Online and App-based Language learning are generally delivered in the following ways:
1. In-person tutoring is great for speaking proficiency, but it comes at a massive price, for the daily practice you’ll need to speak a language well.
2. Interactive Lessons improve reading, writing, and error correction, but don’t get users speaking the language.
3. Chat/Messaging Apps are a great conversational tool for more advanced students, but useless for beginners, who lack common ground in each other’s language. What can they possibly talk about?
How about using scripted dialog?
Scripts allow beginners to start speaking a new language right away; unfortunately, they’re sterile, boring, and prevent real communication with others, resulting in low engagement and motivation. That’s deadly over the long haul.
What if learners were empowered to build their own conversations?
According to 2nd language acquisition principles, learners engaged in real life communication, who receive a constant and varied flow of comprehensible conversation, in a relaxed environment, acquire speaking proficiency naturally.
What if there was a way for learners to create naturally flowing conversations and direct them into areas of mutual interest? What if they could build their own sentences, ask real questions, and get real answers…from real people? What if all of this was fully comprehensible and done in a low stress environment? Based on 2nd Language principles—it would be a game changer.
This is now doable?
Through building a large and varied body of translated conversation, and analyzing user clicks and preferences, it’s possible to implement a system where learners construct fully comprehensible conversations that allow them to engage in real communication with real people on topics of mutual interest, in a relaxed environment.
But does this work?
Does reading a foreign language and hearing it spoken, result in speaking proficiency, where the content is fully translated?
Studies done over the past 20 years have demonstrated that incidental learning (acquiring vocabulary, for example) occurs in similar situations. In multiple studies, subjects who watched subtitled movies showed some acquisition of foreign words despite never having studied them. Just hearing them while viewing a full or partial translation was enough to trigger this. http://bit.ly/2bUMwBs , http://bit.ly/2dTHCJ3http://bit.ly/2f3ufmQ http://bit.ly/2dTLmKk.
Numerous studies of free reading (reading for pleasure) have shown that it significantly enhances language proficiency http://bit.ly/2eYeeB0; and hearing stories read out loud has been shown to be effective in enhancing vocabulary significantly, http://bit.ly/2eYl7Cl.
The subjects in the above experiments benefitted from simply hearing or reading the target language, in a way that it was made comprehensible. They weren’t trying to learn the words.
It follows then that hearing and speaking a constant stream of the target language, where motivated learners speak slowly and clearly to each other in their native language, and where communication is prioritized, should produce faster and deeper language acquisition; see http://bit.ly/1MEgGIw.
So where do I find “smart” language chat?
Duolingo recently launched 3 chat bots, which guide learners through basic tasks. These interactions will undoubtedly become more complex and sophisticated in coming months and years. But are bots the best solution? Can one have a meaningful relationship with a bot? Perhaps if you’re Joaquin Phoenix and it’s just a movie (“Her”).
Better, we think, to create real relationships between real people, with all of the possibilities that entails. That’s our main goal, at Language Hero. We’re about Demo a product that will do this. Stay tuned!