Planning to work in a different country? Or maybe just a summer vacation? There are various reasons why we might choose to learn a new language. Sometimes, it might be the sound of it or maybe as a way to understand the culture of its people. Traditionally, we could either attend language classes, when available, or buy a book/audiobook and self-learn at our own pace.

The internet has seen a massive change in how people with similar goals can come together to collaborate and work towards the same aim. Wikipedia is a typical example of such an event, whereby the crowd contributed its diverse knowledge to create an online encyclopaedia and translate the entries in several languages. Everyone can contribute, act as an editor and discuss the veracity of entries – this is referred to as crowdsourcing, sourcing a task to a crowd. 

A new modality of language learning is emerging from different areas with the aim of bringing the power of the crowd and artificial intelligence into the mix. There are several untapped and underutilised resources online which, with some modifications, could be used in a language learning setting. In most cases, we simply need to match these resources to specific language learning exercises. Take, for instance, Wikipedia. This resource contains a lot of information from which questions can be extracted and thus it can be turned into a reading comprehension exercise. Teachers do these types of tasks all the time.

A new modality of language learning is emerging

Using AI techniques, we can now look at ways of automatically creating questions from a given text and suggest these questions to a teacher. The idea of such systems is to assist teachers in creating language exercises which can then be verified by the teachers themselves. Teachers could also receive assistance through the automatic assessment of exercises. The key component is that the teacher remains in the loop throughout the whole process. The crowd component could also be introduced alongside the above. Students could provide feedback to each other, with an IT system that would match students according to their individual strengths and weaknesses. We can also use the feedback given by the crowd to actually improve our resources, which would, in turn, improve automatic exercise creation. We are also experimenting with various ways how language learning can be embedded as a Game with a Purpose, making language learning more fun and a lighthearted task.

All these different facets are being considered within EnetCollect, a European Cost Action which comprises of a large network of partners from all over Europe, bringing together expertise ranging from language teachers, linguists to computer scientists. Together, we are designing solutions that involve all the different stakeholders in the language learning scenario. Our aim is to develop CrowdLearning for language learners at all levels – whether it is learning the native language or learning a second language either at school or as an adult.

Dr Claudia Borg is a lecturer with the Department of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Malta. She is also vice-lead for a working group in EnetCollect, focusing on implicit crowdsourcing for language learning.

Did you know?

• When Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor exploded on April 26, 1986, there were around 30,000 people in the area that were exposed to about 45 rem (radiation units). This is estimated to be a similar dose received by survivors of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

• Just 15 minutes after the Chernobyl explosion, radioactivity had dropped to one-quarter of its initial value; after one day down to 1/15; and after three months, less than one per cent.

• There was no containment structure in Chernobyl. This is a gas-tight shell that surrounds a nuclear reactor, designed to confine fission products that may be released into the atmosphere during an accident.

• Once humans evacuated Chernobyl, over time it turned into a natural reserve, with wolves, moose, roe deer, red deer and wild boar living in the exclusion zone.

For more trivia see:

Sound bites

• Game of Thrones fans can learn High Valyrian through the site/app Duolingo teamed up with the creator of High Valyrian, David Peterson, so that they could offer it as one of the languages available in Duolingo alongside 30 others. Lessons are free and gamified with the intention to make language learning more fun and accessible to all.

• When it comes to learning a language, the left side of the brain has traditionally been considered the hub of language processing. But new research shows the right brain plays a critical early role in helping learners identify the basic sounds associated with a language. That could help find new teaching methods to better improve student success in picking up a foreign language.

For more soundbites listen to Radio Mocha on Mondays at 7pm on Radju Malta and Thursdays at 4pm on Radju Malta 2

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