Mandarin is a tone-sensitive language, with each word characterised by one of four tones which specifies the word's meaning. For non-native Mandarin speakers, achieving accurate tonal variation and accent is a big challenge, and often tonal errors are never corrected. Being able to hear your mistakes and understanding how to adjust your pronunciation is a complicated task. Furthermore, online language learning tools don't currently offer an intuitive way to grapple with the accent. Often, face-to-face contact with language teachers isn't even enough to learn tone correctly. Intelligent technologies are rarely applied to language learning. We are creating the first engaging hands-on experience of practising speech, based on the untapped strength of multimodal learning.
Voice Blox is the first language learning tool to embody Mandarin pronunciation as a simple physical form, allowing users to explore their accent with their hands.
Mandarin speakers teach tones with a small finger gesture. We have found a way to teach everyone this intuitive gestural-tonal language using simple shapes to guide a learner's hand – making tones easy.
We're offering a fundamentally new and superior interaction, which focuses on engagement. Voice Blox takes a novel multi-sensorial approach to learning language - not currently found in physical classrooms or online. This rich multimodal learning experience is based on people's ability to directly relate sounds to body gesture, capitalizing on the close connections of the auditory and motor networks of the brain. Our two-block interface allows for easy live comparison between an ideal pronunciation and your own. Users can actively self-correct their accent by physically comparing the two block shapes, feeling and hearing themselves relative to the ideal tone.
Voice Blox is the first language tool that embodies Mandarin pronunciation as a physical form, allowing users to explore their accent with hands.
Voice Blox takes a novel multisensorial approach to learning language - not currently found in physical classrooms nor online. Currently, people have only their ear to rely on in understanding their speech.
Conventional language lessons are also not truly interactive, and feedback is rare. Our tactile interface embodies a user's characteristic vocal frequency in a physical shape, enabling them to see, feel and hear exactly how they sound.
Our two block interface allows for easy comparison between an ideal pronunciation and your own. Users can actively self-correct their accent by physically comparing the two block shapes, feeling and hearing themselves relative to the ideal tone. This rich multimodal learning experience is based on people's ability to directly relate sounds to body gesture. We found a way to guide natural finger gestures already frequently used by Mandarin learners when selecting tones, taking advantage of an existing and intuitive gestural language.
Mandarin is becoming an international business language. In 2014, over 100-million foreigners spoke Mandarin, with continued growth expected. In the US, Mandarin learning doubled from 2009-2015. This growth calls for increased teaching capacity, but teaching supply is limited. Technology will play an important role in delivering quality education at such scale. We are continuingthoroughuser testing to design the user interaction. We are in the process of fitting our functional technology within a single consumer product, and its integration with a software based curriculum.
The Voice Blox team is a multinational, multidisciplinary team of engineers and designers with backgrounds in design, manufacturing and engineering with a native Mandarin speaker as a core member of our team. We are final year students in Innovation Design Engineering, a double masters (MA+MSc) program at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London.