Interactive Robot for Learning Chinese

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Based on a discussion with W. Lewis Johnson about his NSF-funded project to transform world language education using social robotics.

The Robot-Assisted Language Learning in Education, or RALL-E, project, is designing a new social robot that has the potential to transform world language learning by giving learners new opportunities to practice their conversational skills.

The RALL-E robots are Chinese-speaking robots that create a safe environment for learners to practice their conversational skills. These robots create the experience of a conversation through a lifelike range of facial expressions and gestures coupled with innovative language acquisition-based dialog software.

NSF Project Information

Title: EXP: Transforming World Language Education using Social Robotics)
Award Details

PIs: William Johnson, Kino Coursey

Along with a cluster of cyberlearning projects that are exploring interaction with a virtual agent, this project is advancing our understanding of how modalities of interaction that get away from desktop, laptop, tablet and phone paradigms may engage social cognition in ways that strengthen learning. The RALL-E project aims to increase speaking competency in Chinese classrooms by providing students with a novel and motivating conversation experience. These robots will allow students to get the real world experience of using a new language, without the anxieties that can come with using a new language, and empower teachers to bring the conversations they want into their classrooms.

Students are already playing with these robots in Chinese classrooms at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, VA. During a recent project-led focus group at Thomas Jefferson High School, students had this to say about the RALL-E robots:

“It was more interactive [than online courses and classroom activities] and… actually it’s just more fun!”

“The facial expressions make it feel like you’re talking to an actual person.”

“If I make a mistake it’s okay. I know that when I speak Chinese with my [in-class] speaking pal it’s for a grade, but with the robot it’s just practice where I’m free to learn and do whatever I need to do.”

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is excited to be offering this new technology to their students. Dr. Evan Glazer, Principal, says:

“I think RALL-E has a lot of potential to build excitement for learning languages. Students have opportunities to practice their skills, and the robot responds to the dialogue as confirmation that he understands. The potential is great to support individual learning needs, particularly at introductory levels.”

The RALL-E project is a collaboration between Alelo, Robokind, the Virginia Department of Education, and Curious Lab and is funded by a National Science Foundation Cyberlearning award #1321056.

Learn more about the RALL-E project.

Image Credits: C. C. Ching