Learning Pragmatics through Chatbot: the case of Korean

Learning Pragmatics through Chatbot: the case of Korean | Jieun Kiaer

‘In the post-Brexit UK, the importance of foreign language learning beyond European languages cannot be emphasised enough,’ says Jieun Kiaer. Foreign language learning is at its lowest level in UK secondary schools since the year 2000. ‘There is an urgent outcry’, Jieun continues, ‘to develop a sustainable language-learning model for British young people.’

The Covid-19 crisis and the resulting social distancing measures have exacerbated the problem by removing essential classroom interaction with teachers. At the same time there is a rapidly growing interest in learning Korean, due to the global spread of ‘Korean wave’ (‘K-wave’) fandom – the new global popularity of Korean culture, particularly pop music, facilitated by the rise of social media. Jieun’s project aims to devise an innovative, sustainable and culture-led language-learning model which will make the most of British youth’s current interest in Korean pop culture.

The project will work on the development of a multi-modal chatbot (a type of software which simulates real-time conversation, in written and spoken language, using visuals and audio) for teaching Korean. This low-cost model will also be immediately applicable to other languages, and to any learners with limited access to teacher-led classrooms – making it perfect for virtual, distance learning. Once developed, it can support limitless users.

A chatbot provides a wide linguistic and cultural repertoire using a multi-modal channel, so that a student can combine their language learning with a cultural activity of their choice – cooking, for example. Its real-time, spontaneous reaction simulates face-to-face learning and can be particularly beneficial to students with a lack of opportunity to engage with speakers and teachers of the target languages.

This model is particularly suitable for young students with increased interest and competency in digital and social media engagement. Jieun explains that, ‘so far we have developed a model with Eggbun, the leading chatbot company for Asian languages, where learners can select the cultural activity of their choice and learn how to interact with Korean people using the right level of politeness and intimacy.’

In order to prove the efficacy of the model, the project will need to wait for schools to reopen following the Covid-19 emergency. If this is delayed, the project team is thinking of introducing this model virtually to Korean-learning schools in the UK, in collaboration with the Korean embassy and the Korean Ministry of Education.

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