The system created by IBM Research is a new formula for learning Chinese, as it allows cultural immersion to practice conversation.
The best way to learn a language is go where you talk. There can be very different opinions about learning a new language. Methodologies vary, new ones are created, technology supports teaching as a reinforcement. But within this maremágnum of options there is a clear one for everyone: if someone has the opportunity to be in a native environment he has to take advantage of it.
Unfortunately it is not easy to find such an environment. We must first travel and live –at least for a while– away from home, perhaps from work and from the social circle formed over the years. And you have to have time to do it. Also, not all languages have an easy destination. Anyone interested in Europe has the opportunity to travel to several countries where a good number of languages are spoken. Not all places on the planet have this favorable location. But if we talk about mandarin Chinese, reaching an environment is more complicated.
Either in Europe or America, to do a cultural immersion in order to learn Chinese you have to travel to China or Taiwan. They are many kilometers away, the costs of the trip are higher. Otherwise there is no way to promote this cultural immersion. At least so far.
A collaboration between IBM Research and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has resulted in the creation of a system based on artificial intelligence that allows you to enter a native environment. Students will be able to practice the conversation with the help of a virtual assistant, which is based on IBM Watson.
The system moves students to different environments conducive to learning Chinese. Can travel virtually to a Shanghai restaurant, tea room or Tai Chi class.
Cultural immersion through AI
The aim of the system created by IBM Research is to introduce students to an environment where they feel comfortable speaking Mandarin. For this purpose it is built a stage with a widescreen, in 360 degrees, accompanied by sound , multiple cameras and Kinect devices, as well as microphones.
They are the necessary tools to recreate that Chinese restaurant or the tea room. They have called it Cognitive Immersive Room (CIR) and it is supported by com technologies o natural language understanding, speech-to-text conversion and machine vision, to make immersion and dialogue possible.
One of the advantages of this system with respect to the practice of the language with natives is that students don’t feel judged. They can speak with better or worse accent, but if the pronunciation is correct the virtual assistant will understand them and that will be it. They won’t have to watch their native speaker’s brow wrinkle as they chin their fuzzy phrases.
If artificial intelligence doesn’t understand them, the only thing that will happen is that it will tell them. And students will have to repeat their sentences until they can communicate. The assistant will speak naturally with the students, so that they feel comfortable practicing.
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