Computer programs are playing a larger role in helping students learn a new language.

Computer programs are playing a more active role in language acquisition, and many include features that let English as a Second Language (ESL) students and those learning a foreign language have conversations with their computers or hear a computer read aloud sentences that the students struggle to write.

For example, designed for ESL students, English in a Flash uses aural teaching cues to help build students’ mental word banks.

“It works the way kids learn a language naturally—they learn the pieces, and then over time they learn those pieces together,” said Sue Pulvermacher-Alt, reading product line director for English in a Flash. “They’re hearing the word as they’re seeing a visual representation of a word on a screen, and that’s repeated over time.”

The program spans grades 1-12, and it focuses on terms that will let users better grasp English for use in all subjects.

Pulvermacher-Alt said English in a Flash also covers what is known as cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP), which moves beyond basic conversational fluency.

“It’s building a vocabulary that allows kids to be successful in conversational English, and—over time, as they’re working their way through the libraries—to build that academic vocabulary that they’ll need to succeed in math, social studies, science, and all of their coursework in school,” she said.

English in a Flash is sold by Renaissance Learning, which also markets a variety of other reading tools.