Nao robot

Dumb Language Teachers are better – if they are Robots

Nao robot

The old paradigm of the sage on the stage and the all-knowing teacher is getting more and more cracks and I guess that’s a good thing. Now researchers at the University of Tsukuba, Japan proved that another old saying “The best way to learn is to teach” is actually closer to the truth than “teacher knows best”.

Their experiment goes as follows: 19 children between 4 and 8 years of age and all learners of English were interacting with a Nao robot as a language teacher. Nao (pronounced now) is a programmable robot developed by a French startup located in Paris.

The twist in the experiment was that the Nao was not sure of what it taught the kids, either. It was controlled by the researchers to make mistakes when teaching the children basic patterns like circle, square, crescent or heart.

Through this set-up the kids’ desire to help and teach the robot was triggered. They helped it to draw the shape which eventually led to a better learning performance of the children involved in the experiment.

As I find this topic pretty fascinating, I covered another interesting study by Latitude Research earlier this year in which children where asked how their daily life would look like if they had a robot companion. The study found that

Children want to learn in an environment that adapts to their personal needs and skills. They want someone (or something) at their side that supports them in the learning process but does not judge or shame them when they have a problem.

Other experiments in that field like the Hole in the Wall project by Sugata Mitra and peer-to-peer learning in classrooms or online study groups found similar results. As humans are social animals, everything that makes the process of learning more engaging and that triggers the altruistic desire to help others can only be beneficial to the learning process.

Of course, there is the problem to take this concept and apply it to human teachers. I don’t think that a “weak” teacher who makes mistakes and needs to be taught by the students has any chance to “survive” in today’s classroom. I am also not sure if adults would still be patient enough to learn a language while teaching a robot.

As a side note, Nao would also make a great dance instructor ;).

But what do you think? Would you like to learn a new language together with a robot companion?

via New Scientist | Picture by Kai Schreiber, via Wikimedia Commons