Using artificial intelligence to check and improve your spoken accuracy
Speaking
Using artificial intelligence to check and improve your spoken accuracy

Almost everyone has access to at least one item with this, they use it a lot of the time and it makes their lives much easier. I’m thinking about Artificial Intelligence, or AI, particularly something which has speech recognition software or a speech generation function. These products that only respond once their name is said – Alexa, Siri, Hello Google, etc. – aren't just good for requesting music, they can be a useful tool in spoken English development. Can AI help you with your IELTS speaking skills? I think so.    Judgment free feedback I’m going to focus on Alexa just because that’s the one I use most. However, much of what I suggest is true for other similar tools. This form of AI can help language learners particularly with pronunciation development by being a non-judgmental checker of the sounds in English you use. If what you say is not understood, then it will say so or it will answer according to what it thought it heard. There’s no shame in either of those and it can be sometimes the fault of the machine. Consider this as a learning opportunity. Remember to change the language to English on your device before following the suggestions below.  Pronounce words better: We know there are a number of difficult words to pronounce. For IELTS Speaking, your pronunciation will be assessed along with other key parts of your speech. You don't get marks for having a British or American accent, but for being intelligible (able to understand what you're saying). Create a list of words you’d like to use especially when in the Speaking test.  So, you’ve seen them written down and you’re now familiar with the meaning and when to use the word – this is important here. Start by asking your AI for a definition of the word. Did it understand what you said? Was that the meaning you thought it was? If so, great. If not, don’t worry – try again and listen to the word in an online dictionary. Perhaps your word stress was slightly wrong, or a vowel sound wasn’t quite right. No need to be upset – no one is judging you. That’s the beauty of this system.  Go further and ask how many syllables your chosen word has – again, this will check you’ve pronounced it well enough. Try to find words with more than 3 or 4 syllables. Again, allow any misunderstandings to be an opportunity for learning. Of course, with many of these devices, you need to ask questions – something you don’t often do in the IELTS Speaking test. Carefully think about how you will put these words (or phrases) into simple questions that will check your pronunciation and probably your grammar – rephrase or repeat your question until you feel you’ve been understood. Conversation practice: You can take this approach further by using phrases and sentences. How long can you maintain the conversation? This is a new thing from Alexa called ‘Let’s chat’ – it’s actually a competition that developers are taking part in to see if they can create a ‘socialbot’. Keep an eye out for this as it’s in the early stages but apparently you can talk about a topic with an AI device for up to 20 minutes on many everyday topics.  Remember, breakdowns in communication and misunderstandings are opportunities for you to improve, and you can always blame the technology! Interestingly, you can hear and read your questions and conversations again by accessing the app – this will give you a transcript to check and delete later if you’re concerned about privacy.    Part 2 speaking development  Moving on from individual words and phrases and short questions and answers, let’s now consider IELTS Speaking Part 2. You’ll receive a card and you’ll have to speak about a topic for up to two minutes. There are many examples of possible topic cards online – select a few for the activity I’m about to explain. Without a teacher or even a fellow student, it may seem impossible to get feedback but you can record your answer and then listen again and identify places where you know you’ve made a mistake. Perhaps you didn’t talk about one of the key points or you spoke for too long. Perhaps you made a number of grammar mistakes you can now see. AI can help you go further here.  (Click to enlarge) Remember though that with AI, it’s a computer so it’s not perfect. But it does give you non-judgmental feedback for you to use to improve your speaking and better prepare for the exam. Jishan

Jishan Uddin

19 August, 2020

Using artificial intelligence to check and improve your spoken accuracy

Using artificial intelligence to check and improve your spoken accuracy

Almost everyone has access to at least one item with this, they use it a lot of the time and it makes their lives much easier. I’m thinking about Artificial Intelligence, or AI, particularly something which has speech recognition software or a speech generation function. These products that only respond once their name is said – Alexa, Siri, Hello Google, etc. – aren't just good for requesting music, they can be a useful tool in spoken English development. Can AI help you with your IELTS speaking skills? I think so. 

 

Judgment free feedback

I’m going to focus on Alexa just because that’s the one I use most. However, much of what I suggest is true for other similar tools. This form of AI can help language learners particularly with pronunciation development by being a non-judgmental checker of the sounds in English you use. If what you say is not understood, then it will say so or it will answer according to what it thought it heard. There’s no shame in either of those and it can be sometimes the fault of the machine. Consider this as a learning opportunity. Remember to change the language to English on your device before following the suggestions below. 

Pronounce words better: We know there are a number of difficult words to pronounce. For IELTS Speaking, your pronunciation will be assessed along with other key parts of your speech. You don't get marks for having a British or American accent, but for being intelligible (able to understand what you're saying). Create a list of words you’d like to use especially when in the Speaking test. 

So, you’ve seen them written down and you’re now familiar with the meaning and when to use the word – this is important here. Start by asking your AI for a definition of the word. Did it understand what you said? Was that the meaning you thought it was? If so, great. If not, don’t worry – try again and listen to the word in an online dictionary. Perhaps your word stress was slightly wrong, or a vowel sound wasn’t quite right. No need to be upset – no one is judging you. That’s the beauty of this system. 

Go further and ask how many syllables your chosen word has – again, this will check you’ve pronounced it well enough. Try to find words with more than 3 or 4 syllables. Again, allow any misunderstandings to be an opportunity for learning. Of course, with many of these devices, you need to ask questions – something you don’t often do in the IELTS Speaking test. Carefully think about how you will put these words (or phrases) into simple questions that will check your pronunciation and probably your grammar – rephrase or repeat your question until you feel you’ve been understood.

Conversation practice: You can take this approach further by using phrases and sentences. How long can you maintain the conversation? This is a new thing from Alexa called ‘Let’s chat’ – it’s actually a competition that developers are taking part in to see if they can create a ‘socialbot’. Keep an eye out for this as it’s in the early stages but apparently you can talk about a topic with an AI device for up to 20 minutes on many everyday topics. 

Remember, breakdowns in communication and misunderstandings are opportunities for you to improve, and you can always blame the technology! Interestingly, you can hear and read your questions and conversations again by accessing the app – this will give you a transcript to check and delete later if you’re concerned about privacy. 

 

Part 2 speaking development 

Moving on from individual words and phrases and short questions and answers, let’s now consider IELTS Speaking Part 2. You’ll receive a card and you’ll have to speak about a topic for up to two minutes. There are many examples of possible topic cards online – select a few for the activity I’m about to explain. Without a teacher or even a fellow student, it may seem impossible to get feedback but you can record your answer and then listen again and identify places where you know you’ve made a mistake. Perhaps you didn’t talk about one of the key points or you spoke for too long. Perhaps you made a number of grammar mistakes you can now see. AI can help you go further here. 

Follow these steps

(Click to enlarge)

Remember though that with AI, it’s a computer so it’s not perfect. But it does give you non-judgmental feedback for you to use to improve your speaking and better prepare for the exam.

Jishan

Jishan Uddin

Jishan has been an English teacher mostly at UK universities for over fifteen years and has extensive experience in teaching, co-ordinating and leading on a range of modules and courses. He is also an author for Cambridge University Press for whom he has written students' and teachers' books for IELTS exam preparation courses.

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