Blog PostsAccelerating Language Mastery

Accelerating Language Mastery

ONR Awards $3M Contract to Aptima to Develop Adaptive Language Learning Technology

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has awarded a $3 million contract to Aptima Inc. and partner Alelo Inc. to develop ALLEARN, a system to accelerate foreign-language learning using artificial intelligence technologies.

Employees of global organizations—from the U.S. Government to small companies—need to interact at a working level with foreign nationals, ideally in their native languages. Recognizing the unmet need for effective, relatively inexpensive foreign-language learning, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and ONR funded ALLEARN (Adaptive Language Learning) to bring learners quickly to an intermediate level of language proficiency and ensure they retain their skills over time.

ALLEARN’s intelligent, customized learning accelerates language mastery

Learning a foreign language with conventional classroom-based instruction is generally expensive, inconvenient and not very effective for most people. Learners come to class with different levels of skill and learn at different rates, making it difficult for teachers to meet the needs of each individual. Moreover, learners have difficulty maintaining their language skills over time, so most who study a foreign language eventually lose the ability to speak it. Self-paced learning solutions, including software-based interactive courses, are even less effective.

The envisioned ALLEARN system will be a self-paced adaptive learning solution that will let learners, whether active duty personnel, civilians or contractors, develop and practice their skills through computer simulations of real-life language use. The system will automatically collect data on learner performance and use machine-learning techniques to optimize each learner’s learning trajectory. The system will combine the latest advances in natural language processing, automated speech recognition, and machine learning.

ALLEARN will combine the proven technologies of Alelo’s Enskill® platform and Aptima’s Higher Adaptive Learning technology (HAL). Enskill uses speech and language technology to deliver virtual role-play simulations that practice and assess communicative competencies, in any HTML5-compliant Web browser. HAL mines learner performance data (from the aggregate of users), identifying the most effective lessons and content, customizing an adaptive training plan for the individual to accelerate learning.

“ALLEARN will bring new efficiency to language learning,” said Jared Freeman, Chief Scientist at Aptima. “It will pilot each learner on a unique personalized route through the huge space of training opportunities, and that navigation will improve over time as we apply educational data mining to the data from the first users of ALLEARN. This approach has shown strong, positive effects in research studies. Now it is time to apply it to provide those benefits to DoD in an operational training system.”

According to Dr. Lewis Johnson, CEO of Alelo, “ALLEARN technology will help learners master communicative skills more rapidly, while reducing instructor workload. We see broad demand for this capability, from elementary-grade education through adult education and workforce training. It will greatly enhance Alelo’s Enskill platform and has huge market potential.”

The ALLEARN project is being funded by the Office of Naval Research under Contract #N00014-16-C-1041.