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State researchers commercialize AI-based Korean phonics technology

By Park Sae-jin Posted : September 29, 2021, 14:18 Updated : September 29, 2021, 14:18

[Courtesy of ETRI]

SEOUL -- A state research institute has commercialized an artificial intelligence-based language learning app through IIR Tech, a domestic software developer. The phonics tech analyzes and evaluates the pronunciation and accents of foreign students using chatbots.

According to DuoLingo, a smartphone language learning app with more than 300 million global users, the Korean language stood second in the list of fast-growing languages in the world as of 2020. It was the seventh-most popular language to study through DuoLingo's app and gained popularity among learners from the United States, China, India and Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines.

Despite its popularity, the Korean language is regarded by specialists as one of the most difficult languages to learn. In 2017, the U.S. agency Foreign Service Institute (FSI) designated Korean as a language that is exceptionally difficult for native English speakers. Hangul, the Korean alphabet, is relatively easy to acquire, but its grammatical structure has so many connectors in a sentence.

The Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) has transferred core technologies for "KOKOA," an AI-based Korean phonics app, to IIR Tech for commercialization. The app was released in July 2021 and was downloaded by more than 10,000 learners as of September.

The app consists of some 80 intermediate Korean language courses involving an AI program-based chatbot service capable of engaging in natural language conversations with users. Students can practice their skills by verbally communicating with the robot, which analyzes and evaluates their pronunciation and accents.

"We have developed core technologies for an AI-based Korean learning program that can be easily used by Korean language learners including members of multicultural families, foreign workers and K-pop fans," ETRI's AI lab director Lee Yeun-keun said in a statement on September 29.

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