Rapid change and incredible development in the information and telecommunications technologies has
affected all fields of life. Learning environments has tried to make use of all these technologies. As a result of
this change, most of learning institutions try to adapt their systems to involve these technologies in their
programs. English language learning is one of the leading sciences that appeared this change. That is due to the
universality of English language. One of the potential technologies deemed suitable to play a fruitful role in this
regard are mobile ones. Portability and accessibility of mobile devices in this digital era have attracted many
scholars to apply them in the educational settings. Furthermore, several researchers have attempted to prove
applicability of mobile learning as modern ways of teaching and learning (Naismith, 2004). Moreover, applying
portable technologies have been demanded by most of the modern learners who oftentimes are forced to study
anywhere and anytime, for example, at work, in the bus or at weekends (Evans, 2008). Teaching and learning process is totally changed with the development of
recent developments in mobile technologies (Pavlik, 2015). English language
teaching and its practices have also been affected from this paradigm flow of
change, as well (Stockwell, 2010). Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL)
technologies have prodigious potential for assisting more innovative
educational methods (Sung, 2016). These innovations in teaching methods will
likely not only help subject teaching, but may also simplify the process of
communication, creativity, imagination, vision and other language skills
among learners. Mobile learning defies the conventional teaching methods by
setting a supple, hand-on and modified ways of the use inside and outside the
classroom effectively (Bassal, 2016). Learning on the go becomes more and more
convenient particularly with modern smartphones that come with powerful
hardware and software, which makes them as capable as a computer. Stockwell
(2015) pointed out that the large and touch sensitive screens of today's android
smartphones devices offer changes and advantages in contrast to mobile
phones used in previous studies (Thornton & Houser, 2005; Lu, 2008; KukulskaHulme,2010; Hayati et al., 2013).
Vocabulary instructions in English as a foreign language (EFL) context is
grabbing attention today. Words those learned from classroom instruction are
limited due to lack of second language (L2) input (Siyanova, 2016). Achieving
competence and proficiency in the target language is the major component of
vocabulary teaching (Shrum & Glisan 2015) . There has been endless effort in
quest of the best procedure to teach vocabulary. Though vocabulary is a central
component of foreign language learning, idiomatic expressions are the most
frequently used non-literal expressions, and terminologies used in daily life
situations in a language, so incapability to use them proficiently can cause
communication hurdles for language learners such as expressing unusual and
inauthentic usage (Basel et al., 2015). These expressions are principally vital to
become proficient in the target language learning (Mackey & Gass, 2015).
In addition, good command of phrases is generally considered as becoming
closer to the fluency of native speakers of the target language (Schmitt, 2000;
Wray, 2000). As Schmitt (2014) suggested, “the possible lack of communication
between individual words and individual meanings”, the term 'word' also has
difficulties with the various grammatical and morphological permutations of
vocabulary. Mobile devices could open new doors with their unique qualities
such as “accessibility, personalization, and portability” (Saran & Seferoglu,
2010, p.253), and “the physical characteristics (e.g., size and weight), input
capabilities (e.g., keypad or touchpad), output capabilities (e.g., screen size and
audio functions), file storage and retrieval, processor speed, and the low+ error
Mobile Immersion in Foreign Language Teaching | 67
rates” (Alzubi & Sabha, 2013, p.179) in the teaching and learning processes.
Distinctive features of smartphones such as “lightness, movability,
accessibility, ease of use cost and portability” (Saran & Seferoglu, 2010), and
“the physical characteristics (e.g. length and weight), input fixtures (e.g. touch
screen and keypad), output fixtures (e.g. audio and video properties), Processor
speed, memory storage and retrieval” (Alzu'bi & Sabha, 2013) could add new
ways and innovations in teaching and learning practices.
Mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) expand the
boundaries of learning anytime, anywhere. Rapid development in teaching and
learning process experienced a shift in course delivery methods. Online
libraries included the World Wide Web and internet access to books, audio or
video tapes, or photocopies of journal articles, linking to digital content which
could be read online. Students can access course materials from their mobile
phone, whenever they need it. In addition, the past decade has noticed a swift
expansion in using smartphones for teaching foreign language vocabulary.
For example, Browne and Culligan (2008) permitted learners to use
vocabulary flash cards on their mobile phones, which showed to be beneficial
due to the fact that learners were able to study at a time and place that suits
them. Another 6-week long experimental study by Suwantarathip and
Orawiwatnakul (2015) compared the effects of paper based vocabulary
activities in classroom with SMS sent to learners off campus to teach and
practice new vocabulary. The findings revealed that the learners in the
experimental group performed better than control group. In Japan Thornton
and Houser (2005) assigned EFL learners to use their mobile phones in class to
watch video lessons about English idioms, and then they were asked to answer
short multiple choice questions to judge their progress of using smartphones. A
positive response was found from learners as they reckoned this method
interesting and enjoyable.
Moreover, to the text messaging proficiencies of SMS, Saran and Seferoglu
(2010) also tried MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) in their study. They
taught vocabulary via SMS and MMS messages that incorporated with
multimedia such as images and sounds whereas the control group was taught
the same vocabulary items in the conventional classroom setting. The scores of
the experimental group were significantly higher than the control group in the
post test
Alemi et al. (2012) found that there was no substantial variance between
vocabulary knowledge of two groups in the post tests; however, in the delayed
68 | Muhammad Shahbaz and Raja Muhammad Ishtiaq Khan 
post-test SMS group was more successful. Additionally, all these studies
reported positive attitudes of students towards the use of SMS in vocabulary
learning. Ally and Woodburn (2011) explored the use of iPhones to learn webbased grammar and vocabulary lessons for L2 French at the elementary level.
The participants were 22 university volunteers for three hours' sessions who
received five lessons on their mobile phones. A multiple choice pre and posttest was administrated to judge learning improvements. Overall, students who
contributed in this study found this set-up of learning useful and desired to
have more practice with mobile devices.
Chen, Hsieh, and Kinshuk (2008) attempted to examine the way to attain
vocabulary using mobile phones. Researchers sent Flashcards to learners via
SMS which included one of four different types of annotation; English word
with written annotation; English word with pictorial annotation; English word
only; and English word with both written and pictorial annotation. Learners
were assumed to learn 24 vocabulary items in 50 minutes by viewing Flashcards
in the classroom. Results of post-test showed that the pictorial annotation
learners retained vocabulary after short period of time.
Some other programs were also used for vocabulary teaching apart from
smartphones. Thornton and Houser (2005) aimed to test the effectiveness of
formal e-mails on smartphones for vocabulary teaching purposes. They
emailed vocabulary lessons via emails using mobiles for the first two weeks and
then for last two weeks they used computers. Students stated that using mobile
phone was a more efficient way and more desirable than books, printed
material and computers. Basoglu and Akdemir (2010) led a study on
vocabulary learning to examine the difference of use of flashcards and mobile
phones. Vocabulary items were sent to experimental group for 6 weeks using
mobile phone application whereas the control group learned the same words
with flashcards. Their study reported a significant difference between two
groups as the experimental group did achieve significantly better in the
multiple-choice post-test.
Wu, (2015), in his study, developed a mobile application “Word LearningCET6” to teach vocabulary to a group of 70 college students in China. The
Control group was restricted to use SMS to learn vocabulary items whereas the
experimental group used the newly developed application. At the end,
experiment results of post-test reported a vital difference between the two
groups where experimental groups outperformed the control group. Stockwell,
(2010) also related vocabulary learning on mobile phones and computers for a
3-year period between 2007 and 2009 to explore the relation of student's task
completion time, achievement speed and learning time. VocabTutor, a Moodle -
Mobile Immersion in Foreign Language Teaching | 69
based system, was developed to run both mobile phones and computers. There
was no significant difference found in term of students' scores; but there was an
increase of mobile phone use for learning vocabulary in 2009 as compared to
As can be seen in the above-mentioned studies, experiments with different
types of mobile learning tools varying from SMSs to applications that were
written to teach vocabulary have all been proved to have benefits for the
learners compared to more conventional ways of learning.
