English Central is a new video site bringing “Voice” to learners. I’ve long written and promoted the use of both speech recognition and text to speech for language learners. English Central is at the forefront of this movement harnessing the power of new technology to facilitate language acquisition. It takes video language learning sites like Yappr or English Star, one step further and into a very powerful realm of “CO” or comprehensible output (as so well articulated by my fellow Canadian Merrill Swain)
What does English Central do?
Well, first, watch their demo here and speak like Obama. It really is complete and walks the user through everything. Free, a short sign up is necessary. You’ll need a headset / microphone, that’s all.
On English Central you can choose a nice video (one of 3 levels) and then listen to the lines of dialogue in the clip. Text / subtitle support is provided or it can be hidden. Next, record your voice, “speaking” the same line(s) that you listened to. Get feedback instantly as to how well you pronounced / intoned / stressed / spoke the lines. Are you a budding Marlon Brando? English Central will give you a grade and enter it on their scoreboard. You’ll even get feedback on your total clip progress and a score for the complete video. It works reliably and I found that the feedback was incredibly useful. I don’t know how they do it (technologically speaking) but it works! Listen to yourself afterward. Your voice is recorded instantly and the whole process is very seamless – something I find very appealing about EC. English Central is not a creaky jalopy but a Ferrari.
It gets even better. Several other things that I find makes English Central sparkle;
1. Click on any word and get a definition and instantly hear how it is pronounced in isolation. Wow! Teachers might even use this in classroom instruction.
2. Quiz mode. You can turn off verbs or nouns and these will be hidden in the subtitles. This makes a sparkling listening activity / exercise! Even fine tune it and tell it “how many” to turn off.
3. A library of your work. You can easily go back and work on the video clips you’ve been using to practice. Try to improve your score.
4. Keyboard shortcuts. Many might not use these but they are very useful once you start using English Central a lot.
5. “Hear this line again”. Easily repeat the line and listen to it again. Works flawlessly and really helps the user. Also, I love the “hear this line slowed down” feature.
6. Recommend a video. You can recommend a video to be put on their site for study. I like that English Central “controls” the inputting of videos and their selection is excellent. I hope they remain in control of the library of clips – they are the experts as to which videos would work well for language acquisition.
7. Great interface / design and so well thought out from the users “functional” perspective.
What could be better or I hope will be forthcoming?
1. I’d love to be able to playback the whole video of myself speaking the lines without stopping for each line.
2. Wouldn’t it be great if like green screen technology allows for video (where you can “stand in” or appear in a video clip), you could record your voice and replace one person in the clip. So for example, you could be pretend to be a famous person being interviewed or Forrest Gump and read their lines in the video. This would be great and even take this tool out of the realm of “education” and into “entertainment”.
3. Music. Despite their being great karaoke sites / communities out there. (like SingSnap) — there really is a need for a video karaoke application. So with English Central you could record the lines of your favorite song! So far no music videos are offered and I can understand how hard this might be given the “nazi ” approach to copyright the music biz has. But I can wish!
4. I’d love to be able to have community there. Embed your video clips, share, distribute. There needs to be more commenting and sharing on English Central. Hopefully this is forthcoming. Also, why not have a place where teachers can register students? A kind of group. There, the teacher can see all their student’s progress and view what they’ve done. This could be a nice add on and for a low fee I’m sure many teachers would sign up.
5. Why not take speech recognition one step further? I’d love to see developed (and in particular, for students both L1 and L2 – to learn to read) the ability to speak our own words and see the words appear on the screen. Capture them and have playback. So a student learning to read could “speak” their own words which they understand – SEE the words appear and thus, quickly acquire phonemic awareness. I know this is far beyond English Central’s focus but it really is something we have to see in the future. It would make learning to read a snap and not the very time consuming and frustrating process it is for both teachers and students alike.
All in all, though still in Beta — English Central rulz! and is a ***** site for self learning/study. It even has some possibilities for classroom instruction. Check it out and more importantly, get your students using it!