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Teaching English with Technology , 15(2), 94-105, http://www.tewtiournal.org 


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SIGNIFICANCE OF SOCIAL APPLICATIONS ON A MOBILE PHONE 
FOR ENGLISH TASK-BASED LANGUAGE LEARNING 
by Anmol Ahmad & Fizza Farrukh 

COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, 

Virtual Campus, Park Rd ‘Islamabad 45550, Pakistan 
anmol @ vcomsats.edu.pk, fizza @ vcomsats.edu.pk 


Abstract 

The utter importance of knowing the English language cannot be denied today. Despite the 
existence of traditional methods for teaching a language in schools, a big number of children 
are left without the requisite knowledge of English as a result of which they fail to compete 
in the modern world. With English being a Lingua Franca, more efforts are mandatory to 
foster the English language learning abilities. This can be achieved by improving the 
traditional method of teaching by providing alternative means to ameliorate the effort. 

Keeping these aspects in view, research is being conducted to evaluate the performance of 
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) and MALL (Mobile Assisted Language Learning) to 
teach a language. However, this particular research will bring into the limelight a set of social 
networking applications commonly found in a mobile phone, which can serve as potential 
English Language Learning tools, due to the versatility of their features. Keeping in view the 
theories of Mastery Learning, Operant Conditioning, Sense of Community and Task-Based 
Teaching Principles, the social networking applications will be assessed. Therefore, this 
descriptive research aims to bring awareness on how the applications can be utilized to 
enhance task-based learning of English Language. 

Keywords: Mobile applications, language learning, MALL, English language 

1. Introduction 

There are numerous examples of educational institutions attempting to encourage the idea of 
integrating technology with task-based learning. For instance, iPods were provided to first 
year students at Duke University in 2004; the facility of free downloadable lectures was given 
to all those students who purchased the iRiver technology in Korea (Chinnery, 2006). Besides 
these devices, there are many other media considered useful by research scholars (Zhao, 
2005; Salaberry, 2001) for instance, television, DVD players, digital dictionaries as well as 
mobile phones. In particular, the latter offer a range of opportunities to share and exchange 
information thanks to the myriad of options and specifications available through applications 
(Falaki et al., 2010). 



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The use of mobile phones has also been introduced in education, and in particular for 
language learning, leading to the development of Mobile Assisted Language Learning 
(MALL). Scholars have, however, debated on the effectiveness of MALL, showing slight 
distrust towards these technologies when compared to the traditional teaching system (Beatty, 
2003), or advocating that MALL is changing the landscape of former learning processes, 
making these spontaneous, informal, personalized and ubiquitous (Miangah & Nezarat, 2012). 
According to Gay et al. (2001), mobile phones are not intended to be seen as replacements for 
regular teaching and learning, rather they are considered as sources that could efficiently aid 
in accelerating the process of English language learning. Kukulska-Hulme (2009: 163) points 
out that: “if language learners’ preferences and needs can be allowed to have a bearing on 
what is learnt and how, mobile technologies have a clear role to play in realizing such an 
objective”. 

Keeping in view the literature which highlights an ample amount of research 
conducted on the impact of using social networks, like Facebook, Twitter and LiveMocha, to 
enhance English language learning, this article focuses on the importance of what can be 
defined Application Assisted Language Learning (APALL). Basically, APALL can engage 
learners in tasks which are technologically generated with the support of mobile phones, and, 
in particular, with phones which are based on Android, iOS or Windows operating systems via 
the use of various application software. APALL can then be considered as a sub-branch of 
MALL, which covers all the basic areas of mobile learning, including the use of SMS, 
camera, voice recording in general. Given the modem technological advancements in 
software development for smart phones, it is important, however, to consider APALL as a new 
field in its own right. While mobile phone applications are developed for daily interactive 
communication, their use in task-based language learning can meet the needs of current 
learners who are used to handling technological tools. APALL can, therefore, engage learners 
in a variety of interesting and enjoyable tasks beyond the traditional use of textbooks. As 
these applications provide the advantages of flexibility, low cost and user-friendliness, it is 
important to understand how they can be adopted for different pedagogical purposes to foster 
English task-based learning. 

In this light, the aim of the current paper is to focus on the pedagogical adoption of 
mobile phone social applications commonly used by learners in their daily activities from a 
task-oriented approach to APALL. 



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2. The theoretical framework of MALL 

With the rapid growth in mobile phone technologies and increase in the number of its users, 
technological practices have become more and more sophisticated. With this evolution, 
education has also transformed itself in order to become adapted to the newer trends 
(Miangah & Nazarat, 2012; Chinnery, 2006). For this purpose, it is highly significant for 
modem day teachers to have a complete awareness of the various technologies, software and 
applications that are currently trending in the market. They also need to creatively think how 
to utilize them to enhance the learning experience of their students. 

