Language teaching is a difficult process that requires careful work. Educators try to find ways to make this difficult process enjoyable for language learners. As technological developments came into use, language learning became more attractive. 'Text to Speech' (Speech synthesis) technology, one of these technological developments, is basically the process of synthesizing natural sounding speech from any text via special computer programs. These programs can create the most realistic, human-sounding synthetic speech which is available today. This paper explores the possible uses, advantages and disadvantages of this technology taking EFL learners into consideration.
Language teaching is rather difficult and complicated process that requires careful and diligent work. Educators in the field of language teaching always try hard to find ways to make language learning enjoyable and attractive for the learners. Different activities, games, and interesting stories helped language teachers to achieve this aim through many years and they still do.
Today, we have access to many CALL programs that are currently used and tested in language classrooms for teaching grammar, speaking and other skills. Text-to-speech technology is a common feature of almost any CALL application. 'Text-to-Speech' (Speech Synthesis) technology is the ability of a computer to produce 'spoken words'. Computer speech can be produced either by "splicing" prerecorded words together or, with much more difficulty, by having the computer produce the sounds that make up spoken words (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe, 2004)
In other words, text-to-speech is the conversion of text to speech through special computer applications, is often referred to as Text To Speech software (TTS). Text-to-speech software is invaluable for blind computer users as it enables them to "read" from the screen. This technology was first introduced as Texas Instruments Speak and Spell handheld electronic learning aid in 1978. Language learners and teachers need to be informed about this technology, its possible uses, advantages and limitations since this technology is new to them.
As Warschauer and Meskill (2000) suggest, every type of language teaching uses its own techniques to help learners. With the introduction of Grammar-translation method, the blackboard came into use in language classrooms. Later it was replaced by overhead projector. Following them, computer software was used to provide students with drill-and-practice exercises.
The first use of computers by institutions related to teaching and learning coincided with the introduction of second-generation computers towards the 1950s. Large universities started to use computers for administrative processes and student record keeping. At the same time computers were used for instructional teaching and research. PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations), the very first project related to use of computers in educational research, began in 1960 at the University of Illinois to design a large computer-based system for instruction. The PLATO system included a mainframe machine supporting hundreds of terminals which have high capacity comparing to that age. Many courses in many disciplines were developed, designed and delivered on PLATO systems (Alessi & Trollip, 1985; Warschauer, 1996; Levy, 1997; Culley, 1992). Later, new versions of PLATO came into use with new changes to provide interactive and self-paced instruction.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the use of computer-assisted instruction expanded in public schools with the introduction of the next generation of computers and microchips which were cheaper (Bullough & Beatty, 1991). In 1971, another important project, TICCIT (Time-shared, Interactive, Computer Controlled Information Television) was initiated at Brigham Young University (Levy, 1977). The system combined television technology with the computer to deliver instruction to the learners.
During the 1980s, microcomputers started to be adopted by the schools and new developments such as CD-ROM, speech-based software, and interactive videos appeared. Also experiments were done in the integration of the computers into the curriculum. In the 1990s and 2000s, with the introduction of fast, affordable processors, new software, wide-scale and fast access to the Internet made computers available in almost all public and private schools as well as homes for personal and educational use.
Meanwhile, what went unnoticed was the 'text-to-speech' technology basically designed for the visually impaired people. Speech synthesis is the conversion of text to speech through special computer applications, is often referred to as Text To Speech software (TTS). Text-to-speech software is considered invaluable for the blind since it enables them to read from the computer screens. However, it didn't take much attention from language learners and teachers. This might be attributed to the views on this new technology as Higgins (as cited in Ehsani & Knodt, 1998, p.46) states "Because speech technology isn't perfect, it is of no use at all. If it cannot account for the full complexity of human language', why even bother modeling more constrained aspects of language use."
Although what Higgins said cannot be confronted since speech technology is not perfect in terms of the complexity of human language, it is important to note that it has some possible uses in language teaching and learning. We also should take into account that technology improves day by day and it is no doubt that what is good today will be better tomorrow as Ehsani and Knodt (1998) and Sobkowiak (2003) stated that text-to-speech technology will be a common feature of any CALL application and human language technologies will improve the current software of foreign language teaching.
