Monday, June 30, 2014

Voice to Text (VoT) Technology on Smart Phones

At the recent JALTCALL 2014 conference at Sugiyama Jyougakun University in Nagoya, I attended an excellent session given by James Henry from The Research Institute of English Language Education in Kobe regarding how he used Dragon Dictation, a free Voice to Text (VoT) application on iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches to teach pronunciation and speaking.  Over the years, VoT has improved dramatically and is much more reliable and accurate, and Dragon Dictation is one of the best currently available.
James showed us how students, using Dragon Dictation and at their own pace, spoke words or phrases from a list into their smart devices and compared what the application registered on the screen to the text on their papers.  After receiving this direct and immediate feedback on their pronunciation and speaking skills, many students were surprised by the results and felt challenged to try again, resulting in increased motivation and effort.
To better see this in action, please click on the following hyperlink to see a YouTube video of a similar process in an ESL classroom in California:

ELL students practice English with iPods

I was very excited by the potential of VoT technology and immediately began trying to incorporate it into my teaching the following Monday.  I introduced it to some individual students, who all strongly responded to the immediate feedback and reported that they felt challenged to try again and wanted to keep trying.  I also introduced it to a Technical English for Engineers class and quickly was able to have all the students practicing their pronunciation of the new and difficult technical and scientific vocabulary they have been studying.  With an adult staff class, I introduced VoT as a way for them to practice their speaking and pronunciation of conversational questions they have been studying.   Both classes responded in the same positive way.
Here are some suggestions and observations to make your life easier based on the above experiences:

  • Before you try to introduce VoT to a class of students, make sure you know how to use the VoT options the different phone systems: iOS for iPhones and Android for most other phones.  Often times, different phones have different settings in terms of input language, enabling voice to text, keyboard language, microphone button, etc.  One idea is to work beforehand with one or two reliable students so that they understand the process and can assist in class. Another idea is to have students change the language of their phones to English so you can help guide them through the process of figuring out how to use VoT.
  • You don’t have to use Dragon Dictation.  Most newer iPhones and Android phones have built in VoT that can be used in composing emails and other texts.  Dragon Dictation is easier to use, but it is not available for Android phones.  There may be some free VoT applications available for Android phones, however.
  • It is better to have students focus on individual words or short phrases (2-3 words).  With longer texts, it is much harder for the students to produce correct VoT text which that can be frustrating and demotivating.
  • Along the same lines, it is important to let the students know that even if they are unable to produce a VoT text with 100% accuracy, they can still be understood by a human listener.  Remind them that this activity is just to improve their pronunciation.
  • When appropriate, use the student’s phone yourself to produce the correct text to show them that the VoT actually does work the way it is supposed to.

Next semester, I have a Listening and Speaking class where I plan to incorporate VoT as a regular activity in the classroom.  I’d welcome any suggestions and thoughts on how that might be done.  Stay tuned for updates!