The field of MALL (Mobile Assisted Language Learning) has been amply researched 
(Kiernan & Aizwa, 2004). For instance, research has been conducted on special intelligent 
systems that are designated to teach different language skills to learners (Huang et al., 2012; 
Chang & Hsu, 2011; Chen & Chang, 2011; Chenget al., 2010). Further on, such frameworks 
as the Dual Coding Theory (Paivio, 1971) or the Technology Acceptance Model (Davis, 1989) 
appear to support the principles of MALL. Other studies have investigated learner attitudes 
towards technological-based teaching and found positive responses (Hsu, 2012; Cheng et al., 
2010; Rosell-Aguilar, 2007). 

This paper argues that the Mastery Learning Theory, Sense of Community, Online 
Sense of Community and Task-Based Language teaching principles appropriately corroborate 
the significance of mobile applications for English language teaching and learning. 

According to Mastery Learning Theory, which is based on the Operant Conditioning 
Theory of Behaviour (Bloom, 1964), mastery is achieved provided requisite and ideal 
conditions cum circumstances are being given to young learners. Emphasis is on mastery 
rather than on mere learning, irrespective of the time consumed to achieve expertise. 
Instructors, thus, provide learners with individual and personalized corrective feedback, 
ensuring they develop awareness of their mistakes. Mobile applications can easily support this 
learning process as instructors can go online, listen to or read students’ messages and respond 
in real time. Distance between a teacher and single learners which occurs in traditional face- 
to-face interaction is thus narrowed thanks to the adoption of mobile applications. 

On the other hand, the Sense of Community Theory (McMillan & Chavis, 1986) 
acknowledges that all individuals identify themselves and perform their roles in relation to 
one another. They have a psychological sense of community, be it territorial or relational. This 
element of unity and working as a social online group can be used for various pragmatic and 
pedagogical outcomes. By taking this theory further, Rovai and Jordan (2004) argue that if 
this sense or feeling of community results in a better flow of information and cooperation, it 



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can also be used for online pedagogical purposes. The Online Sense of Community Theory, 
thus, emphasizes the development of this sense of belonging within virtual environments of 
learning, where participants and learners’ interactions and mutual trust are fostered as a result 
of this practice. Mobile applications can again easily contribute to building an online sense of 
community where a task-oriented approach to learning is adopted. Following the seven 
principles of task-based language teaching introduced to evaluate teaching materials and tools 
(Nunan, 2004), it is further possible to objectively assess mobile applications and their 
potential in language learning. These can be summarized as follows: 

1. Scaffolding: this principle implies that learners should be guided by the instructor on 
how and what to do within supportive frameworks. 

2. Task Dependency, this denotes that one task should lead to another so that the 
sequence tells a “pedagogical story” (Nunan, 2007: 35). 

3. Recycling : this principle explains the importance of repeating an item again for 
learners to gain full mastery over it and also to depict whether they have really 
understood it or not. 

4. Active Learning : Learners need to be provided with maximum opportunities to 
practically use the language. 

5. Integration : this principle illustrates that learners should not only be aware of the 
meaning of the linguistic item taught, but more importantly of the communicative 
function it serves. 

6. Reproduction to Creation : initially, students should be taught how to reproduce items 
they learn. In the next phase, however, they should be instructed to creatively employ 
them. 

7. Reflection-, tasks should allow students to personal reflection on learning in order to 
understand the importance of a particular task for learning language. 

3. APALL in light of the MALL framework 

The theoretical MALL framework is helpful in understanding how APALL can be effectively 
evaluated for the purpose of task-based language learning. APALL opens a gateway to unravel 
some novel areas of mobile technology which can play a vital role in the improvement of 
English Language Learning. Keeping in view the Mastery Learning, Online Sense of 
Community Theory and the evaluative principles for task-based language learning, the prime 
purpose of APALL is to enhance learners’ English language proficiency, also by reducing time 
consumption. Previous empirical research (Lenhart, 2009; Wei & Kolko, 2005) has revealed 



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that teenagers and adults have either a mobile or a smart phone to keep updated with events in 
their surroundings on a daily basis. This is especially possible through applications available 
by default for social networking on current mobile phones. Nowadays, the mostly widely used 
include Skype, Viber, Whatscipp and Hike Messenger. 

In the following sections, each application will be described and evaluated against the 
principles underlying the theoretical framework of MALL discussed in section 2. 

3.1. Skype 

Research (e.g. Chinnery, 2006; Miangah & Nazarat, 2012) has revealed that learners tend to 
take more interest in learning when there is a shift away from the traditional environment of 
blackboards and textbooks. Among the various mobile applications, the functionalities of 
Skype can prove useful in task-based learning. The software is built in English and supports 
all kinds of operating systems, including Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows. Features 
include voice messaging via microphone, video calling through the use of a webcam and also 
instant messaging via the Internet, making it a popular online tool. 

