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Robots teach refugees a foreign language

Diana Fong, BielefeldApril 2, 2016

Fancy learning a new language from a robot? As Europe struggles to integrate the largest influx of refugees since the end of WWII, scientists have designed a robot that can interact with children learning German.

Roboterkind Nao Roboter Sprachtrainer
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/CITEC/Universität Bielefeld

Meet Nao. This little guy in his white spacesuit looks just like a storm trooper from Star Wars. He's a head shorter than a 3-year-old child and comes equipped with cameras, microphones, sensors and many more operating features. Nao can also dance in sync with his numerous clones, a technological feat that had made the robots famous at the Shanghai expo in China six years ago.

Frankreich Roboter Nao
'Nao' can do almost anything - provided he's been programmedImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Varoquier

Besides equipping Nao with the vocabulary, grammar and linguistic skills it needs to teach migrant kids German, perhaps the bigger challenge is turning the robot into an emotionally intelligent companion. This social competency is what makes interacting with Nao different from other e-learning applications. So how can a robot understand how a child feels and teach them a foreign language?

Diana Fong has all the details in this week's Audio Story from Bielefeld, Germany.