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Chatbots teach English conversation

40 Comments

SpeakGlobal: The next generation in English language learning introduces the world’s first artificial intelligence (A.I.) chat robots for English as a Foreign Language learning.

English education in Japan is highly-regarded and six years of English studies are mandated in the public school system. However, the percentage of Japanese who can actually speak English freely is in the low single digits. This is due to the lack of opportunities to practice speaking with native-English speakers.

While many English conversation schools and online schools exist, some simply cannot afford this luxury. As well, the actual speaking time in such lessons is limited, on average about 10 minutes per one-hour lesson. In the case of beginner level learners, it is considerably less. Those who can afford it pay around $300 per month, though only 1% of the population engages in learning at these schools.

Now, SpeakGlobal has made English speaking affordable and effective for just $15 per month. SpeakGlobal has developed online robots that look and move like a human, speak aloud, and with text-to-speech, its dialogue lines appear on the user’s computer screen. Most importantly, learners can speak into a microphone using Dragon Naturally Speaking, high-end speech recognition, considered the best speech recognition in the world.

With a line-up of various A.I. chat robots, nearly any learning level of English speaker can find a suitable one to practice conversation with at home, work, or school, 24/7. This is a turning point in the way English speaking is taught and practiced in Japan, Asia, and around the globe.

As a supplemental speaking tool, site members can participate in SpeakGlobal’s virtual world, “SG World” for free and open conversation with a native English speaker anytime. The site is fully equipped with a complete pronunciation program with speech recognition, animated conversation practice videos, and games as well, making it a “superstore” of English conversation practice.

With top technology, it is reasonably priced to reach a wide audience. SpeakGlobal has plans to expand outside of Japan, into other Asian markets. With SpeakGlobal, learners now have the means by which non-English speaking countries can learn English, today’s global language.

© Japan Today

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English education in Japan is highly-regarded

Okay, this one phrase alone told me the writer (corporate shill??) must not have a clue.

Highly-regarded, but the percentage who can speak English is in the low single digits, and only 1% take advantage of private language schools...

And they're hoping A.I. can do a better job???

8 ( +8 / -1 )

And now folks, we break for a quick commercial......when we come back we'll go straight to the news.

Oh, that was the news.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I'd take issue with a lot of things in this "article". "Chatbots" are absolutely the LAST thing this country needs for improving English communication skills. The balance here is already skewed far too much towards learning by rote, and sitting at home running through set pieces in front of a screen will simply reinforce this.

I'd also like to know at which eikaiwa students are paying $300 (23,000 yen or so) a month and are speaking only 10 minutes a class. These days you can get a weekly one hour private lesson at that price and are likely to be speaking for considerably more than 10 minutes. The 10 minute figure sounds more appropriate for a group class, but group classes do not typically cost anything like 23,000 a month.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

This is a great ad!

Moderator: It isn't an ad.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is not news,is it?

I wonder how much JT is taking for this chatbot ad?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Many of the people are like robots as it is, so I guess this will support that notion.

-2 ( +4 / -5 )

Guess what English teachers. It's going to be Double Whammy outsource of the decade.

We got rid of most of the NOVA teachers. Now how do we get rid of these tough weeds who don't want to leave this heavenly divine paradise that is Japan?

Replace them with A.I. It's not real so there's no salary, no medical leave, 24hours a day. The bonus is those flesh and fat foreigners will have to get back on the plane. Bonus: We Japanese won't have to worry about our daughters getting pregnant. It's always a hassle taking babies and children from foreign fathers.

Any this A.I solution solves everything!!!

Lets be clear!!! I don't support this measure in any way. This post I clearly to see who benefits from this and how.

-2 ( +2 / -3 )

Wow... like playing chess with a computer... works in theory.

-1 ( +1 / -1 )

Only if they make it like a Japanese date game, it will be a success :p

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

And look at what's written on the screen - are they targeting sad otaku or what?

"Hi, I am Isabelle. if you join SpeakGlobal we can be GOOD FRIENDS and talk anytime you like, for as long as you like..." (my capitals)

We can be good friends? So infantile it's embarrassing.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Yeah , I,d like to meet those students that pay $300 per month for their eikaiwa lessons...the bubble era is over in case the writer hadn,t noticed.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Only if they make it like a Japanese date game, it will be a success :p

Your joking right? There are hundreds, a few years back a guy married his virtual girlfriend.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Most importantly, learners can speak into a microphone using Dragon Naturally Speaking, high-end speech recognition, considered the best speech recognition in the world.

OK, but then what happens? Does the SpeakGlobal A.I. chat robot identify and correct errors? If not, what exactly is the purpose of the microphone? How is the interaction between the student and the SpeakGlobal A.I. chat robot different than the interaction between the student and an English language program on TV?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is." -- YogiBerra

1 ( +2 / -0 )

This just ensures that Japan falls even further behind and never learns a language properly. China, Vietnam and other Asian countries do not have this problem, only Japan. There is always an urge to make it sound Japanese rather than just respecting Japanese and English as two separate languages. Thus by not caring about language failure is assured. I believe this stems from Japanese not having a history. Learning history is bad, so this means that language is always remade, and as a consequence so is English. However no one knows what the changes are except Japanese, making their English effectively a dialect of Japanese

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Hi, I am Isabelle. If you join SpeakGlobal, we can be good friends and talk any time you like. I am sure your English will improve very sat! I hope to see you soon.

This is too funny what they wrote.

I hope it comes with a little doll they can play with at home during the lessons.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This will pave the way for mass grammatical errors, inappropriate conversational skills, and broken English translation. They're probably going to use Google translate for this. Ceap alternative, but generally bad idea.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

*cheap. Damn iPad.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

"chat robots for English as a Foreign Language learning."

