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Evaluating Software Programs

Since the mid 1990s, access to a variety of technologies has become more widespread in adult ESL programs throughout the United States. As technologies themselves were being transformed from Language Master machines, cassettes, and Polaroid cameras, to CDs, digital cameras, and faster, more powerful computers, and instant access to the Internet, ideas about what instructional approaches were appropriate for adult English language learners also expanded and diversified. Currently, immigrants have been moving to areas of the the country that previously had not had large populations of immigrants. Particularly in rural areas, or urban areas where there is no infrastructure developed for serving ESL, these technologies hold promise as ways to help serve a burgeoning need. For more background information about technology see:

CAELA FAQ # Fifteen, "How can I incorporate technology into my instructional practice?"

Benefits and Challenges in Using Computers and Benefits with Adult English Language Learners
. Lynda Terrill (Web document, 2000)

Using Software in the Adult ESL Classroom. Susan Gaer (1998, ERIC Digest)

Other CAELA publications related to technology and adult ESL include:

Video-Based Distance Education for Adult English Language Learners. Syliva Ramirez & K. Lynn Savage (2003, ERIC Brief)

Finding and Evaluating Adult ESL Resources on the World Wide Web
. MaryAnn Cunningham Florez (2000, ERIC Q & A)

Online Professional Development for Adult ESL Educators. William B. Hawk (2000, ERIC Q & A)

Using Video with Adult English Language Learners. Miriam Burt (1999, ERIC Digest)

Using the World Wide Web with Adult ESL Learners. Kathleen Flannery Silc (1998, ERIC Digest)

About Software Programs

Many--if not most--programs working with adult English language learners now have at least some computer access for students. At the same time, software programs have proliferated so much that there is a bewildering array of materials claiming to help adults (and children) learn English.It is challenging for teachers and programs to decide what might be most useful for the learners with whom they work. Before deciding what software programs will work for a particular class or tutoring situation there are a few general questions that need to be answered:

  • How well will this software program work within the context of the class to further the goals of learners?

    Does this software program incorporate the multimedia aspects of computers or could the lesson work as well or better as another kind of class activity?

  • How well can this software program be integrated within the curriculum and the social and communicative aspects of the class?

After these questions have been answered, the following information may serve as a guide for whether or not to purchase a specific software program. Whenever possible, try to acquire a complete form of the program that can be tried out for free or returned for a full refund--not a demo. Demo disks or CDs typically show just a portion of the program or contain marketing material that obscures what the program actually does. Ideally, learners themselves should have the opportunity to review and comment on the software programs.

Click here for a .pdf copy of the guidelines.

Software Evaluation Guidelines

Software Program Title: Publisher/Source: Software Type (drill and practice, problem-solving, courseware, simulation/games, etc: System Requirements: Price:

Specific Questions:

  • Is the program compatible with your computers and/or network?

    Is technical assistance readily available via phone or email?

    Is an informative and comprehensible guide provided with the software program?

    Does the program encourage communicative practice and cooperative learning?

    What skill areas does the software address: Listening, speaking, reading, writing, pronunciation?

    What kind of activity is the program presenting: Writing practice, reading comprehension, vocabulary development, pronunciation practice? Does the software offer a variety of activities?

    What levels of proficiency is the program designed for?

    Are the interface, navigation, and the directions clear and logical?

    Are the vocabulary and cultural assumptions--in the directions as well as the program--likely to be understood by English language learners?

    Does the software program assess learner progress in the skill the learner is working on? For example, if a pronunciation program only requires a learner to repeat a word or phrase and then compare with the program, there is no information about whether or not the learner is benefiting from the activity.

    Does the software program allow the teacher to author her own lessons tailored to the needs of the class or individual learners?

    Do the individual program lessons fit within the time constraints of class or lab sessions so that a learner can finish a lesson in one sitting?

  • Are there supplementary materials included for class or homework follow-up?

ESL Software Programs

There are many Web sites that describe, advertise, and sell software programs that may (or may not) be appropriate for use with adult English language learners. There are also several Web sites which review the software. A word of caution about both: Check the date the site to see if you are obtaining current information

ESL Software Contact Information

Software Evaluation Web Sites

CAELA Software Picks

ESL Software Contact Information

This list was adapted from the REEP ESL Curriculum for Adults available at

Software Evaluation Web Sites

CAELA Software Picks

The partial software listing (above) shows the variety of software that is available for adult English language learners who,themselves, may have widely divergent preferences, goals, and abilities. Nonetheless, several programs are perennial favorites of learners and teachers. Two of these, Oxford Picture Dictionary and Focus on Grammar are reviewed below along with a new (2003) software program, Longman English Interactive. If teachers or lab instructors want to share information about a software program that works well with adult English language learners in your program and you would like to review it using NCLE guidelines (see above), please contact Lynda Terrill.

  • The Oxford Picture Dictionary Interactive CD-ROM serves a similar function as the print dictionaries: Learners want to know as many English words as possible. The CD is organized in easily understood categories that are easy to access. Also, like the print versions of the dictionary, the interface is friendly, and not overtly childish. Why use the CD instead of the book alone? There are a variety of exercises available, using a CD gives learners more of a chance to access the vocabulary on their own terms and in their own time than a class activity might, and, finally, and most importantly research (De la Fuente, 2002) suggests that interacting with vocabulary in many ways can assist the language acquisition process. Although there are many appropriate software programs for intermediate learners, there are still many fewer for beginning level learners, so Oxford Picture Dictionary Interactive is a welcome addition to classroom or lab.

    Focus on Grammar CD-ROM comes in four levels: Basic, intermediate,high-intermediate, and advanced which mirror the levels in the Focus on Grammar book series by the same name, which are supported by companion Web sites available from the Longman index page. This software program is very popular with teachers and learners. Teachers are pleased that the the reading, speaking, and listening is placed in a clear context, and that navigation is logical and easy. Learners like the easy access to grammar charts and information. Both teachers and learners like the emphasis on listening practice. This software program exemplifies the necessity of checking the software before presenting it to learners to see if the level and content are appropriate. For example, despite its name, the Basic level CD of Focus on Grammar is more suitable for high-beginning or low-intermediate learners than literacy or beginning level learners.

  • Longman English Interactive is available in four levels: Beginner, High-Beginner, Intermediate, and High-Intermediate. To varying degrees, English Interactive includes listening, speaking, reading, vocabulary, and writing activities. Published in 2003, this software benefits from the mistakes made by earlier software programs, and from more powerful and sophisticated computer technology by avoiding such pitfalls as unclear navigation or hard to run multimedia. The contents of each lesson are easy to find and access. Video and audio components are easy to use. Language used for giving directions and in some activities may be too academic or teacher oriented for some learners (e.g using phrases such as "wh-questions").