(Please refer to Audio5 for the early TTS sound technology).
Currently, there are three computer applications available to home users who want to benefit from this technology, namely, Natural Voice Reader, ReadPlease Plus 2003 and TextAloud MP3. All these programs are aimed to produce the most realistic human sounding voices. However, Garrett (1998, p. 81) states "This technology isn't at a stage where it can reliably render a target language accent authentic enough for language use." Before dealing with the performance issue, the first question to be answered is what these applications can do.
The most important consideration perhaps is whether this technology can create authentic speech. In other words, will the speech produced be authentic enough? To understand this, Natural Voice Reader Enterprise Edition having AT&T Mike and Crystal American English Voices were tested and used to create human-sounding versions of a mini dialogue and a long text (see Appendices) from TOEFL Test Preparation Kit published by Educational Testing Service (ETS) in 1995 (Audio2 and Audio3). The original speech files are Audio1 and Audio4). When compared, it was noticed that the resulting voices were satisfactory in terms of pronunciation and clearness, however; some limitations were noted.
Taking language learners into consideration, the following list can be made regarding the uses of these programs:
Excuse me, Where is the nearest post office please?
What kind of books do you read?
What kind of music do you like?
What do you do when you are bored?
Excuse me, Where is the nearest lost property office, please?
I'm sorry,I don't know.
Thank you anyway.
Not at all.
"A 28-year-old South Korean man has died after playing an online computer game for almost 50 hours non-stop. The man, known only by his family name of Lee, started playing the popular battle simulation game Starcraft on August 3 and was fixed to his seat for over two days. His marathon gaming session was apparently broken only with the occasional toilet break or five-minute nap. Reuters News Agency reports police sources saying the man died from cardiac arrest "stemming from exhaustion".
Lee was on a mission to become a professional gamer. This is an increasingly attractive and well-paid profession in South Korea. Top players can earn substantial amounts of money each year. Lee had recently been fired from his job because of absences due to his obsession with gaming. The dangers of being addicted to fantasy games are resulting in many social problems. In particular, MMORPGs, or massively multiplayer online role playing games, keep thousands of players glued to their screens for many hours."
'Text to Speech' (Speech Synthesis) technology has improved a lot and it is ready to be deployed in language learning provided that its limitations are taken into consideration. If instructors are trying to expose students to natural language audio input and 'comprehensible input' (Krashen, 1985) as much as possible, this technology can provide a valuable way of doing it provided that its limitations are fully understood and as Ehsani & Knodt stated "it is used in ways that workaround these limitations.
Based on the discussions made in this paper, the following recommendations have been made:
Ferit Kilickaya started his professional life as a research assistant at the department of Foreign Language Education in Middle East Technical University in 2002 for Kocaeli University within the framework of OYP programme. He has a masterfs degree in English Language Teaching from Middle East Technical University. He worked as a teacher of English in Ministry of Education and an instructor in Gazi University. His main area of interests includes computer-assisted language learning and testing, educational technology and teaching culture.
Woman : Do you know anyone who can translate this document?
Man : What about the new secretary? I heard he's bilingual.
(Man) Before we begin our tour, I'd like to give you some background information on the painter Grant Wood-we'll be seeing much of his work today.
Wood was born in 1881 in Iowa farm country, and became interested in art very early in life. Although he studied art in both Minneapolis and at the Art Institute of Chicago, the strongest influences on his art were European. He spent time in both Germany and France and his study there helped shape his own stylized form of realism.
When he returned to Iowa, Wood applied the stylistic realism he had learned in Europe to the rural life he saw around him and that he remembered from his childhood around the turn of the century. His portraits of farm families imitate the static formalism of photographs of early settlers posed in front of their homes. His paintings of farmers at work, and of their tools and animals, demonstrate a serious respect for the life of the Midwestern United States. By the 1930's, Wood was a leading figure of the school of art called "American regionalism."
In an effort to sustain a strong Midwestern artistic movement, Wood established an institute of Midwestern art in his home state. Although the institute failed, the paintings you are about to see preserve Wood's vision of pioneer farmers.