Speaking a foreign language is often accompanied by a fear of performance. What if you pronounce words wrong? What if your mind freezes? There’s no doubt that it takes time to gain the confidence to speak a language other than your native tongue, but the first step to getting there is actually simple: practice.
In the world of language apps, Babbel is launching two speech-based tools to help its users practice their speaking skills, overcome that fear, and feel comfortable when speaking.
The first new feature uses AI-based speech recognition to provide users with assistance during vocabulary-based lessons and help them with pronunciation.
To assess speaker pronunciation, Babbel’s AI model was trained on millions of data points from the company’s audio bank, using both correct and incorrect pronunciations, different voice ranges and various accents and dialects – for example the Spanish of Argentina, Colombia and Spain. .
When enabling the feature, users are prompted to speak directly into their device when prompted. The AI tool analyzes the recording and compares it to thousands of samples of phonemes (distinct sounds that make up a language) to assess pronunciation accuracy. It then provides users with personalized visual feedback.
“(It) works by comparing an attempt with several possible positive results, with a precision that can be refined depending on the level of the learner (we can be more strict with more advanced learners for example)”, Amin Abbasi, engineer backend at Babbel, told TNW.
The app’s second new voice tool is Everyday Conversations, designed to help learners practice dialogues independently with the aim of reducing speaking anxiety.
“Part of the difficulty (in learning a language) comes down to confidence when speaking,” Molly Thompson Zeugner, vice president of product at Babbel, told TNW.
“The problem is that everyone wants to understand and be understood by the other person, but it takes practice to feel comfortable enough to do so. It’s a bit of a trap and that’s why we launched the Daily Conversations feature.
Everyday Conversations simulates short dialogues between speakers in different real-life scenarios, such as “introducing yourself,” “ordering food,” or “talking to friends after work.”
Users first listen to the conversation to become familiar with it, and then can imitate it independently. According to the company, this creates a safe practice space, where learners can feel comfortable speaking and improving their verbal skills.
Both features can be used individually or as additional support for learners attending Babbel’s live classes, in line with the company’s holistic approach to language learning.
AI Speech Recognition is currently available on the web app in five languages: English, French, German, Italian and Spanish (Castilian and Latin American), and is planned to reach a wider audience in the coming months. It will soon also be rolled out to iOS.
Meanwhile, Everyday Conversations is available on Android and iOS for English and Spanish (Castilian and Latin American) learners. French will be added later in November – in case you’ve ever dreamed of ordering a croissant like a pro.