Foreign Language Learning

Using voice technology to help students learning foreign languages


Whether it’s to improve their employment prospects, to make traveling easier, or simply to exercise their brain, many people are learning foreign languages.

Grammar and vocabulary are important aspects of a new language, but often the first stumbling block to making yourself understood is pronunciation. Each language has its own core set of sounds, called phones, from which words are constructed. As young babies we already show a preference for the phones of our native language. By the time we are adults, those preferences are ingrained and it can be difficult even to hear sounds that aren’t present in your native language. This makes learning pronunciation hard because you cannot easily tell when you are wrong. For example - it is hard for native Spanish speakers  to distinguish the long and short vowel in the English words ‘sheep’ and ‘ship’, while native English speakers have trouble hearing and reproducing subtle vowel differences in French. 

Technology companies are changing the way that people learn new languages by bringing teaching online. When learning a foreign language, students who receive frequent and meaningful feedback improve faster. The best way to get this feedback is talking with a teacher who can correct you in the moment. One of the key challenges for providers of online foreign language instruction is to find a way of providing timely feedback on such aspects as pronunciation, sentence construction or word selection.

Here’s where voice technology can help. By analysing speech patterns, we can provide instant feedback and so help people learn faster. We use automatic speech recognition technology to recognise what students have said, including the phonemes, stress and intonation patterns they use. By comparing to one or more reference pronunciations, we can learn scores for entire phrases, words, syllables or phones. We provide detailed feedback to students about which sounds and words they successfully pronounced, and where they should put in more practice. Furthermore, we can use automated text-to-speech to speak out examples of phrases, words or sounds that the student can listen to and compare to their own pronunciations as they learn.

Cobalt has worked with each of our partner foreign language learning companies to create a custom technology that reflects their teaching philosophy and style. By automating language learning feedback, Cobalt has been able to deploy a scalable, online foreign language learning platform which is in use by our partners in their online education products.

Do you want to chat with us about using voice and language technology in your products? Get in touch by emailing