In the academic context, Skype supports conference call, video charts and screen 
sharing between more than twenty people simultaneously without any charges (Leontjeva et 
al., 2013). It can further be used to create task-based virtual classrooms in which learners can 
interact using the options of voice and text messaging under the supervision of a moderator 
who can also play the additional role of facilitator. Activities can further be designed to allow 
new and different ways of doing familiar tasks by using Skype as an additional channel for 
oral communication (Godwin-Jones, 2005), or to enhance speaking skills through the option 
of conference calls (Correa, 2015). These activities can be considered as part of Jost’s (2003) 
debating type of task and can be strategically designed for active learning (Nunan, 2004). 

Another feature which can support task-based language learning is the screen sharing 
visual aid as it displays textual content which is usually not available in the traditional 
communication mode. This functionality can be employed, for example, as a scaffolding 
strategy (Nunan, 2004) in preparing oral presentations, or for information-gap activities 
(Kieman & Aizawa, 2004) based on fact finding as part of the listing type of task (lost, 2003). 

3.2. Viber 

Basically, Viber is an instant messaging application which also provides the service of Voice 
over IP (VoIP) on smart phones, also allowing the exchange of video, audio, text, image and 
illustrative messages. One of its important landmarks is the availability of group messaging 



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service (Cooper, 2012), which allows for the creation of an online sense of community 
between the users of Viber, and which can be seen as fulfilling the criteria of Mastery 
Learning. 

A specific feature which can be used to support task-based learning is the option of 
sending ‘Stickers’, which contain various emotive and textual messages. While browsing and 
choosing the stickers to communicate, learners gain meaning and communicative functions of 
various words and of their emoticons. Stickers, thus, can be seen as an integration strategy 
(Nunan, 2004), for example, in tasks of the type based on comparing (Jost, 2003). 

Another feature worth considering is the unique option to ‘Doodle’ on Viber. Clicking 
on this option will open a blank white page on the user’s mobile phone where diagrams/maps 
can be designed and keywords handwritten. Used as a reflection strategy (Nunan, 2004), this 
feature can support problem-solving types of tasks (Jost, 2003), which involve planning 
activities, or even brainstorming through the design of mind maps. 

3.3. Whatsapp 

Similar to Viber, Whatsapp has been declared as the most active and popular message 
application with around 600 million users around the globe (Olson, 2014). Keeping in mind 
the options of voice messaging in addition to text messaging and video sharing (Mahajan et 
al., 2013), Whatsapp can be typically used to improve learners’ pronunciation. The feature of 
voice messaging can thus be seen as a recycling strategy (Nunan, 2004), which counters 
learners’ frequent hesitation to articulate words in the traditional pedagogical environment. 
Conversely, language learners feel more comfortable in engaging in this kind of task as a 
result of the absence of a physical observer. In addition, learners can play back their voice 
recordings, which are displayed as complete audio files, thus engaging in the task type of 
comparing similarities and differences (Jost, 2003) between their production and native-like 
English pronunciation. 

3.4. Hike Messenger 

This instant messaging application is readily available for smart phones with Internet access. 
Through Hike, the users can not only send text messages but also can use illustrative stickers, 
images, music files, videos, contact files, voice messages and documents. In addition to its 
basic chat affordance, this application also provides various chat themes, which are sharable 
and viewable by both the sender and receiver on their respective screens. This option can be 
seen as a Reproduction to Creation strategy, whereby task-based activities can be, for 



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example, of the type of discovery (Jost, 2003) of new content related to chosen themes. Group 
chat is a further option which can be used as an active learning strategy (Nunan, 2004) for 
example, in debating and problem-solving types of task-based activities (Jost, 2003). 

These are simply some basic examples of how social applications on mobile phones can 
support principles and types of different task-based activities as summarized in Table 1. 

Table 1: Examples of the use of mobile social apps according to task-based principles and task types. 


Mobile Social Apps 

and Their Functionalities 

Task-based Principles 

(Nunan, 2004) 

Types of Tasks 

(Jost, 2003) 

Skype 

• Conference calls 

Active learning 

Debating 

• Screen sharing visual aid 

Scaffolding 

Listing 

Viber 

• Sending stickers 

Integration 

Comparing 

• Doodle 

Reflection 

Problem-solving 

Whatsapp 

• Voice messaging 

Recycling 

Comparing 

Hike 

• Chat themes 

Reproduction to Creation 

Discovery 

• Group chat 

Active learning 

Debating/Problem-solving 


4. Evaluation of mobile-based applications for Task-Based Teaching 

The mobile social applications afore examined can, thus, be evaluated within the broader 
perspective of APALL according to the principles for task-based teaching (Nunan, 2004). 

