTA’s ImpaCT2 (2002) study indicates that it has the potential to improve the quality and standard of pupils' education. Equally, its potential is considerable for supporting teachers, both in their everyday classroom role, for example by reducing the time occupied by the administration associated with it, and in their continuing training and development. ICT is an integral part of the initial teacher training standards “Qualifying to Teach”.

See Davies G. (2002) "ICT and Modern Foreign Languages: learning opportunities and training needs", International Journal of English Studies, Monograph Issue 2, 1: New Trends in Computer Assisted Language Learning and Teaching, edited by Pascual Pérez Paredes & Pascual Cantos Gómez, Servicio de Publicaciones, Universidad de Murcia, Spain. Also at

New Opportunities Fund (NOF)

This was an initiative at national level in the UK whereby £230 million of National Lottery money was channelled into the delivery of training in ICT for teachers: New Opportunities Fund or NOF for short - no, it doesn't stand for "Not Our Fault" :-)) The initiative included the delivery of INSET courses at selected venues all over the UK. Teachers wishing to take advantage of the NOF initiative had to use the services of a training services provider approved by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (formerly known as the Teacher Training Agency). My personal view - and the view of many others - is that this was unnecessarily restrictive, and TTA approval was, according to many reports I have received and read, not a guarantee of quality. I write as an experienced Modern Foreign Languages/ICT trainer who has also contributed to NOF training courses.

The Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) produced a report in April 2002 on the UK government's strategy to boost the application of ICT in teaching and learning: ICT in schools: effect of government initiatives.

The report makes important observations on the use of ICT in schools, including a number of successful case studies, but it is generally critical of the NOF training initiative:

NOF training remains unsatisfactory in its overall effect. [...] Training materials for specific subjects at secondary level have often failed to excite teachers. In many secondary schools, the programme has simply ground to a halt. (p.3)

The most alarming finding contained in the report is that, in spite of the substantial investment in NOF training, it was effective only in a quarter of secondary schools and one third of primary schools:

Training funded by the NOF has been effective in a quarter of secondary departments and a third of primary schools. In around six out of every ten secondary departments and half of the ten primaries, the scheme has so far failed to build on teachers’ ICT skills or enable them to tackle pedagogical issues adequately. In a minority of schools, the scheme has acted as a catalyst for improvement. (p.22)

These are overall figures. The situation with regard to Modern Foreign Languages is no better. Another OFSTED report (June 2002), titled ICT in schools: effect of government initiatives (secondary Modern Foreign Languages), states:

In many schools it is too early to evaluate the effect on pupils’ achievement, as the increase in opportunities to use ICT in Modern Foreign Languages is very recent and the ability to use a foreign language effectively has to be built up over sustained periods of time. Where evidence is available, there has been little or no effect so far in about one school in four. (p.7)

The April 2002 OFSTED report, to which I refer above, does have some positive things to say about training. Training can be effective if the conditions are right, for example:

Several reasons are cited for the failure of training to make a significant impact (pp.22-26), for example:

One of the reasons why NOF failed is that many teachers could not make sense of the "professional tasks" that they were supposed to carry out in order to gain their certificate, and the relevance of some of the tasks was somewhat dubious. "NOF-Speak" tended to confuse rather than enlighten. For example, what is an Modern Foreign Languages teacher supposed to make of the following task?

Discuss, draw up and agree with a class an explicit set of rules to ensure that group decisions made round the computer are shared and based on reasons and evidence.

Not one of my Modern Foreign Languages trainees was able to determine what was required here. My training materials try to make things clearer:

It was assumed from the outset that NOF training should target teachers who had already reached a level of general competence in ICT, which should have been provided by their school, local education authority or some other training services provider - but, in many cases, it is clear that this simply did not happen, and NOF trainers found themselves having to teach basic ICT skills, such as finding one's way around Windows and using a word-processor. NOF training was supposed to be subject-specific, building upon basic ICT skills, but most training providers clearly did not adhere to this requirement and just delivered generic training with subject-specific training as an add-on. NOF tasks were geared far too much towards generic and Web-based materials so that, for example, it was possible for a Modern Foreign Languages teacher to gain a NOF certificate without having had any experience of multimedia CD-ROMs. The root of the problem was highlighted in the June 2002 OFSTED report, to which I refer above:

Undoubtedly some MFL teachers have developed greatly both their confidence and competence as a result of NOF-funded training, but reactions to the training by teachers of Modern Foreign Languages are frequently critical. The shortcomings most often identified are that providers offer insufficient subject-specific exemplification and training lacks an appropriate focus for Modern Foreign Languages specialists. Some providers have potentially useful materials which are ineffective because, unless there is considerable ICT expertise and support already within the department, they are not user-friendly for the uninitiated and subject-specific external mentoring to follow up training is not always available. (p.8)

This is where ICT4LT comes in...

