Fwd: 9.1 proposal: Language learning on the XO.

Edward Cherlin echerlin at gmail.com
Wed Oct 29 01:37:55 EDT 2008

Sorry, this got away before I added the rest of the recipients.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Edward Cherlin <echerlin at gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Oct 28, 2008 at 10:25 PM
Subject: Re: 9.1 proposal: Language learning on the XO.
To: Chris Ball <cjb at laptop.org>

On Tue, Oct 28, 2008 at 4:46 PM, Chris Ball <cjb at laptop.org> wrote:
> Hi,
> I'm learning Spanish at the moment, and I wish the XO made it easier
> for me.  I don't have any knowledge of what the right way to do either
> conventional or constructionist language learning on computers is; if
> anyone has much experience with either, I'd love to hear about it.

Caleb Gattegno: The Silent Way

The Silent Way is the pedagogical approach created by Gattegno for
teaching foreign languages; the objective is for students to work as
autonomous language learners.

> I have some obvious candidates for software that could be produced in
> mind:
>   * A method -- similar to Scott's recent GtkLabel overlay for allowing
>     strings inside Sugar and activities to be translated -- that does a
>     dictionary lookup of a word on the screen and overlays the
>     translation of that word into a local language.  This should be
>     activity-agnostic, if possible.  For bonus points, translate
>     phrases instead of just words.

I worked once for Sentius Corp., which had such software for providing
either translations or definitions through pop-up "portlets". This
kind of software is in wide use.

Sites such as translate.google.com and
http://www.popjisyo.com/WebHint/Portal_e.aspx or http://www.rikai.com
offer various ways of doing this, including copy and paste, or
entering a URL to get a version of a page annotated dynamically.

>   * Perhaps some kind of Pronunciation Activity that gives you words
>     in the target language, speaks them to you, explains what they
>     mean in your local language, and asks you to speak them back,
>     perhaps grading your response?  (All but the last part is already
>     possible to do manually in the Words activity, but not in a
>     structured way.)

Our text-to-speech engine will be available for all Activities. In
addition to speaking selected text in any supported language, it will
highlight the point of pronunciation as it reads. It can be adapted to
a language lesson Activity.

>   * Is there any free content that matches iconic images to words,
>     so that language vocabulary could be taught even without textual
>     translation to a local language?

We ought to be able to combine Google Translate and Google Images
using Google APIs.

There are a number of picture dictionaries or visual dictionaries, in
which all of the parts of an object are labeled in the target
language. We could ask for a license, or create our own. We could
throw a draft together out of free clip art in fairly short order, and
get our artists to do something even better for global publication.

> Feel free to come up with questions/ideas around language learning on
> the XO in general in this thread, and they'll make it into the
> conference talk.

There is a substantial body of Free Software for language learning,
and other Computational Linguistics software that could be adapted to
language learning.

o Content: Literature; man pages and other documentation; localization files

o Dictionaries

o Typing tutors for various writing systems

o Kana drill and practice

o Flashcard programs usable for vocabulary, simple grammar drills
(plurals, genders, tenses) and somewhat more.

o Spelling and grammar checkers

What we need most is a Transformational Grammar engine to drill more
advanced constructions.

>From simple transformations, such as "I am going out."-->"We are going
out." to such things as counterfactual conditionals. "He went."-->"Had
he gone..." or "If he had gone...", including different patterns for
the formal, even the old-fashioned (to prepare students for
literature) and the more colloquial. Or dialect. "If'n he went...", if
a student so chooses.

A quite decent summary of some of the development of this field is in
>From algorithms to generative grammar and back again
by John Goldsmith, The University of Chicago.


The author describes one of his research interests as "unsupervised
learning of morphology". Unfortunately for us, that means unsupervised
computers attempting to analyse word structure, with a 70-80% success
rate measured by words in the corpus. It has nothing to do with human
learning or the grammar of sentences.

An algorithm for the unsupervised learning of morphology


This paper describes in detail an algorithm for the unsupervised
learning of natural lan-
guage morphology, with emphasis on challenges that are encountered in
languages typolog-
ically similar to European languages. It utilizes the Minimum
Description Length analysis
described in Goldsmith (2001), and has been implemented in software
that is available for
downloading and testing.

"The executable for this program, and the source code as well, is
available at http://linguistica.uchicago.edu."

The conclusion we should draw is that in its full generality, these
are very hard problems, which we have barely made a beginning on.
I would suggest that for selected semi-formal grammars, of the kind
commonly taught in textbooks for foreign students, it might be a
reasonable task. Basically, we remove nearly all of the colloquial,
and teach only the stuff that has known rules. Given a sufficient
research impetus, we can expect to make fairly rapid progress for some
considerable time in extending our analysis and teaching methods to
ever larger corpora of published and spoken or sung material. We must
exclude at any given moment the unconquered edge cases, such as
certain kinds of obscure humor, or James Joyce and the current
post-post-modernists. I think that they can safely be left to the
advanced classes in any case. If we can get our students to be fluent
in the few hundred cases in published transformational grammars of
English, with the common irregular verbs and plurals, and a set of
daily-use idioms, nobody can complain. (Well, actually, they can, and
they will, but I will feel free to ignore them. ;->)

I'll ask Goldsmith whether he would be interested in joining our
discussion, and whether he knows of relevant R&D.

> Thanks,
> - Chris.
> --
> Chris Ball   <cjb at laptop.org>
> _______________________________________________
> Devel mailing list
> Devel at lists.laptop.org
> http://lists.laptop.org/listinfo/devel

Give One, Get One, from Nov. 17

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