11 April 2011

CUHK Invents Hong Kong’s First-ever Internet-based Platform to Support Online English Pronunciation Training for Chinese Learners

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) will display 12 technology projects at the coming International ICT Expo 2011 to be held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from 13 to 16 April. One of the projects is a first-ever locally developed internet-based Computer-Aided Pronunciation Training (CAPT) platform which supports online training given to Chinese learners of English.

As Hong Kong is a dynamic international metropolis, we are often surrounded by different world events. It is critically important that we acquire communicative competence in English. However, the process of second language acquisition is interfered by well-established perceptions and productions of sounds in the primary language. The interferences are ingrained with age and hamper acquisition of proficiency. Improvements require persistent and individualized training.

Recent advancements in internet technologies have also opened up new possibilities for an accessible, round-the-clock, self-paced and personalized platform in CAPT. CUHK believes that an internet-based CAPT platform can potentially assist a vast number of Chinese learners in achieving communicative competence and overall proficiency in spoken English.

CUHK has developed an online CAPT system targeted at native Cantonese speakers learning English. Pilot trials of the system have been conducted in CUHK for more than a year in selected classes. The system has also been made available to all students at the Independent Learning Centre (ILC) since February 2011. Users’ feedback shows that the system is effective for pronunciation training. They are also interested in persistent training with continued use of the system.

Introduction of CAPT system – ‘Enunciate’

‘Enunciate’ is a research prototype of a web-based CAPT system that helps native Cantonese speakers improve their English pronunciation developed by Prof. Helen Meng, Professor at Department of Systems Engineering and Engineering Management and Coordinator of the Human-Computer Communications Laboratory, CUHK. With the advancement of related speech and language technologies, the CAPT system will become an important learning aid for second language acquisition.

This system re-engineers automatic speech recognition (ASR) technologies to support pronunciation training. Conventional recognition technology aims to perform transcription of input speech and does not offer the capability of discrimination between canonical pronunciation and incorrect variants which are regarded as mispronunciations.

‘Enunciate’ prompts the learner to read pre-designed materials, and then performs mispronunciation detection and diagnosis on the recorded utterances. Diagnostic feedback is automatically generated to pinpoint possible problems in the input speech through the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). It allows students to login via an account management module. All speech recordings of the specific user are saved and are only accessible by authorized persons, e.g. the student and the instructor.

‘Enunciate’ comes with exercises which are designed based on phonological rules and include typical English words that Cantonese speakers are likely to mispronounce. When all exercises in the lesson have been completed, students can submit the lesson as an assignment to the system for evaluation by the instructor. ‘Enunciate’ also supports a self-practice mode which allows students to input free text for practice.

During the International ICT Expo, visitors can try this online training platform when they visit the CUHK booth.

Dr. Lo Wai Kit, Research Associate, Department of Systems Engineering and Engineering Management, CUHK
Dr. Lo Wai Kit, Research Associate, Department of Systems Engineering and Engineering Management, CUHK

Common mispronounced words by native Cantonese speakers
Common mispronounced words by native Cantonese speakers