What is accent free pronunciation in English
Vu Van lived under the illusion that she spoke very good English - until she left Vietnam to move to California's Silicon Valley to study. When she went to the seminars at the elite Stanford University, the professors looked at her, frowned, and called out to her fellow bankers. At some point someone whispered: We don't understand you. Your Vietnamese accent is too strong when you speak English.
Van was frightened. At home she had been top of the class: grammar, reading, understanding, no problem at all; admittedly, they hadn't spoken much in class. And now your pronunciation should suddenly threaten your new life and your career in the USA?
In fact, according to the University of Chicago, people with high accents are considered less credible. And they earn 40 percent less, as the American Department of Population Statistics found.
Speak English like Ashton Kutcher
But how do you get rid of your accent as a foreigner? It's a question that preoccupies many in the Valley: 37 percent of the people who live here were not born in the United States; among the inhabitants who shape the valley of technology the most - young, male, computer specialists - the figure is even three-quarters.
Van, now 33, believes we've found the answer: "We can all get rid of our accents - with the help of artificial intelligence," she says in crystal clear American English as she sits in a lecture hall at Stanford University - exactly where someone once whispered to her that she could not be understood. Today she is an entrepreneur and presents her app called Elsa, which she launched last year: users read sentences aloud in English, the app corrects them if they pronounce a word incorrectly.
How it works? Van feeds the app tens of thousands of hours of American podcasts and audio books so Elsa can learn English from Midwestern Americans - Americans like actor Ashton Kutcher, who is known from the television series "Two and a Half Men". He speaks high English, comparable to the German from Hanover. So, if you will, Kutcher is the reference point for those who want to be better understood with the help of Elsa.
Even teachers use the app in class
Sixty years after the first conference on the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, it has gone unnoticed to many people. While Elsa recognizes and improves accents, Amazon's personal assistant Alexa orders books when asked to do so; Google's translation performance is getting better, and Facebook is less likely to go wrong when it suggests names for faces in photos. Because these programs continuously collect data in order to learn to do a very specific task better and better; however, they cannot transfer what they have learned to other areas.
This is the type of artificial intelligence that is quietly but permanently changing our days today. For example, those of 300,000 people who downloaded Elsa onto their smartphone in the few months after the launch - and of hundreds of students whose teachers use the app in class because they themselves notice that the classes are too big to to hone the English pronunciation of individuals. Language teaching has become a different one for her.
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