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The Future of Early Years in Language Development

In 2015, MIT spent half a million dollars on robots to read stories to pre-school children. The study was to see if a personalized robot could help with early years language development, and thus give the kids the best start in life. In the Netherlands, robot tutors have helped immigrant children integrate better by boosting their skills in Dutch before heading into their new schools. The use of AI in language development is clearly being taken very seriously, all over the world. So why is it seen as being so effective?

Personalized and Patient

First of all, a robot is endlessly patient. It doesn’t matter how many times the child makes a mistake. A robot will persevere and won’t ever seem fed up or distracted. If the child is frustrated or unsure, some AIs can pick up on this via facial expressions or verbal triggers, such as sighs or yawns. The robot might then play a game, or some music, to break up the learning and bring the child back to a state of mind where they are happy and receptive.

This leads neatly to the second point, which is that all children learn in different ways, and at different paces. A class teacher with twenty to thirty children has the unenviable challenge of finding a way to teach that gives the most benefit to the most children. In any situation like this, there will always be kids who struggle. Some will be bored with the pace. Others won’t understand and will feel left behind. For these children, a personalized AI that learns how they learn, and even learns about them as a person, is a real advantage and nurtures the child’s desire to explore language and to push themselves.

A Special Friend

Children love to have something that’s theirs, and theirs alone. Even a favorite teacher is being shared with dozens of other kids, and parents outlive their novelty factor very early on in life! An AI that learns about the child, what their interests are and how they like to learn can mean the difference between a child who is resistant to learning, and one who yearns to learn. In fact, the learning almost becomes a secondary outcome for the child, as a tailored AI will first and foremost be fun and fascinating. AI can recognize when a child laughs or cries, and either join in or comfort, depending on the situation, just like a real-life companion. All this, whilst boosting a child’s language development, in the child’s own native language and in many others too.

According to the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, bilingualism is becoming the norm rather than the exception in most places in the world. The best time to start learning a second (or further) language is as young as possible, while the brain is still developing. Children who learn a second language alongside their native tongue tend to develop their cognitive abilities quicker and are left with a greater capacity for learning and adaptability than children who only learn one language. However, although children learn languages quickly and retain that information well, they only do so through interaction, not via videos or TV. Social media and streaming hold little influence over our children’s language development, without constant support and intervention by parents. The key to language development is quality social and educational interaction. Robots and AI fulfill this role as something that can respond to your child, praise them, laugh with them and take pride in their developmental milestones.

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