Sophie O’Rourke has a keen interest in ELT developments. Here she speaks to Milena Jerkov Bibic at Saundz, a high-tech pronunciation software for language learners, to find out how they are intending to help English Language Learners across the world.
It is estimated that there are around 2 billion English language learners around the world currently trying to learn English. And of those who are being taught, in schools, on-line and with one to one tuition, very few students have access to native English-speaking teachers. And the one area of English language learning that becomes much more difficult to teach with a non-native speaking teacher is the pronunciation of sounds, phrases and words. There are many tools being developed by start-ups who are seeing the gaps in the market and identifying and creating programmes to reach large audiences. One of those new companies which is doing just this is American based Saundz.com. They are interesting because they are using technology to fill a face to face skills gap at grass-roots level but are also building a community at the same time.
What is Saundz?
Saundz is an innovative piece of software that teaches English pronunciation to ESL (English as a Second Language) learners. It is aimed at all motivated ESL learners who find their spoken skills significantly poorer than their writing or reading skills and it’s suitable both for individual and classroom use. It has been developed by experienced IT and teaching professionals to reach all ESL learners who could benefit from our product.
We also want to become part of the teaching community.
Why do learners need this kind of help – what do teachers/schools not do that Saundz can?
An issue with pronunciation is that it is an aspect of language teaching that cannot properly be acquired from books. To be able to speak well, students need constant contact with native speakers and real-life spoken English. As there is a general lack of native English instructors all over the world and only a few people actually have an opportunity to meet one, we decided to create a virtual native speaker to whom everybody could have access to. Saundz software Simone aims to supplement non-native speaking teachers in schools.
Who is Simone and what is the technology behind Saundz?
Saundz uses leading-edge technologies to deliver quality virtual animation – Simone. Simone is a 100% computer generated person who demonstrates a complete process of sound articulation. Students can see her vocal organs move in two modes: front-view and profile-view. This makes it easier for students to see how they should position their tongue, lips and jaw to produce a particular sound. The software works within a browser so it’s iOS, Windows 8, Linux, tablet and mobile device compatible, meaning anyone, anywhere can use Saundz.
In addition to Simone, there are three other professionally recorded native speakers with whom a learner can compare their pronunciation. The ‘record and compare’ functionality is another innovation that enables efficient learning. Namely, in our classroom you not only record your voice, but also hear it back, so that you can understand what mistakes you are making.
How is Saundz being integrated into the classroom and being used with non-native teachers of English?
As a teaching tool it enables ESL teachers worldwide to teach American English pronunciation efficiently. Practically everybody who does not have access to an actual native English speaker in real-life can benefit from using Saundz. The software is easy to use, students and teachers can use the software anywhere to quickly set up and participate in lessons.
One of its most important advantages for use in the classroom is its professionally designed curriculum that teaches the 40 sounds of American English in a step by step manner. Saundz allows teachers to assign the set of lessons they want their students to finish – in class or for homework. Which then means they can easily monitor their students’ progress and help them feel better about their speaking skills.
What is the pedagogy behind it?
The pedagogy behind Saundz is developed by English phonology experts. It uses a building block approach, similar to school curriculum’s. A student should learn one sound at a time, and combine only the sounds he or she has already learned in words.
How has it been received in the ELT market? And how are you ensuring you are discovered?
We are still a very young company, but we did manage to attract a significant number of learners. Teachers expressed their enthusiasm about the idea and they are ready to recommend it to their students. We still have to work a lot in order to help every motivated individual discover us, but we are sure everybody will eventually get their chance to improve their pronunciation.
- Saundz identified a need from English language learners and teachers and have created a product that addresses these problems.
- The software is still in its infancy and so is the company so there are still some teething issues but because the software has been developed in a collaborative way and is going to be based around a community of active teachers and learners you know that in order for the company to survive they will have to listen and respond to their users and then act and make the necessary improvements.
- They have a technology driven product that works on all devices so it can be used on any platform and in any country.
- The need to ensure you/marketing departments address discover-ability issues (app store, SEO) is even more paramount as more and more products get developed.
- Provide easy ways for users to give useful and constructive feedback.