The ICT for Language Teachers (ICT4LT) project

The ICT for Language Teachers (ICT4LT) project was initiated in 1999-2000 with the help of funding provided under the Socrates Programme of the Commission of the European Communities, with the aim of designing and delivering a Web-based course in Information and Communications Technology for Language Teachers.

The ICT4LT website contains a large collection of ICT materials specifically designed for language teachers. The materials have been written by an experienced international team of practising teachers and teacher trainers, including several Modern Foreign Languages/ICT trainers. The website is continually undergoing development and expansion and it now has an associated ICT4LT blog. Access to the website and blog is free of charge.

New contributions to the ICT4LT website are welcomed. Authorship is always acknowledged. Use the feedback form at the ICT4LT website to obtain further information.

The TALLENT project

The ICT for Language Teachers (ICT4LT) project was closely associated with another Socrates-funded training project known as TALLENT (1998-1999), which was coordinated by the University of Limerick, Ireland. The main aim of the TALLENT project was to deliver intensive, hands-on training courses in ICT for language teachers at selected universities in the European Union. The first course took place in July 2000 at the University of Limerick, Ireland. The project is now defunct but some important lessons were learned: see Jeannette Littlemore's report on the TALLENT course delivered in Birmingham in 2001: Littlemore, J. (2002) "Setting up a course in ICT for Language Teachers: some essential considerations", CALL-EJ Online, 4 (1).

3. Software for ICT and Modern Foreign Languages

Software has become highly specialised in recent years - too specialised to be handled by ICT specialists alone - and it's clear from Section 1 and Section 2 in this document that the bureaucrats who drew up the National Curriculum have a long way to go before they understand what ICT is all about in the context of Modern Foreign Languages.

There is a wealth of information available, and there is an international professional association devoted to ICT and Modern Foreign Languages: EUROCALL. The ICT4LT website has already been mentioned. See also:

As a first step in ICT, the Modern Foreign Languages teacher probably needs to tap the skills of the school's ICT coordinator, who can offer training on the Windows operating system and essential generic software, e.g. word-processors, Web browsers and email software. The ICT4LT website contains a set of "can do" lists relating to Windows, essential generic software, and a range of other applications that have been selected according to their usefulness for teaching Modern Foreign Languages. The "can do" lists have been designed for:

The lists can be accessed and downloaded in Word format by clicking here:

Once teachers of Modern Foreign Languages become familiar with generic software they should call the shots in determining how ICT is taught in the context of the Modern Foreign Languages classroom. It is highly unlikely that an ICT specialist has heard of some of the packages that a Modern Foreign Languages teacher might find useful. How many ICT coordinators know, for example, about proofing tools, dictionaries, concordancers, translation software, sound-editing software - or CALL software? All of these packages should, I believe, be treated as "mainstream" applications in the context of Modern Foreign Languages.

Perhaps teachers of Modern Foreign Languages need to shout a bit louder, letting the ICT specialists know what is or is not relevant to learning and teaching modern languages - and also to the languages professions, where there are now excellent job opportunities for young people who are fluent in a foreign language and ICT-literate, e.g. in the "software localisation" and "teleservices" industries. The airline industries are also important employers of young people with Modern Foreign Languages skills: v. the Airline Talk project. Airline Talk was an EU Leonardo-funded project, coordinated by Thames Valley University in 1997-2001 and aimed at people employed in the airline industry. The outcome of the project was a set of language-training CD-ROMs in five languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian. Unfortunately, due to lacka of funding, the CD-ROMs have not been updated since the completion of the project and are no longer available.

So, what kinds of software will the language teacher find useful? As a linguist who uses ICT software on a daily basis for several hours per day, I have drawn up the following shortlist of packages. These are representative of the different kinds of software packages that I believe teachers of Modern Foreign Languages might find useful in delivering the National Curriculum. Some of the packages listed below are generic, i.e. they can be used right across the curriculum. Other packages are specific to Modern Foreign Languages, e.g. concordancers, translation software and CALL software.


Absolutely indispensable. I couldn’t live without a word-processor. I use Microsoft Word for almost everything that I write. Word-processors are undoubtedly a useful tool for the language teacher and language learner, but they need to be used imaginatively: The OFSTED Report (June 2002), ICT in schools: effect of government initiatives (secondary Modern Foreign Languages), highlights the problem:

The creative uses of ICT in Modern Foreign Languages are still underdeveloped, with few teachers seeing the full possibilities of word-processing for manipulation of language and drafting, so that word-processing is too often seen as simply a tool for ‘copying up’. (p. 4)

For ideas on using word-processors in the Modern Foreign Languages classroom, have a look at:

Communications software: the Internet

My gateway to the world. I couldn’t do without my email software and the Internet Explorer browser. I also use Dreamweaver (a super Web authoring tool) for creating and maintaining two websites:

I use John Junod's WS-FTP program for sending pages to the various servers where the sites are located.