SMS; the basic feature of mobile phones, was initially used in vocabulary
learning studies. Some experimental studies compared SMS-based vocabulary
instruction to different types of more traditional methods and instruction. For
example, Mahmoud (2013) investigated the effect of SMS messages compared
to printed materials in a foundation program at King Saud university. Results of
the study exhibited that the performance of the students in the experimental
group improved significantly more than those in the control group who were
given printed materials in the post-test. Another study by Alkhezzi, and
Dousari (2016) in Saudi Arabia explored the impact of using mobile phone
applications, namely Telegram Messenger, on teaching and learning English in
an ESP context. Results indicated that using mobile phone gadgets to teach a
foreign language skill or subskill is beneficial and has a positive effect on
comprehension of vocabulary and grammatical rules.
A mixed methods study by Hazaea and Alzubi, (2016) at Preparatory Year
program, Najran University investigated the efficiency of using mobile
technology in EFL reading classroom. Results of post-test revealed that by using
mobile phones features, learners' text using and text analysing practices are
remarkably improved. Similarly, Amry (2014) conducted a study in Saudi
Arabia to evaluate the effects of mobile learning on students' attitudes and
achievement. Results of the study indicated a substantial difference in students'
success because of the mobile learning environment setting. Findings revealed
that mobile learning has permitted students to access learning material
anywhere anytime, which supports them to learn more and therefore they had a
high positive influence on their test scores.
Another study by (Alhabahba et al, 2014) examined Saudi students'
behavioural factors that affect employing Smartphones in vocabulary learning.
The findings revealed that apparent usefulness and attitude proved to be
considerably and positively linked to vocabulary improvement. In addition,
apparent efficacy and perceived ease of use proved to be significant
transformation of students' attitudes in using smartphone for vocabulary
learning. In contrary, ease of use did not expressively rely to vocabulary
70 | Muhammad Shahbaz and Raja Muhammad Ishtiaq Khan 
learning aspect. Khrisat and Mahmoud (2013) explored the effectiveness of
students' attitudes towards ten mobile applications and features on EFL
General English classroom. The inclination of using mobile phones reflected
positivity among learners. Alshumaimeri and Almasri (2012) studied the effects
of WebQuest on the comprehension performance of learners in Saudi Arabia,
outcomes showed great potential to integrate mobile phones in classrooms.
These studies indicate that there is need to use mobile features such as
WhatsApp, memos, online dictionaries in a Saudi EFL reading classroom.
Few studies on phrases and idioms teaching were found in literature using
mobile learning. One study by Liu and Chen (2015) examined the effect of using
mobile phones on English phrase learning achievement. In Taiwan, a total of
116 learners participated in the study. Researcher divided participants into two
groups: an experimental and a control group randomly. Experimental group
was given treatment by taking pictures using mobile phones for the purpose of
phrase learning whereas control group was given an online assignment to read
phrase-reading. Participants in the experiments displayed higher level of
awareness toward phrase learning exercises compared with control group.
Hayati et al. (2013) examined the teaching of idioms using SMS feature of
mobile phones to Iranian EFL learners to a group of 80 students. Three groups; a
self-study, control and experimental group, of students received 80 idioms with
instructions. Self-study group received printed material of idioms to study at
their own with the definitions and explanations. Experimental group received
SMS messages with 4 idioms with elaborations of sentences and examples,
while the control group was provided with short paragraphs rather than
definition and sentences illustration. Post survey result of the study found that
use of short messaging and cell phones is applicable and suitable way of
teaching. Modern Smartphones offer many other useful and interesting
features free of cast and easy to handle, that can be used for foreign language
teaching and learning process.
