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40. Project Listen - Nifty 50

girl with headphones at computer

A tool to help elementary school students, computer listening and speaking devices are helping students to learn how to read and to pronounce words correctly.

The computer tutor system relies on a speech recognition system called Sphinx II, which allows a computer to hear continuous speech, as contrasted with isolated words.

Talking computers

Sphinx II is used in some classrooms in Pittsburgh, PA, where students wear headsets with microphones attached and read aloud short stories as the computer flashes them, sentence by sentence, on its screen.

If the computer hears the student stumble over a word or mispronounce the word, the computer (which talks as well as listens) offers a clue, such as a rhyming word that has a similar spelling. For example, the computer will suggest and speak a word that is similar, prompting the student to pronounce the word in question properly.

Development of the Project Listen computer software was conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, primarily with NSF funding. In a 1996-97 pilot test at an inner-city elementary school, six third-graders (who started almost two years below their grade level and used the Reading Tutor under individual supervision) averaged two years' progress in under eight months.

And, in a four-month controlled study in spring 1998, children who used the Reading Tutor gained significantly more in reading comprehension than classmates who spent the same time in regular activities.

Original publication date: April 2000

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