[Alumni Stories] Neil Ballantyne on Language Learning Technologies

09ff25ee75bce1247263155b0090a87f_400x400Neil Ballantyne did the MA DTCE between 2007 and 2010 so a while ago now. It started as part of a career transition from classroom teaching to digital education roles outside the classroom and the DTCE was fundamental in making that transition.

As Neil explains:

”The practical aspects of the course meant I was able to hone skills in educational product development and the theoretical side kept me grounded and ensured I could make those products high in pedagogic value.

The MA definitely aided my career and after focusing on building a vocabulary learning app for my dissertation I went on to become Mobile Learning Manager at the British Council, building up a portfolio of language learning apps and I’m now Senior Product Manager for Learning Experience at busuu, a social network for language learning.

At busuu, alongside the main app and website, we’re working with new consumer technologies that allow new educational possibilities such as voice assistants and VR.

We have launched learning products for voice activated devices such as Alexa and Google Assistant. This has extended a new area in educational design – voice user interfaces rather than graphical user interfaces.

We’ve also created a VR experience where you can explore a hacienda and help the occupants prepare for a party. Voice recognition technology allows you to interact with the characters in the house and have conversations. What I really like about this is that it helps reduce that awkward feeling when trying out a new language – people much more comfortable speaking my poor Spanish in this immersive environment that I would be normally; it provides a great practice area without fear.

In language learning ,  we’ll see the impact of improvements in voice detection, real time translation and language processing meaning conversations with non-human agents will be possible providing good practice grounds for language learning.

At the moment speech recognition is still gearned to native accents but this will get better as the technology learns. I don’t think real time translation will have too much impact on the language learning business as people will still want to interact naturally and the kudos of knowing different languages will remain, hopefully.”


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