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  • Text: Joost Bijlsma
  • Picture: Koen Aarts

‘Social’ robot teaches children languages

A robot has infinite patience and a friendly demeanor. Like a human, it can ‘talk’ and make gestures. This makes a robot ideal for teaching children a second language, suggests Prof. Paul Vogt of the Tilburg Center for Cognition and Communication, an expert in artificial intelligence and language development.

He has joined colleagues from other European institutes to set up the L2TOR project (pronounced el tutor) to determine whether a ‘social’ robot does indeed make an effective language teacher.

Both verbal and non-verbal communication

Research is now underway in Tilburg, Utrecht, Plymouth, Bielefeld and Istanbul. Young children have the opportunity to learn a second language using resources such as a tablet computer. Should they run into difficulties during a lesson, the friendly interactive robot is there to help. The researchers are studying how a robot should communicate with children. They are concerned with technology for both verbal and non-verbal communication.

“Does a robot really have added value?”

Paul Vogt, Tilburg center for Cognition and Communication

Thorough approach

The project has already confirmed that children can learn a language from a robot. Researchers also found that gestures play an important part in the process. Speech recognition software, however, does not appear to be particularly useful. L2TOR is now to develop an extended language course consisting of fifteen lessons. “In 2018, we shall test it on three hundred children to determine its precise effect,” explains Paul Vogt, who sees this very thorough approach as a key strength of the project. “Most studies are either too small or too specialized. We want to establish whether a robot really does have added value in second language education. That is not something you can determine from a single half-hour lesson.”

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