I use WinZip for compressing files for transmission via email and the same package for decompressing files sent to me. In addition, I have a variety of other packages for handling text, sound and video.

Regarding the use of foreign languages on the Internet, students need to be aware of the more abbreviated and casual style of email communication. I downloaded the following exchange from the francophone section a discussion list. Note the use of the asterisks to identify the term under discussion and the "double-smiley" at the end.

A. Le *sapin vert* est un desodorisant cheap pour voiture: une petite plaquette en forme de sapin, et qui ne sent pas tres bon.
B. Bon, voyons donc... Pour ce qui est de "cheap", tu n’y est pas du tout! Pour la "forme de sapin" non plus! Mais pour la senteur, tu es proche :-))

Canadian French, of course. Canadians usually leave out the accents!

Have a look at the following modules at the ICT4LT website:

Finally, have a look at my own collection of links: Favourite Websites.

Desktop Publishing (DTP) software: Pagemaker

I have a strong view that amateurs should leave DTP alone, as DTP packages in the hands of the unqualified usually result in ghastly presentations, and the complexity of such packages can lead to an inordinate amount of time being spent on learning how to use the package rather than making sensible use of it in a Modern Foreign Languages context. Modern word-processors are good enough for the amateur - and even for the professional. DTP packages are really the province of art and design departments, which should know how to use them, and they could collaborate with Modern Foreign Languages departments in producing foreign-language newsletters. Although I dabble in DTP, I generally leave this to my daughter Siân, who specialised in graphic design - including DTP - at art college and now manages her own design business: MDM Creative. I use Pagemaker.

Database software: Access

I use database software only to keep lists of addresses, bibliographies, etc, which are indispensable for my business activities. Access is the package that I use on a regular basis. I personally regard database software as a very peripheral tool for the language teacher. The effort required to get to grips with Access is out of proportion to the likely benefits that the language teacher might derive from using such a tool.

Spreadsheets: Excel

I use Excel almost exclusively for handling my personal accounts and my business accounts and sorting out my bank statements and income tax. Spreadsheets have little direct relevance to language teaching and learning, although language teachers should find them useful for adding up marks, calculating averages, etc - which features in Module 4.1, Computer Aided Assessment (CAA) and language learning, at the ICT4LT website:

I have used Excel to create vocabulary lists, as column manipulation is more flexible in a spreadsheet than in a word-processor.

Proofing tools

Proofing tools usually consist of the following packages:

Spellcheckers: Indispensable, but students need to be made aware of their limitations, e.g. the fact that (a) they are not context-sensitive and cannot distinguish between there and their, and c’est and s’est; (b) proper names, certain compound words and neologisms have to be added to the spellchecker’s dictionaries.

Thesauruses: Useful as a memory-jogger. There is a danger, however, that the lack of context in most thesauruses will lead to students using inappropriate words. Thesauruses are best used in conjunction with a concordancer and an authentic corpus (see below).

Grammar/style checkers: I use a grammar/style checker only to identify the long rambling sentences I tend to write. Otherwise I don’t rate grammar/style checkers highly, because they cannot parse natural language correctly and are not context-sensitive. One of my research students, Yu Hong Wei, conducted an experiment for her PhD thesis in which she established that a well-known English-language grammar/style checker was 80% unreliable in identifying errors in authentic students’ essays. It missed the worst howlers and marked a large number of acceptable sentences as "wrong". It is good to expose students to grammar/style checkers to reinforce the point that only human beings are capable of handling grammar and style and that ICT is strictly limited in this area: v. Yu Hong Wei and Davies G. (1997) "Do grammar checkers work?" in Kohn J., Rüschoff B. & Wolff D. (eds.) New horizons in CALL: proceedings of EUROCALL 96, Dániel Berzsenyi College, Szombathely, Hungary.


Electronic dictionaries are useful mainly as memory-joggers and should be used in conjunction with a concordancer or a context dictionary. There are some very good online dictionaries. See the entry under Dictionaries and Encyclopaedias on my Favourite Websites page.


I use encyclopaedias not only for checking facts but also as corpora. The search facilities provided by most encyclopaedias enable examples of words in context to be found very quickly. I am a great fan of Wikipedia, which is available in many different languages. Wikipedia is a free-content encyclopedia on the Web that anyone can edit - yes, anyone, which is both its strength and its weakness. While Wikipedia covers an enormous range of subjects in different languages there is no guarantee that what you read is accurate, as the content can be added to or amended by any member of the public, and there is no indication of the authorship or the authors' credentials. On the one hand this can be perceived as a wonderful example of collaborative writing, but on the other hand it can be perceived as a golden opportunity for the propagation of oddball ideas and self-promotion. See the entry under Dictionaries and Encyclopaedias on my Favourite Websites page.


