Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Making adult language learning child’s play


A sophisticated new language learning method that uses technology to implement findings from neuroscience aims to be simplicity itself for adult learners.

Mobility within the European Union offers great prospects for both individuals and companies – but doing business in another country only makes sense if you can speak (or quickly learn) the local language. Unfortunately, recent statistics have shown that 51 per cent of EU citizens cannot speak a European language other than their mother tongue – a surprisingly low number given that over 90 per cent of Europeans learn a second language at school.

“The problem is that today’s typical approach to language learning is too intellectual,” explains Ralph Warnke, the coordinator of the IST programme-funded FLIC project behind the courses. Slavishly learning the grammar of a language along ‘la plume de ma tante’ lines does not enable us to speak it, as all too many of us can testify. “Based on our observation of how bilingual children learn languages, we decided to find an easier way for adults to pick up a second tongue,” says Warnke.

Warnke is Managing Director and President of MediTECH, a German company that devised Brain-Boy®, a kind of portable game computer that is a highly effective, technology-enabled way of improving the language abilities of dyslexic children, by training them in eight basic language functions such as pitch discrimination and spatial hearing. “For dyslexics, their own language is like a foreign language,” explains Warnke. “So that got me thinking, why shouldn’t the same approach work with adult language learners?”

FLIC uses a feedback system, equipping learners with a headset (earphones) and microphone, plus a black box (or programme, in the case of the home version), which mixes the sound. When learners begin a FLIC course, they start by reading text while listening to it being pronounced by a model voice in the earphones. Next, they mouth the text while listening to the words (“The brain is working although the voice is silent,” explains Warnke). Step three is actually speaking the words out loud.

Then – and this is the clever part – the system plays back the learner’s efforts in one ear, and the model voice in the other ear. “And it doesn’t stay in the same ear, but moves from ear to ear, so that inter-hemispheric contact is enhanced,” explains Warnke. “Both hemispheres are very important for language learning. The left hemisphere is involved in word recognition, it’s the word processor of the brain; but the right hemisphere rules prosody – a vital decoding process that uncovers non-explicit shades of meaning.”

Using the learner’s own voice aids learning, because research shows that we pay most attention to voices like our own. So, in the next stage, FLIC uses this fact by modifying the model voice, blending it with the learner’s voice, which has been divided into bands and analysed for speed, pitch, and so on using software developed by Stockholm’s KTH, one of the FLIC project’s partners. The resulting voice mimics the learner’s own, yet has the superior pronunciation of the model voice. “When learners hear this, they experience themselves speaking a foreign language much better than they expected,” says Warnke. “They are then happy to keep practising and speaking.”

An innovative use of voice techniques is also used to improve vocabulary retention. Learners hear a word in the target language in one ear, and its meaning in their own language in the other ear, simultaneously. “Again, the words and translations switch between the ears, and so the hemispheres,” says Warnke.

Learners listen and participate in dialogues, picking up the structure of the language by example, without ever having to endure a grammar lesson. “They absorb the rules naturally, which is exactly how small children learn languages,” says Warnke. “FLIC gives people an internal pattern of a language that they don’t get with other systems.”

After three years in development and testing, the FLIC trials are currently being evaluated by the University of Sheffield, UK, and full results are expected in May.

“The testing phase took place in five different sites in three countries: France, Germany and Italy,” explains Warnke. “Beginners, intermediate and advanced groups took courses of between 24 and 48 total hours, while control groups took conventional courses. Preliminary findings indicate that FLIC cuts language learning time by 50 per cent.” Acceptance of the method was high, among both students and teachers. So far, FLIC offers courses in English, German, and Italian, but other languages can easily be added.

Warnke hopes to commercialise the product in the near future, pointing out that its availability as both software and hardware make it suitable for individuals (home users) as well as groups (language schools).

Tara Morris | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Science Education:

nachricht Studying outdoors is better
06.02.2018 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Classroom in Stuttgart with Li-Fi of Fraunhofer HHI opened
03.11.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Nachrichtentechnik, Heinrich-Hertz-Institut, HHI

All articles from Science Education >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>