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September 23, 2013

Did Apple accidentally invent a cool language learning app?

siri-screenshots.jpgMike S. Boyle, one of the authors of American English File, recently posted an interesting look at the ELT possibilities for Siri, the iPhone's virtual assistant app. (spotted on eltjam)

I’ve just upgraded my iPhone to the new iOS7 operating system and discovered some amazing improvements to Siri, the virtual assistant that responds to your voice. Whereas the old version of Siri barely understood a word I said, the all-new Siri not only understands my English but can also perfectly comprehend my far-from-perfect Mandarin Chinese.

I immediately wasted an afternoon asking Chinese Siri ridiculous questions and receiving all manner of delightful responses. (edited) How can the new Siri help learners of English?

Pronunciation is the most obvious area. What’s nice about using Siri is that it puts the focus on intelligibility. Lots of our learners are hung up on getting a “native accent,” a goal which is totally unrealistic for adults (and also a bit offensive to many of us).

Practicing pronunciation with Siri is also inherently motivating. You want Siri to understand what you say, and you get immediate feedback on whether you were successful.

Also, unlike other dictation software, Siri is more context aware and therefore more forgiving of small errors. It will probably work out what you’re trying to say even if you make a few mistakes, the same way a human listener would.

It’s also great that, unlike other pronunciation apps out there, Siri is already pre-loaded on your learners’ phones, it’s only the press of a button away, and it doesn’t cost anything.

Read the full post on Mike's blog.

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