News | 08.09.2010

Birmingham school adopts automatic translation system for its multilingual pupil population

The increasing number of pupils entering the UK education system whose first language is not English can translate into a language barrier in the classroom that is extremely difficult to overcome, both for teachers and children alike. That is why a Birmingham school (whose student population speaks over 30 languages) has employed the services of Talking Tutor – an automatic translation tool that improves teacher-pupil communication and enables children and parents with English as a second language to enjoy better inclusion into school life.

Talking Tutor is just one of the numerous bilingual pedagogical resources that the organization EMAS UK has to offer. According to their website, the device currently supports over 10,000 teachers and 100,000 children in UK schools. Described as a ‘translating, speaking IWB (Interactive White Board) Avatar’, it covers 24 languages*, but openly welcomes requests for the provision of additional languages. The company name itself is linguistically rich: a combination of the Malay words ‘Emas’ and ‘Masuk’ that mean ‘Golden’ and ‘Welcome’ respectively.

Talking Tutor works whereby text typed into a computer is run through an automatic translator and text-to-speech software generates audio output in the form of an on-screen virtual tutor that speaks in the target language. A teacher, for example, would type a message in English, and the pupil would receive this message in their native language (and vice versa). It boasts a 95% accuracy rate and provides contextual rather than literal translations. It can also be used at parents’ evenings, in reception areas, and as a teaching aid in Modern Foreign Languages classes.

EMAS UK provides a host of multilingual teaching aids. There is the Resource Library that covers over 200 languages and which is updated both for content and additional languages on a monthly basis; the award-winning Two-Can-Talk communicator that comprises a bilingual keyboard and real-time multilingual audio output; Text Tutor, that deals with the written word and translates documents such as worksheets and parent letters; and in October 2010, a range of bilingual and multilingual school books is to be launched.

Manor Park Primary School is one of the first schools in Birmingham to use the Talking Tutor technology and the software has already been hailed as ‘invaluable’. The improvements in the quality of life for children who do not speak English as a first language (The Telegraph reports that this figure currently stands at close to one million) cannot be denied. But there are also other long-term advantages: children’s increased knowledge of and interest in other languages and cultures; the positive knock-on effects that this will have for school children throughout the UK in relation to their linguistic ability; and the early exposure to foreign languages in an educational context.

Talking Tutor has certainly gone to the top of the class in Manor Park Primary school and it is a powerful tool that looks set to combat social exclusion through access to language services in schools nationwide. Ten out of ten!

* English, Catalan, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Galician, German, Greek, Hindi, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish

Sources: The Birmingham Mail; The Telegraph;

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