When for the first time I got an I-phone, I spend the whole day asking none sense questions from Siri. I was trying to ask all the possible questions to see her reaction. Sometimes I was getting surprised for the wise answers, but sometimes her less relevant answers were making me and my brother laugh hard. Same with chatbots, when for the first time I discovered chatbots I was a school girl! I was spending the whole day chatting with a robot and asking funny questions. But little I knew that chatting with a robot could improve my English.
In the recent years, the web is full of chatbots and programs that try to converse and answer questions just like human beings. Using automated speech recognition (ASR) and chatbots can be an interesting and funny experience for the users, especially for teenagers. The empirical research done in these articles revealed that chatbots and ASR software can positively affect the language learning. These programs are not flawless, they do not always respond the questions accurately and are unable of creating a real conversation. However, English language teachers can use them as “conversation practice machine”, where students can ‘chat’ in ordinary spoken English with the computer. Thanks to them, the teachers can add more colors to their classes and enhance students’ motivation.
The article by Coniam, introduces the most appropriate chatbots, which can be used in the classes. Before using any chatbots or ASR software the teacher should bear in mind that the functionality of the programs is limited. They don’t have humans’ intelligence, they have specialized vocabulary and discussion topics. Chatbots cannot always respond to the grammatically wrong formed questions and ASR software, are not always able to recognize the accent of the speaker. Moreover, most of the chatbots function best if just one sentence is typed at a time. Though the limitations, they can be a great pedagogical tool for less able ESL learners.
Check the following designed activity, where chatbots are used.
Topic: daily talk with Mitsuku audience: 14-16 Proficiency level: high elementary
- Introduce the chatbot to the students.
- Teach them how to use it.
- Tell them that the activity is done to improve their daily spoken English.
- Inform them that it is a safe environment, and the software has no access to the personal information or computer data. (inform about the chatbots to the parents as well)
- Tell the students about the limitation of the program, asking them to write as clear as possible, with less spelling and grammatical mistakes.
Note: Mitsuku is an advanced chatbot, mostly able to recognize the misspelled words or grammatically wrong questions and perform better that George (chatbot introduced in the article)
- Ask students to spend 30 minutes and chat with the machine and ask simple structured sentences.
- Ask them to use their new words and expressions in the chat and ask the robot the word meaning that they don’t know.
- During the next class ask students their opinion about the task, if they like it; ask them to continue to chat to improve their daily spoken English.