Recently I reviewed Rosetta Stone’s new mobile app, and questioned some of the philosophy behind its operational design. You can read that review here. In relation to my criticism, I thought I would take a moment to comment on where I think we should be with regard to language learning software, and identify what appears to be an unnecessary gap in our current CALL, or as it would be MALL, environment.
Being that we currently have built into most smartphone OS a text-to-speech (TTS) application programming interface (API), it seems to me using this technology for language learning should be a given, but unfortunately it is not. As my recent disappointment with Rosetta Stone detailed, even major players do not seem to be taking advantage of this amazing technology.
While the human ear, and human mind, is far more efficient at guessing meaning in context, at a word-by-word level current technology is fairly capable of making accurate guesses. While some software developers may have missed this opportunity, there are other developers which have not. Orange Duck Studios, is an example of just such a developer.
Speak Correctly is an app which uses the Android OS’ built in STT API to print out words that it thinks you might be saying in order of probability (i.e. the words at the top of the list being the words closest to your speech that it recognizes). The app even provides an interface to type in a target word, and listen to its pronunciation (American or British) before you attempt to pronounce the word yourself. Although the app suffers aesthetically from a seriously bare-bones interface, the programming behind Speak Correctly is an example of a base standard which all language learning apps should satisfy.
There are even some ostentatious apps out there which seek to circumvent language learning altogether, and attempt to use current technology to create a universal translator, even making allusion in their product description to pop sci-fi culture such as Star Trek, and the babelfish from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The fact that so many developers recognize potential for such development with current technology, shows that it is a vision not so far in the distant future. In fact, it is clear that as technology develops learning a second language becomes less and less necessary.
However, before we disband with language learning altogether, there is still an opportunity to use current technology to develop language learning software which aids in pronunciation development. The window of opportunity between the need for such apps and the end of the need for all second language learning may be brief, but until then there is still room for development of language learning assistants like Speak Correctly.
Speak Correctly is available in the Google Play store.