Concordancers are extremely valuable tools for the Modern Foreign Languages teacher. For example:

And if anyone tries to tell you that this sounds like the sort of work that goes on only at university level, don't believe them! Secondary school children are quite capable of making intelligent use of concordancers.

Concordancers are also used extensively for creating glossaries and dictionaries - a useful task for Modern Foreign Languages learners. I use a concordancer to check my own writing style. It picks up my over-frequent use of certain words and is also helpful when used in conjunction with a thesaurus. A thesaurus never gives you enough authentic examples of usage to tell you how to use a word with which you are unfamiliar, but a concordancer does - providing you have a decent corpus of authentic texts (which you can buy or download from the Internet). Curiously, they tend to be used rarely by teachers of Modern Foreign Languages but are well established in the EFL profession - which is usually light-years ahead in language teaching methodology. My personal favourite concordancer is Athelstan’s MonoConc.

Using concordancers is an essential part of Corpus Linguistics. If you don’t know much about Corpus Linguistics then have a look at Module 3.4, Corpus linguistics, at the ICT4LT website: See also Module 2.4, Using concordance programs in the Modern Foreign Languages classroom:

Translation software

Teachers of Modern Foreign Languages, in my experience, tend not to be aware of the opportunities offered to students wishing to follow a career in translating, and they are even less aware of how ICT has revolutionised the translation industry. Unfortunately, "translation" has become a dirty word in recent years, but translating - alongside interpreting - is one of the most demanded skills in the language professions, and demand has increased in leaps and bounds as the European Union has expanded.

Knowing how to use a word-processor, an electronic dictionary and communications software is essential for translators, but there are lots of other useful tools. Professional translators may use translation memory packages. See Module 3.5, Human Language Technologies, at the ICT4LT website:

Google Translate is the most popular online translation tool, but but it cannot replace the human translator. Language students need to be made aware of this, and the language teacher may consider using such a package in order to demonstrate what can go wrong and why. Google Translate is not that bad, however; its translations are half-intelligible, and it can certainly let you know whether a text is worth having translated properly - which is the way in which the long-established Systran package was originally used to process documents in Russian that had been captured by spies at the height of the Cold War. See the ICT4LT blog (November 2011), Google Translate: friend or foe?

I have used programs like Google Translate with my students, in order to:

Sound-editing software

See the Module 2.2, Introduction to multimedia CALL, at the ICT4LT website: This module contains a comprehensive section (Section 2.2) on software used in playing back and editing sound. Audacity, which is available free of charge, is the most popular sound-editing package. Creating and editing sound files is not just a job for teachers. Students can learn a good deal about natural language by using such tools and incorporating sound recordings into blogs, wikis and podcasts - see Section 3.5 of Module 2.3 at the ICT4LT website:

Anti-virus software and firewalls

Everyone who uses a computer should install anti-virus software - also known as a virus scanner - on their system and update it daily. A virus is a nasty program devised by a clever programmer, usually with malicious intent. Viruses can be highly contagious, finding their way on to your computer's hard drive without your being aware of it and causing considerable damage to the software and data stored on it. Viruses can be sent to you in files attached to email messages and they can also emanate from websites. If you use email, surf the Web or use software emanating from a source other than your own computer, make sure that your anti-virus software is up-to-date. I use Avast! and AVG.

You should also install a firewall on your computer. A firewall is a piece of software that sits between your PC and your Internet connection, keeping an eye on the traffic going to and fro. If anything suspect appears, such as an unauthorised attempt from a remote computer to write information to your hard disk or to send information from your PC to a remote computer, it will block it and warn you. Firewalls have become essential these days due to the frequent attempts being made by hackers to grab information from computers all around the world, e.g. your bank or credit card details, which may be stored in a file somewhere on your PC. Any PC is vulnerable while it is connected to the Internet. If you access the Internet via a computer in a public or commercial organisation your ICT services department has probably installed a firewall, but if you access the Internet via a privately owned PC then you must install your own firewall.

See my Cautionary Tale.

CALL software

Last but not least, CALL software should not be overlooked by the Modern Foreign Languages teacher. See:


BECTA (2002) ImpaCT2: The impact of Information and Communication Technologies on pupil learning and attainment, Coventry, BECTA.

BECTA (2004) What the research says about using ICT in Modern Foreign Languages, Coventry, BECTA.

Council of Europe (2001) Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, downloadable from:

Department for Education and Skills (2002) Languages for all: languages for life - a strategy for England.

Department for Education and Skills (2003) Keystage 3 Framework for Teaching Modern Foreign Languages: Years 7, 8 and 9.

The Nuffield Languages Inquiry (1998- 2000) Languages: the next generation (2000), London: The Nuffield Foundation.

OFSTED (2002) ICT in schools: effect of government initiatives, Report, April 2002. See the OFSTED website,

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