Teaching With Tech: Using Speech Recognition to Improve Fluency of English Learners

Technology is constantly disrupting education. Online education is a major disruptive force in education. Online education is positively impacting many critical issues in education and creating a scalable educational system. One such hard to solve problem is teaching students to speak fluently in English. I’d like to share with you today, how Speech Recognition technology can solve this hard problem.

An English/ESL student should master four skills: Reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Out of these, speaking is the most difficult to master. Teachers find it challenging to help students get fluent.

Many ESL students feel shy or embarrassed about their spoken English. Even students who are otherwise confident, don’t have confidence when they speak English. Students face several challenges trying to speak: finding the right words, coming up with correct grammar, coming up with the correct sentence construction, using the right tone. Students who achieve decent levels in other 3 skills, many times struggle to make progress in speaking.

Often a shy student does not try to speak as much as he should, thus increasing the time it takes to polish his speaking skills. Also, teachers do not have enough time in a classroom of 30 some students to give individual attention to each and critique speaking skills. Now teachers can utilize a new tool to extend themselves and give attention to all students.

Automatic speech recognition is a quite challenging problem to solve. One can imagine the challenges, some people speak slowly, some fast, some with low pitch, some with high.

After decades of research speech recognition technology has improved a lot. You see it at work in popular applications like the voice-controlled intelligent personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri. A big problem with Siri though is that it doesn’t recognize non-native speakers of English well. When EnglishKey started working on speech recognition one of the goals was to ensure that it would recognize accents of our students, whoare all non-native speakers.

EnglishKey focuses on creating engaging activities for students in blended learning, self-study formats and reinforcement activities. One such activity now is the Guided Speaking Practice. Guided Speaking Practice helps students achieve fluency by targeting grammar, vocabulary, and also conversations. All the 3 activities are aligned to the lesson theme. For Guided Grammar Practice, the system displays sentences to cover the grammar theme. The sentences vary slightly to convey the variations of the theme. For example, for a theme of adverbs of frequency, the sentences are, “I drink coffee. I always drink coffee. She never drinks coffee.” When the student speaks, the system recognizes quite accurately and gives a score. If the student makes a mistake, the system points it out, and the student can retry. Students get ample speaking practice and also have ‘someone’ to tell them if they are speaking correctly or not.

The Guided Conversation Practice presents a conversation that serves as an automated role-play activity. A student can choose one of the speakers whose role he wants to play. When the activity is started, the system plays the role of the other speaker and prompts the student to speak his lines. Thus the student can engage in a real-life conversation without being with a teacher. In fact, students are more comfortable practicing on the system. They don’t have to be shy as the teacher is not judging them. Practicing on the system really takes the pressure off!

These engaging activities reinforce content and more importantly, give speaking practice whenever a student wants. The more speaking practice a student has, the more the student gains diction accuracy, speaking skills and confidence. A student can make as many corrections and changes as he wants. Since speech recognition activities are automatically graded, teachers can easily see how a student is performing at any time and give additional help where needed.

ESL teachers, help your students get fluent today, without spending a minute of your time!

Try out a demo without logging in, see it yourself:https://goo.gl/QkGedV

Demo video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8LggFDiVUA

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