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li3wei1

Could Alexa teach you Chinese?

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li3wei1

Apparently Alexa can speak Chinese now. Learned it pretty quick, too.

I don't have an Alexa, or a Siri, so I'm wading into ignorance territory here, but presumably you can ask them, 'what's the Chinese word for X?' and get a competent answer. Alexa combined with Google Translate (which has got lots better on Chinese over the years) could do simple sentences. But if there are Chinese versions of Alexa, maybe it doesn't need to go through Google Translate? Would it be possible to have an Alexa whose job it is to teach you Chinese? It would speak grammatically enough not to teach you errors, and to correct yours, and if you got stuck, you could use English and it would tell you how to say it in Chinese, and drill you on it? It wouldn't be as good as a human teacher, but it would be cheap and convenient, and you wouldn't have to worry about embarassing yourself.

Does anyone know if this is happening the other way: Chinese people using Alexa to learn English?

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roddy

I'm a fairly heavy user of the Alexa units, have four or five around the house and a couple in a drawer. I can't set mine to talk only Chinese, but I just tested it and it can translate words English to Chinese easy enough - it plays a recording of the Chinese word, rather than speaking it natively. I couldn't get it to translate Chinese to English.

 

There are third-party skills for Chinese learning, but nothing I can see is very substantial. Chineasy has one which is basically short podcasts delivered via Alexa. Chinese Teacher teaches you a single phrase, but doesn't listen to you saying it back. There's a 'Random Chinese Proverb' skill. Etc. That's basically as far as it's got. 

 

I don't think there's going to be anything hugely useful in the near future. Voice recognition for native speakers is a work in progress. Learners using it may well end up, if not careful, exaggerating features that make life easier for the Alexa servers, but seem odd to humans. Accurate recognition of what a learner is trying to say, identifying mistakes and correcting them - long, long way to go, I suspect. But if there are Chinese-speaking Alexa devices available (and if you can get one, and it works out of China) you could use it to practice basic 'turn on the lights' interactions and it won't do any harm. 

 

Most useful Chinese-learning thing Alexa can do currently, IMO? "Turn on Beijing Traffic Radio". 

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AaronUK

Some people have already raised $1 million to make something like this, I’m not quite convinced… from what I can see it doesn’t explain individual words but it can translate sentences it says it includes original words on a tablet for reference but I still don’t know if this is really enough to understand the language. I quite enjoyed going to classes and having grammar points explained to me rather than just giving a translation

 

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/lily-the-1st-smart-speaker-that-teaches-chinese?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=EN_M%2FF_18-65%2B_Website+Visitors&utm_campaign=EN_RMK_Purchase_Remarketing#/

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imron
7 minutes ago, Luxi said:

The future is almost here!

And it's more advanced that Orwell could have ever dreamed of - and people are willingly filling their houses (and drawers) with multiple units 🙈

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roddy

That Lily thing... why does this need hardware? It's a software problem, surely? 

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Flickserve

The makers of Lily said you can learn mandarin from it. I did ask on FB what was their evidence for effectiveness but was directed to ask the question via email. 

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Dawei3

In my very limited use of it, Siri does a nice job translating.  You can ask it "how do I say where is the train station in Chinese" and it will repeat it back verbally in Chinese.  It also puts the characters and the pinyin on the screen.  And it has a button for repeating what it just said.  For the few times I've used Siri for this, it sounded like a real person.  

 

If I went into Google translate, it could likely do the same.  However, I like the fact that with Siri you don't need to unlock the phone & open google to get this info.  

 

While I don't think Siri will teach you Chinese, it could be a useful tool if you want to hear how to say a sentence.  It's button for repeating the sentence is very useful.  

 

You can use google to test your Chinese pronunciation,  i.e., speak Chinese and have it to translate into English.  If it translates correctly, you likely spoke well.  Also, try speaking words with the same pinyin, but different tones to see if it can differentiate them.  If it does, your tones are likely good.  While a human may try to understand you because of the context, google will likely only understand if you say things correctly so it's a good test.  

 

For an automated system to teach you, I think it would need to actively engage you in conversation.  This is why I like the Pimsleur approach; it teaches you to think and actively speak in the other language as opposed to passively repeating what you just heard.    

 

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mikelove

FWIW, despite being in the mobile Chinese learning business, I'm extremely skeptical of the ability to do useful conversation practice with AI anytime soon; we're a long, long way from AIs being able to generate truly original speech, and talking with something that can only explain/correct stuff it has a script for is not anything like talking with a real human. (maybe a human on a tech support line...)

 

If you want to learn Chinese with your Echo, find an actual native Chinese speaker to practice conversation with (no shortage of online VOIP tutoring services...) and use the Echo to talk to them 🙂

 

(that being said, there certainly is room for smart speakers to help with practicing vocabulary, but that doesn't exactly take sophisticated AI to do and can probably only offer modest benefits over a static recording like Pimsleur) (though I may find myself extolling its benefits soon enough...)

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li3wei1

Could you design a modified AI so that it could:

limit its productive vocabulary to a range that you could change ("Alexa, let's take it up to HSK3") (receptive vocab would not be limited)

ask a range of common questions, including follow-up questions ("Do you have any siblings?" "How old is your sister?")

generate questions about simple dialogues or texts ("Where does Mr Li want to travel to?")

decide if the answers to questions make sense, correct errors if possible ("Do you mean 'My sister likes to read books'?")

understand and reply in the learner's language if necessary, with unlimited vocabulary

 

Of course this would work pretty much the same in any language. I'm no programmer, but my guess is that the hardest part would be generating questions about texts, and correcting errors.

Naturally this would not be as good as a live teacher or language partner, but as I said, it would be free, available all the time, anywhere, and tireless, patient, and non-judgemental ("That's interesting. Please tell me how you would like to kill your husband.")

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