I was taught from a young age that the wise man is the one who observes and says very little. However, for foreign language learners I think it is quite the opposite, and the more they try to speak and express themselves orally the more they can practise and learn about oral interaction.
My current research is investigating the oral output prompted by interacting with an autonomous agent, and surprisingly I am not finding that the output varies from that of human-human interaction. There are days where participants are motivated and enthusiastic to interact and others where they provide monosyllabic answers.
Where I’m going with this, is that investigating learners interacting with a digital tool has demonstrated to me that in the classroom I often have an expectation of learners to constantly perform, and feel frustrated when they don’t willingly provide output when requested. I am learning that deliberate practice is perhaps not an effective method of language learning and adopting a more laissez-faire approach maybe more appropriate.
So, on the one hand we need learners to speak as often as possible, but on the other hand we can’t expect them to always be willing to speak. For me this highlights the value of human computer interaction (HCI) for language learning and demonstrates that we should lean more heavily on autonomous agents for speaking practise. They provide limitless opportunities, never tire and can be used when learners feel they want to speak, not when they have to.
With the surge of interest and investment into AI, the question at the forefront of my mind is ‘What does it mean to be human?’ The apparent obsession with AI is to replicate human intelligence on all levels, but the problem I have with this is that I don’t think we fully understand what it means to be human. I think it is impossible to reproduce human ‘intelligence’ without first appreciating the complexities of the human brain. Hawkins (2004) argues that the primary reason we have been unable to successfully build a machine that thinks exactly like a human, is our lack of knowledge about the complex functioning of cerebral activity, and how the human brain is able to process information without thinking.
This is the reason why the work of Hiroshi Ishiguro, the creator of both Erica and Geminoid, interests me so much. The motivation for Ishiguro to create android robots is to better understand humans, in order to build better robots, which can in turn help humans. I met Erica in 2016 and the experience made me realise that we are in fact perhaps pursing goals of human replication that are unnecessary. Besides, which model of human should be used as the blueprint for androids and humanoid robots? Don’t get me wrong, I am fascinated with Ishiguro’s creation of Erica.
My current research focuses on speech dialogue systems and human computer interaction (HCI) for language learning, which I intend to develop so it can be mapped onto an anthropomorphic robot for the same purposes. Research demonstrates, that one of the specific reasons the use of non-human interactive agents are successful in language learning is because they disinhibit learners and therefore promote interaction, especially amongst those with special educational needs.
The attraction is of humanoid robots and androids for me therefore, is not necessary how representative they are of humans, but more about the affordances of the non-human aspects they have, such as being judgemental. In my opinion, we need more Erica’s in the world.
For some reason, when we are learning a foreign language, we feel intimidated to speak it. We fear we will be laughed at, won’t say the right thing and won’t be understood or simply lack the confidence to put a voice to the words floating around in our brains forming utterances.
It is clear inhibition to speak is a common problem among language learners for whatever reason. So, I am investigating strategies to disinhibit learners, and to provide them with oral interaction confidence, by engaging with a computer to practice speaking, so they have the confidence to interact with humans.
Human computer interaction (HCI) to practise English conversation offers several advantages compared to practising with a human. The main motivations being:
low inhibition because learners know are they are interacting with a machine that will not judge their performance unless asked to do so.
a low-anxiety environment which promotes confidence because of the absence of a human waiting form the next turn.
Interaction for as long as the learner wants to practice.
Computers do not lose their patience, or tire of conversing or repeating the same conversation pattern.
I therefore strongly believe that HCI is a promising solution for learner disinhibitition.Updates on experiments carried out with chatbots to fulfil this research to follow…