New technology helps students learn Chinese

Global Business

Mandarin is an increasingly important language to know.  Businesses around the world value it and more schools are teaching the Chinese language. And now there’s a new technology to help students learn it more efficiently.

Mark Niu reports on how technology is taking on that task.

Follow Mark Niu on Twitter @MarkNiuWrite

Students at the Council on International Educational Exchange in Shanghai are trying out special software.

They’re taking the world’s first fully-automated spoken Chinese Test. It questions, evaluates, and scores without ever involving a human assessor.

The test and technology were created in collaboration with Peking University and the Silicon Valley company Pearson, located in Menlo Park, California.

Pearson says with around 50 million people are now learning Chinese globally. Its software seeks to help international companies and higher education institutions assess Chinese language skill faster and more accurately.

“When you have humans scoring tests, they are susceptible to ordinary human weaknesses of not paying attention, having their own individual biases, interpreting something differently. Now because our test is fully automated, we don’t have those issues,” said Alistair Van Moere, President of Knowledge Technology at Pearson.

The Spoken Chinese test isn’t just for large organizations. Individual Chinese learners can go to Pearson’s website and try out the test for about $30. In about a half an hour, the results come in with an overall score, somewhere between 20 and 80. It also grades you on grammar, vocabulary, fluency, pronunciation, and even tone.

”Chinese is a tonal language and the languages that Pearson has dealt with in the past were not tonal languages so we put quite a bit of investment and research effort into developing the capability of scoring tone,” said Masanori Suzuki, Director of Test Development at Pearson.

Pearson sampled more than 10,000 Chinese speakers from inside and outside of China to incorporate different dialects and accents into its artificial intelligence and voice recognition technology.

The software analyzes several hundred traits in every response looking to ensure that learners of Chinese around the world know precisely what they need to work on to improve.