LIFE is hard for immigrant children – new place, new friends, new language. Starting from next January, 4 and 5-year-olds in four cities across Europe will be getting a helping hand, by testing outto help them get up to speed in the local language.
The project, called L2TOR, is run by linguists and roboticists from a consortium of universities across Europe. It aims to help young children gain the language skills they need when they enter the school system. The pilot will see children working withDutch in the cities of Tilburg and Utrecht and German in Bielefeld, while kids in Istanbul in Turkey will get help with English.
L2TOR will have children work through a language course on a tablet computer under the watchful eye of a NAO robot. These bots are made by French firm Aldebaran Robotics and are often used in classrooms (below). Before starting the lesson, the robot will explain what the child is going to learn, then, once the lesson is under way, it will observe the child’s body language and assist them when they get stuck.
“We want to help these children improve their language skills through one-to-one interaction with a, to help them catch up,” says Paul Vogt of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, who works on L2TOR.
This is not the only project looking to use robots to boost learning. It’s well known that children learn better in one-to-one rather than class settings, but the cost and logistics of doing this with human teachers would be prohibitive. At Yale University, Aditi Ramachandran and Brian Scassellati are studying how 10 and 11-year-old children interact with robots. Their aim is to develop software that enables robots to understand students’ mental state and how much progress they are making in solving maths problems.
And at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, a system called CoWriter helps 6 to 8-year-olds practise their handwriting with robotic help. A NAO robot attempts to write a word on a tablet screen, and the child can step in and “teach” the robot where it went wrong, improving their own writing in the process.
While human teachers are still the best when it comes to learning, robots are better than just using screen-based software, as in popular online courses. Learning with robots gives the child a tangible three-dimensional presence, which can help them learn more effectively.
Robots even have some advantages that humans do not – like infinite patience. “Sometimes the human teacher can get bored or angry by repeating things again and again,” says Amit Kumar Pandey, head of research and development at Aldebaran Robotics. “These kinds of psychological things will not affect the robot, they can repeat themselves as many times as necessary.”
“Robots have some advantages that humans do not – like infinite patience”
(Image: Demitrius Balevski/Corbis)
This article appeared in print under the headline “Take a robot language class”
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