Blue Canoe takes on language learning with a focus on pronunciation


If you wish to pick out up a new language, there’s no scarcity of choices, and unfastened ones, at that. However one facet of the method that has been not noted is pronunciation, which is an extremely essential a part of it for execs. On-line, learning pronunciation is typically “hear a recording, then repeat it (to an empty room).” A brand new platform, Blue Canoe Learning, makes use of a longtime curriculum and device learning to make issues more straightforward and more practical. It’s the primary corporate to enroll in AI2’s new incubator in Seattle, and has raised a $1.four million spherical to extend its operations.

There are literally thousands of English freshmen in the market, a lot of whom talk it as their first language, however nonetheless in finding themselves not able to make themselves understood particularly to American citizens, who’re in particular underexposed to positive accents.

The truth is that American English is the global language of many industries, and any person in considered one of them, whether or not they’re name middle staff, tool engineers or executives, can take pleasure in having the ability to undertake an American-like accessory. Their employers know that too, so Blue Canoe goes immediately to them as a substitute of adopting a direct-to-consumer manner.

I say potato…

The difficulty with instructing pronunciation is that it’s no longer with reference to telling folks methods to say one thing appropriately, however listening to how they say it and offering corrective steerage. That more or less non-public comments is difficult to scale.

It’s particularly tricky while you believe the neurological barriers of grownup language freshmen. Until you be informed positive sounds at a younger age, your mind ultimately discards the mechanism for listening to them, making it tricky for some audio system to even remember that they’re saying one thing incorrectly. (I had this revel in in China just lately after I attempted to get instructions to Futian; I were given it proper on the 8th or 9th take a look at.)

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Upload to this that during American English, you will have 5 vowels however 14 vowel sounds, and it’s a recipe for confusion.

“People haven’t focused on the last mile,” Blue Canoe founder Sarah Daniels instructed me. “They say they do spoken learning, but it’s glorified listen and repeat.”

One try to deal with this, offline anyway, has been the Colour Vowel Machine, which is based on mnemonics and rhythm to lend a hand free up sounds to your mind which you could no longer even know are there. Every vowel sound is related with a colour and alliterative word: inexperienced tea or brown cow, for example. As a way to discover ways to say “speed,” freshmen can be suggested to mention “green tea speed.” The repetition and colour affiliation, theoretically, lend a hand with retention and support in generating the vowel sounds in query.

I say theoretically no longer as a result of I for my part doubt it, however as a result of there isn’t a lot of literature on this; pronunciation is a tough factor to measure when compared with vocabulary or written skillability — very subjective. However the Peace Corps, State Division and several other primary universities have followed the machine, so till the research pop out I’m k with trusting their judgment.

Scaling the machine

Blue Canoe (itself a mnemonic word) has labored to digitize the Colour Vowel Machine and bundle it as an app. It’s nonetheless at a very early level, with extra content material deliberate as the corporate learns from its pilot systems.

Customers play a card sport (the primary of a number of video games and actions to be incorporated) that calls for them to mention the vocabulary phrase on the cardboard they play; a device learning machine listens and identifies whether or not they’ve pronounced it appropriately, and if no longer, offers related comments.

To start with I believed the machine would had been educated on reams of American English speaker knowledge, and analyze the delta between the waveforms, but it surely’s smarter than that. As a substitute, Blue Canoe had folks with quite a lot of accents talking, and their pronunciation was once annotated phrase through phrase through execs. So an “r” pronounced with a roll (through, for instance, a French speaker) can be handled in a different way than an “r” pronounced nearer to “l” (through a Jap speaker). Stressing a other syllable from American citizens (the commonest distinction) can be detected.

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The quantity and form of mistakes additionally shall we the app create an total ranking, and spotlight phrases or sounds the speaker is making improvements to on, wishes lend a hand with and so on. A part of the plan is to trace those scores and evaluate them to skilled, in-person scores to be able to validate them as an automatic, function ranking of a person’s pronunciation development. That by myself can be a great tool for firms, however the skill to enhance that ranking, after all, is likewise horny.

Blue Canoe is already operating with a number of firms to create particular curricula with vocabulary and objectives (and in all probability actions) adapted to their wishes — technical phrases, follow words, and many others. This pilot program will have to final the following few months, after which 2nd quarter subsequent 12 months will have to see a extra public rollout, in all probability along documentation of the analysis procedure and effectiveness of the app.

Kernel Labs led the $1.four million spherical, however Blue Canoe will probably be getting its following few months of steerage and nurturing from the Allen Institute for AI, which previous this 12 months established a new, low-profile incubator program. That is their first variety for a corporate to undertake and put money into, even though no longer essentially consultant of the sort they’re going for: I had envisioned, after I talked with AI2 previous, some more or less wild-haired geniuses who wanted reining in through established AI brains. However this works too.

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