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Languages, language-learning, translation studies and digital tools

Section I: Staging language: learning Spanish (as a foreign language) through theatre

This programme, developed in close collaboration with academics from the Sciences du langage research centre at UTM (Octogone) seeks to construct a digital tool that will facilitate language learning through drama (and, at the same time, learning drama through language). Using plays staged for live performance and the rehearsal process that this requires, it offers a digital learning platform, including specially adapted videos to support Spanish language learning and critical theory relating to the performing arts, from understanding to rehearsal to performance.

Teaching and learning tools in the modern languages field have become very diverse since the 1980s, with the emergence of communicative approaches in secondary and higher education (Puren, 1988; Germain, 1983). Following on from audiovisual methods, these approaches have facilitated access to sound recordings, video reportage and authentic documents not originally designed for use in a language class (film posters, advertisements, newspaper articles, radio reports, film extracts, etc.). In the 21st century the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR, Council of Europe, 2001) has encouraged teachers to raise their learners’ awareness of the culture of the language they are learning by giving them activities grounded in the real lives of its native speakers. It is preferable to use teaching materials revealing elements of the target culture (of the language being learned). Our project reflects this approach. We have used authentic theatrical practice in the Spanish language as a basis on which to develop materials to help learners of Spanish as a foreign language at beginner (CEFR A1-A2) and more advanced levels (B (B1-B2) and C (C1-C2) of the 6 existing levels).

The threefold aim is:

a- to introduce adult learners to the Spanish language using authentic documents in Spanish, enabling them to become familiar with forms of linguistic expression used in real communication. Many studies have shown that learners who are used to approaching verbal exchanges in a global way develop communication strategies that are “potentially conscious plans for solving what to an individual presents as a problem in reaching a particular communicative goal” (Faerch and Kasper, 1983, p. 36);

b- to aid understanding of the foreign language in context by using the objects and people represented to reconstruct the meaning of utterances. Teaching learners to make hypotheses and inferences based on the pragmatic selection of linguistic clues develops comprehension skills (Spanghero-Gaillard, 2008);

c- to produce Spanish language. Developing the ability to express oneself orally is the ultimate goal of teaching using audiovisual methods. (Besse, 1985). We adopt this goal, proposing repetition exercises to create reflex responses (Bialystok, 1990). But we also know that an expert in the language must be present in order to evaluate learners’ production. Semi-independent activities (the learner is guided by a teacher) make it possible to support the learning of oral production with reformulations and explanations from the teacher (Spanghero-Gaillard & Arroyo, 2009).

The project is jointly delivered by specialists from several academic disciplines covering Spanish theatre, language and culture and foreign language teaching. Together they are developing this project as both a stimulating tool for learning Spanish and a means of access to contemporary Spanish theatre.

Contact: Emmanuelle Garnier (LLA-Créatis) and Nathalie Spanghero-Gaillard


- Monthly seminar “Langues en scènes”

- The main outcome planned is the creation of a digital platform for learning languages through the arts and the arts through languages.

- The first to be completed (February 2012, based on the play La Casa de Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca, staged by Les Anachroniques and directed by Matthieu Pouget) was selected for support by the Université Ouverte des Humanités in the context of its annual funding programme.

Section II: Correctools: translation studies and digital tools


This programme follows on from a previous programme called “Transtyler”, which has been redesigned on new bases. It seeks to produce digital tools for the correction of textual, grammatical and stylistic errors in association with tools for structured language learning.

Launched by LLA (as Transtyler), it developed into a very close collaboration with the Institut de Recherche Informatique de Toulouse (IRIT, UPS), which now co-manages the programme. In late 2008 a partnership was also established with the CAS research centre (EA 801) at UTM. So this is an open-ended collaborative project with strong potential for industrial use.

Those writing documents in a language other than their mother tongue (for example French people writing in English) often have difficulties of a lexical, grammatical or stylistic nature, which make their writing hard to understand for readers whose mother tongue is the target language. The professionalism and credibility of the documents often suffer as a result.

The primary aim of Correctools is to develop procedures for correcting errors that cannot now (or in the foreseeable future) be dealt with by the most advanced word processing programmes (e.g. SuiteOffice, Open Office or similar). By extension, the aim is also to correct errors of style that have become frequent in text written directly into the mother tongue (one aspect of the programme involves work on correct and incorrect French).

Unlike current word processors, and in the spirit of language learning systems, the CorrecTools program leaves the choice of correction to the user, providing arguments for and against any proposed correction in cases where more than one option is possible. The project will thus have an important language-learning dimension (proposing corrections, assisting decision-making and recalling rules that may apply). It could lead to the development of a self-contained program, or be used as a module in an electronic document management system, supplementing existing word processing programs. The program’s importance lies in its fundamental approach (thinking about grammar) and educational aspect, which are not currently found elsewhere. Its unique place in an otherwise well-charted research field earned it a very positive evaluation from the 3rd Linguistic Annotation Workshop (LAW) in Singapore: “This paper describes an attempt to richly annotate errors in language usage in text generated by native French speakers. The basic premise of the research is sound, and the resulting resource has tremendous applications in the growing field of language error correction.”

Achieving these aims requires us to produce a model of the cognitive strategies used by human correctors (teachers, professional translators) in detecting errors. Initial observations show that these strategies are not simple and immediate, but that error diagnosis and correction often relies on a complex process of analysis and decision-making.

The project thus includes the following fundamental and applied components:

1. Linguistic aspects: general grammatical functioning, notably in English, links between lexis and grammar, different style parameters by document type (emails, forums, reports, publications), adaptations for learner users.
2. Cognitive aspects: strategies used by experts to identify and analyse errors and to suggest one or more corrections, types of argument used and decision-making processes leading to effective correction.
3. Educational aspects: types of dialogue between assistant and user that can facilitate the acquisition of language skills in the context of theoretical explanation.
4. Modelling aspects: development of adapted models, notably in automatic language processing and in argumentation and decision-making theory (for corrections) and questions and answers (for the cooperative smart assistant).

The main languages studied (target and/or source languages) will be French, English and Spanish.

Contacts: Emmanuelle Garnier (LLA-Créatis), Arnaud Rykner (LLA-Créatis), Patrick Saint-Dizier (IRIT)

Planned outcomes

The main outcome intended is the creation of a prototype that can be grafted onto a text editing program: this prototype will be evaluated in detail by languages students and teachers.

In practical terms the programme will involve

*  Masters and Doctorates (several projects already registered),
* Regular workshops and seminars, international publications (several already published),
* Developing close collaboration with end users (teachers of languages and other subjects, academics, users required to write in a foreign language)
*  Applying for ANR funding
*  Seeking industrial partners

Plans also include the international publication of results (5 international publications in 2009 and 2010), including C. Albert, M. Garnier, A. Rykner, P. Saint-Dizier, “Analyzing a corpus of documents produced by French writers in English: annotating lexical, grammatical and stylistic errors and their distribution”, The Fifth Corpus Linguistics Conference, University of Liverpool, 20-23 July 2009. [publication forthcoming]; C. Albert, M. Garnier, A. Rykner, P. Saint-Dizier, “Annotating language errors in texts: investigating argumentation and decision schemas”, 3rd Linguistic Annotation Workshop (LAW), Suntec, Singapore 6-7 August, 2009; C. Albert, M. Garnier, A. Rykner, P. Saint-Dizier, “Description et annotation des erreurs. Le cas des francophones s'exprimant en anglais”, in Multilinguisme et traitement des langues naturelles, I. Biskri and A. Jebali (eds,), Québec, Presses de l'Université du Québec, 2010, p. 54-70.



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