Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Language Learning is breaking trails for elearning.

An article in The Economist notes:

Rosetta Stone, an American technology company (is) supplementing technology with human teaching rather than vice versa. Its software has a clever interface that eschews traditional drills in favour of pictures and examples that gradually and intuitively build vocabulary and grammar skills. 
Early versions of the software used nearly all the same pictures in the exact same order, teaching Mandarin and Italian as though they were identical. That was cheap, but poor pedagogy. So from 2006 to 2009 the company more than tripled R&D spending, customising each language offering and adding cultural and social features (see the review on our Johnson blog). Well-built tablet and smartphone apps let students learn anywhere. 
Rosetta Stone now offers customers unlimited access to online video tutorials in small groups with native speakers. 
A second project for Rosetta Stone is to move customers away from buying boxes of CD-ROMs. Sales and marketing cost the firm about 60% of revenue: those yellow kiosks at airports and shopping malls are not cheap. Mr Swad is cutting kiosks and trying to woo subscribers online instead.
The article notes that as U.S. universities are doing less language teaching, corporations like Rosetta Stone and Berlitz are seeking to fill the niche.

A second article in The Economist deals with machine translation of speech:
A series of announcements over the past few months from sources as varied as mighty Microsoft and string-and-sealing-wax private inventors suggest that workable, if not yet perfect, simultaneous-translation devices are now close at hand.
I am a regular user of Google Translate. I regularly scan the news using Google News for information about UNESCO. I use the results to stimulate discussion on the Linked In group, UNESCO's Friends, that I manage. With more than 5000 members from all over the world, coverage in at least English, French, Spanish, Russian, German and Arabic seem appropriate. I don't speak all of the languages, but with online translation via Google I can search in a language I don't speak and read the results.

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