Yes, English as a Foreign Language learning is very important, but Chinese as a Foreign Language learning is becoming an important, too.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Hi Isabelle! What's up! Up to the minute. Up in the air. I mean, what's happening? There is a meeting today at 10. What do you mean? I'm a Chat-bot. I'm not programmed to be mean. I mean, how's it going? Are you going? Okay, see you next time! Bye!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Hey Ted, if you figure out a way for iPad to stop doing that, let me know. Writing Japanese in Romaji really messes things up. You have to add a whole bunch of letters and then erase them. 日本語で大丈夫ですよ!

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Those who can afford it pay around $300 per month, though only 1% of the population engages in learning at these schools.

Teaching english can make profitable business at Japan

0 ( +1 / -1 )

This is just an ad posing as an article :-)

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I'll give it six months before some saddo tries to marry his virtual teacher. And some temple takes his money, too.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

This is a great article. Very informative.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Given the increasing number of hikikomori and those on the verge with no social skills and no desire to acquire them, I predict this will be a big, big hit.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Oh wow! I am SO looking forward to the guy sitting next to me on the train practicing what he has learned here with me....!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Be prepared for a bunch of people to start talking like Max Headroom!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I had a look at one of them chatbots and using the word 'intelligence' in this context would be an insult to anyone with half a brain. I doubt anyone could converse with them beyond five minutes without getting so infuriated you'd want to smash their face in.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@bookowls. I remember that guy, Max Headroom! He was funny. But seriously. This is just a fad that will not work. Oh, I am sure that people are going to go out and sign up for the robot system, but they will soon come to fail in their studies. There is nothing better than a real person who can correct your mistakes. Robots will not replace humans in this field for another fifteen years and even then, not so much I think. But good on the company for coming up with a real good way to make money and screw us English teachers over. Just like the gas station. Keep replacing people and watch the unemployments number go up.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I doubt anyone could converse with them beyond five minutes without getting so infuriated you'd want to smash their face in.

Although, to be fair, I used to feel the same way about some of my students... :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Guys, as a supplement to the regular education they receive, given the price is not increased from $15 a month, it can't hurt much. I don't think it would help their CONVERSATION skills at all given responses and pronunciation, etc, would be pre-recorded and limited (and depending on the software people probably have to type in questions as voice recognition couldn't compensate for a bad accent), but it might help with listening and practicing the grammar they learn, etc.

It'll never replace conversation, and I doubt you're going to hear the motivation of many who study English change to: "I want to study English so that I can speak to an AI computer program!", but what's the danger for $15 a month? Another plus is that's 24/7. Sure, they could probably find a lot of free stuff online that accomplishes much of the same thing, but those who want to take the easy route, have at it!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Different strokes for different folks, eh? I'm sure hikikomori/and/or/otaku will go for it. Its main appeal is to avoid the tiresome/frightening/sheer nastiness of having to communicate with a furriner in order to speak a foreign language. I think some Korean firm introduced something similar in young learner classrooms, where some robot waddles round the room with an Aryan girlie face on the screen, while back in the Philippines, a qualified and horribly underpaid Filipina teacher does the voice.

I think the same principles apply as with the 'Bot, i.e. where do you go when you can't undercut the eikawa pay rate any further, except offshore it, or go robot?, as well as taking the unpleasant foreign interface out of the equation.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Follow the link at the bottom of the advertisement/article and check out the sample "lesson" with Ben. It's a hoot! I don't think Chatbots will catch on with most people. The so-called conversation is not very interactive. The Chatbot doesn't really respond in a natural way (of course), and the conversation becomes very boring, just Q & A, very slow and repetitive. Maybe okay for beginners, but for others?

Ben: Can your father or mother speak English? Student: My father spoke English. Ben: Do you have family members who can speak English? Student: I just told you my father spoke English. Ben: Did you know that speaking with me is the best way to improve your English?

My favorite part was when "Ben" asked the student, "Have you ever spoken to a GAIJIN in English?" Also, check out the Chatbot's profiles. Anyone want to chat with an alien?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

...Chatbots' profiles.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

For those who have wondered if these A.I. Chatbots could be used as girlfriends, this video from SpeakGlobalJapan's YouTube channel answers that question: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnx8yxFDMYc

0 ( +0 / -0 )

probably will more effective than JET or Eikawa...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When I was younger I had to learn a foreign language in a country where the language was not spoken and it was very difficult...I took extra lessons in a language laboratory i.e. earphones with taped recordings...this was before modern technology right...well it certainly helped but we were also taken to one of the few places where this particular language was spoken so I believe that the robots will help but you still need both!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hey, this makes a lot of sense. It's like a batting cage. You don't need to pay 6000 yen to talk to a gaijin teacher at Gaba when all you need is speaking opportunities. They need to talk!! These chatbots are not to replace teachers. They are like a pitching machine. I think this is great. Finally, average Japanese person can speak English to someone (or something) without being embarrassed. They need to practice speaking, no more lessons. Most of Japanese people have 6 years of extensive grammar lessons. It is true that average Japanese high school seniors know more English grammar than American counterparts. But it is also true that 99% of them have never spoken English to a foreigner. Many of you guys here are missing the point. I can see all schools (junior and high) requiring their students to talk to these robots as homework. This is far better than having one ALT per school. Yeah, man, this is it..... This solves the core problem of all Asian countries, not enough native speakers to talk to.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Anyone know if Dice K Matsuzaka can speak decent English yet? He said a couple of years ago that he was learning English by watching movies like Cliffhanger and Lethal Weapon...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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