Example 7: Exercise dictating in German to an LRC Windows 7 computer

How can we get language students more speaking practice with qualified, but affordable feedback ? Native speaker contact remains difficult to organize even in the days of online conferencing. The LRC hosts language tutoring, but numbers are limited. Enter speech recognition, the holy grail of iCALL,  much easier for learners to relate to than the voice graph that digital audio can be broken down to, and thus for a long time a standout feature of costly second-language-acquisition packages like Auralog Tell-me-More (speech recognition in English tested here) – but now the LRC has Windows 7 Enterprise (and its free add-on language packs), and another crucial prerequisite: headphones with excellent microphones.

We are setting up the new Windows 7 computers in the LRC to allow for speech recognition in Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish. Here is an example of me using this facility for a practicing my German during a dictation exercise:

Granted, German is my native tongue; but the example text is from the online component for the final chapter  of the “Treffpunkt Deutsch” 1st-year textbook in use here, which sends the readers to the website of the Swiss (-German) employment agency.

Apart from infrequent words ("Archiven") and Lehnwörtern ("Bachelor" etc.), Windows 7 speech recognition accuracy seems quite impressive. The above example was actually my first dictation, except that immediately beforehand, I invested a few minutes into the standard Windows 7 speech recognition training (aimed at training the user, although may behind the scenes teach the computer a few things about the speaker already also) and a few more minutes of voice training (this one is meant exclusively for the computer, but the user can also see it fail and why). The – rather simple trick to boost speech recognition results – certainly accessible to our students – seems to be to speak not only  clearly, but also slowly, with short pauses between most words.

Speech recognition in these languages is a feature of the Windows 7 (Enterprise/Ultimate version) “language packs” that we installed and switched to – that is why the entire computer interface appears in German. Practicing the L2 with (computer—operating) “voice commands” (instead of with a mouse) is also possible, simpler than replacing the keyboard (mostly) by voice, but not as easy to devise homework exercises for.

Tips for designing exercises using speech recognition: As the example shows ("Archiven") , doing all corrections by voice can quickly become tedious. But there is no pedagogical need to have your students’ bang their heads against this wall. Instead, just ask your students to correct their automatically recognized words manually at the end of their video, after their dictation. This way both you and your students get a clear summary of what they achieved – even clearer if they dictate in MS-Word with the spell and grammar check for the language (automatic with the switch to the language pack for the language) and (using key combination CTRL+SHIFT+E) track changes. We will show you later TBA:how we now enable students to easily record their screen and TBA:upload their screencast into Moodle Kaltura.

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