Would it be cool or scary to be taught by a robot?

A 3m euro EU programme starting in January will use humanoid robots to teach languages to 4-year-olds. Some will learn English as a second language, while immigrant children in Germany who speak Turkish as their first language will learn German as a second language.

The L2TOR (“el tutor”) robot is designed to interact naturally with nursery school pupils in both the child’s native language and their second language. A humanoid robot called Nao combined with a Tablet PC will lead children through the language course.

According to the German Statistical Office, one in three children under the age of five living in Germany comes from an immigrant family. The L2TOR or ‘Second Language Tutoring Using Social Robots’ programme aims to find out if robots can be used to help prepare immigrant children for school by teaching them German.

The 3-year project brings together a team of teachers, linguists and computer scientists from five universities and two companies, and the research will be coordinated by Plymouth University.

The researchers are working with nursery schools in Germany, testing how their robots perform as language tutors. “It is important that the robot recognises whether the child being taught is frustrated or confused”, says researcher Dr. Kirsten Bergmann. “We programme Nao so that it can shape its interaction with the child and so that he or she is being supported in the best way possible.”

While teaching, Nao pays attention to the children’s words, facial expressions and gestures, and can help when they do not understand. The course content covers vocabulary and simple grammatical structures. Researchers will test how Nao may be able to help children learn to form sentences.

The individualised language support given by the robot complements the existing resources in nurseries, and gives immigrant children the chance to acquire their new language in a fun way.

Would you have found a robot tutor fun when you were 4 years old? Or would you like one now? – let us know your thoughts!