Some studies indicated that computer software and short messaging
features used for teaching vocabulary using mobile phones are content limited
and costly. As Thornton & Houser (2005) stated that adjustment of computers
for mobile learning can be affected by users' capability. Similarly, Cavus and
Ibrahim, (2009) listed that SMS message can be costly for the learners. At
present, smartphone applications that are popular and user friendly can be
used for mobile learning platforms effectively. Godwin (2011), pointed out as
personal devices, smartphones are best for modified learning.
WhatsApp; a modern smartphone application that is useful mode of
communication, has been used in many vocabulary learning studies. Lawrence
Mobile Immersion in Foreign Language Teaching | 71
(2014) introduced new vocabulary entries to a group of 5 Afrikaan
undergraduate learners before reading passages in classrooms. Learners were
introduced new vocabulary items by receiving words with translations and in
different mode of media files for 7 weeks long period. The author concluded
that WhatsApp is an effective tool for providing outside-the-classroom
opportunities to practise vocabulary especially for weak students; however,
content of the messages should be carefully planned. There was a positive effect
of using WhatsApp for introducing new vocabulary words. Researchers
suggested that it can be more effective if all the activities are planned carefully.
In another study Plana et al. (2013) used WhatsApp as a substitute to SMS
which is less convenient and costly. Students received extra material related to
comprehension question via a link in the WhatsApp group. The questionnaires
after the twelve-week-long implementation showed that students liked the
activities, and increased their reading practice with the application. Survey
results indicate that after 12 weeks long execution, students' reading
comprehension improved positively and they liked the WhatsApp activities.
WhatsApp is a free messenger application that accepts its users to send and
receive texts, audios and videos one to one and in groups. In addition, it is also
supported with audio call facility. It is one of the most commonly used
messenger application available for different mobile phones (Windows Mobile,
IOS, Android, etc.) Al Saleem (2014) examined for accessing students;
vocabulary and voice at undergraduate English language learning level.
Students were provided 30 reminders to write on via WhatsApp for six weeks.
Results of writing task on pre-test and post-test witnessed a substantial
development in vocabulary usage for writing and voice. Some research has
been done on vocabulary learning using WhatsApp, there have been few
studies into its use for teaching phrases in English. The current study therefore
is set up to measure the efficiency of the mobile applications in teaching English
The benefit of using smartphones and mobile applications in teaching
vocabulary provides an opportunity to learn outside the classrooms. This
means that mobile phone instructional activities are not restricted to set a
proper place but can be managed anytime and anywhere to involve learner
with teachers, learning material and resources and other learners (Bornman,
2012, p.288). Vocabulary learning in conventional classroom may be
inconvenient because of the restrictions of the time and hefty liability on learner
(Grace, 1998).
In the development of mobile phone activities, learning activities may foster
more attraction of learners (Cui and Bull, 2005). Kukulska-Hulme (2009)
indicated that use of mobile learning can be unfavourable as learning
vocabulary outdoors is out of the control of the teacher, for this, vigilant
preparation and projection should be made to form a good relationship
between conventional classroom activities and mobile learning based activities
and materials. Thus, this is the responsibility of the teachers to prepare activities
to attain optimal balance between the content activities in the classroom and
mobile phone learning activities. Basal (2012) also specified about sustaining a
balance in ways to make the content interesting and pleasant for the learners.
The present study added to the literature that teaching vocabulary using
smartphone applications can be more operative instrument when associated to
conventional paper-based vocabulary material and activities. Vocabulary
learning activities, design of language learning activities, is a challenging task
that needs more attention and cautious arrangement. In addition, language
teachers should be responsive for instructional concerns in the development of
the design for vocabulary learning activities using mobile phone applications,
as some mobile phone applications are not associated with vocabulary learning
and teaching process. Moreover, language instructor should also carefully
choose already developed mobile learning activities for teaching vocabulary.
Therefore, instructors should pay special attention for the evaluation of the
effectiveness of mobi 

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