Alexa, can you teach me how to pronounce the past tense in English? Intelligent personal assistants in L2 education
Alexa, can you teach me how to pronounce the past tense in English?
Intelligent personal assistants in L2 education
The results of a previous study on the pedagogical use of smart speakers and their associated voice controlled Intelligent Personal Assistants (IPAs) revealed positive effects on motivating second language (L2) learners to practice their speaking and listening skills in a stress-free environment (Moussalli & Cardoso, 2016; 2017). Based on these findings, it was concluded that IPAs have the potential to improve L2 learners’ pronunciation in English because of their helpful negative feedback, which stimulated learners to notice and identify problems or gaps in their production of the target language. We believe that the pedagogical use of IPAs can be valuable additions to “traditional” face-to-face L2 teaching because the technology has the potential to promote learner autonomy and, consequently, expand learning opportunities to out-of-class contexts (“anytime anywhere” learning) and, at the same time, foster a personalized, learner-centered, and collaborative L2 pedagogy (Kim & Kwon, 2012).
This follow-up study investigates the ability of a smart speaker Amazon Echo and its IPA (synthesized associated voice, Alexa), to assist ESL learners in developing their phonological awareness and, consequently, their perception and production of the allomorphy that characterizes regular past tense -ed marking in English (e.g., -ed can be pronounced as talk[t], play[d] and add[id]). The study addresses the following general question: Do English learners benefit from the pedagogical use of a commercial IPA? Will its adoption improve users’ pronunciation of -ed allomorphy from both qualitative (phonological awareness) and quantitative perspectives (learning gains in production and perception)?
Two groups of English L2 learners (divided into two groups: IPA and Control) engaged in learning tasks involving speaking and listening to past -ed forms for 5 weeks. The study employed a mixed-methods approach for data collection and analysis and a pretest-posttests design to test the participants’ ability to perceive, produce and articulate their phonological awareness regarding the past -ed and its allomorphs. At the end of the experiment, participants filled out surveys and participated in focus group discussions and interviews about their pedagogical experience with the IPA. Preliminary results indicate no significant improvements in the perception and production of -ed forms. However, our findings suggest that participants in the IPA Group significantly improved in their ability to articulate their phonological awareness regarding the target form. Our discussion will emphasize the pedagogical potential of IPAs for the development of L2 phonological awareness and their ability to personalize learning and, consequently, extend the reach of the language classroom.