4.1. APALL Scaffolding 

In a complex classroom environment, it is difficult to align all the critical elements which 
contribute to scaffolding. APALL scaffolding moves beyond classroom constraints, allowing 
teachers to be online for ongoing diagnosis of student learning, carefully calibrate required 
individual support and to hand over the responsibility of learning to each single student. In 
other words, APALL responds to “synergistic scaffolds which are different supports that 
augment each other; they interact and work in concert to guide a single performance of a task 
or goal” (Tabak, 2004: 318), addressing learning needs in different ways. 










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4.2. APALL Task Dependency 

Task dependency is strictly related to the way in which tasks are sequenced. Unlike the 
traditional linear manner of sequencing pedagogic tasks gradually, APALL enables major 
task-based flexibility, allowing learners to choose and control content sequencing and pace 
their learning according to their individual needs (Plastina, 2015) in order to achieve the goals 
set by the required tasks. 

4.3. APALL Recycling 

In the process of learning, reinforcement and reintroduction play an important role for 
learners’ understanding of the target language (Lynch, 2000). Pedagogical recycling in 
APALL gives both the teacher and students the freedom to re-focus on a previously discussed 
item, but with a new function in mind. The medium of technological applications facilitates 
activities of pronunciation, spelling corrections and vocabulary improvement for this purpose. 

4.4. APALL Active Learning 

The facilities of APALL fulfill the requirements of active learning, particularly in the cases of 
immediate instructor feedback, practice in the use of the target language and in engagement in 
academic activities of discussions, reading and writing (Bonwell, 2000). Online forums 
provide learners sufficient freedom to interact with their teachers and class fellows, using the 
target language on a one-to-one basis. 

4.5. APALL Integration 

Understanding of the form, function and meaning of each linguistic item is essential to the 
integration feature of a task (Nunan, 2004), which APALL provides through the utility of live 
textual/spoken communication, instant presence of the tutor, usage of ‘Stickers’ and ‘Doodle’ 
options, and the related image-sharing function. This not only stimulates learners’ 
understanding of linguistic items, but also provides them with practical means and leamable 
opportunities for communicating aptly in these electronic media. 

4.6. APALL Reproduction to Creation 

The process of taking the learner from a phase of simply reproducing the learned material to 
creatively incorporating it into different contexts is another necessary step while conducting 
any language teaching task (Comer, 2007) through the use of APALL. Learners are, in fact, 



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provided with virtual functions in the respective applications in order to use them according to 
their creative preferences. In such a way, learners can switch themes, select relevant emotive 
stickers, create personalized doodles, formulate their own audio recordings and convey their 
personal thoughts in the target language. 

4.7. APALL Reflection 

The task must enable the learner to comprehend the strategies behind its function is necessary 
(Willis, 1996). For this purpose, the immediate communicative environment via APALL is 
conducive for learners’ reflection and feedback. APALL reflection also allows teachers to 
collect information on student reflections right after the tasks, which provides teachers with 
the correct direction to follow (Ruso, 2007) in a new online teaching approach targeted to 
learners’ needs. 

5. Conclusion 

This article has introduced some of the common mobile applications currently used for daily 
activities and underlined basic ways in which they can be adopted in English task-based 
language learning. In particular, specific functionalities of four different applications have 
been analyzed against the seven principles of task-based language teaching to show how 
social applications well adhere to these. 

Undoubtedly, language learning is considered the most popular application of mobile 
technology-enhanced learning (Hwang & Wu, 2014) and MALL has been amply researched. 
Nevertheless, attention to the implementation of social mobile applications in English task- 
based language learning using native mobile functionalities is still currently scarce. Despite 
the rise of new social applications makes it a challenge to offer guidance, teachers intending 
to keep abreast of technology-enhanced language learning may want to focus on the use of 
Application Assisted Language Learning (APALL) to engage 21 st century learners in more 
authentic and motivating tasks. Within the newly emerging area of mobile assisted language 
use (MALU) seen as “non-native speakers using of a variety of mobile devices in order to 
access and/or communicate information on an anywhere/anytime basis and for a range of 
social and/or academic purposes in an L2” (Jarvis & Achilleos, 2013), APALL is a key to 
future task-based language learning. 

As a number of ELL/ESL teachers may still lack sufficient training in MALL, it is 
worth bearing in mind that APALL can be easily aligned with the emerging principles in the 
field proposed by Stockwell and Hubbard (2013). Thus, APALL should consider that: 



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• affordances and limitations of mobile social applications should be directly connected 
in a principled way to SL learning; 

• multi-tasking should be limited to avoid interference in language learning; 

• task design should reflect different learning styles; 

• tasks should be short and coherent; 

• applications should be adopted to fit language learning tasks. 

In adopting APALL, teachers need to change their students’ perception of these 
applications which will probably perceive their social use rather than their task-based 
instructional support to language learning. 

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