Children’s oral language skills in preschool can predict their academic success later in life. Helping children improve their language and vocabulary skills early on could help them succeed later, in middle and high school. Learning language is also a very social, interactive activity. Learning language also takes time. Social robots could have great impact in this area, since they can leverage the same kinds of social cues and presence that people use.
In this work, we asked whether a sociable robotic learning/teaching companion could supplement children’s early long-term language education. Children played with the robot for two months. The robot was designed as a social character, engaging children as a peer, not as a teacher, within a relational, dialogic context. The robot targeted the social, interactive nature of language learning through a storytelling game that the robot and child played together. The game was on a tablet: the tablet showed a couple of characters that the robot or child could move around while telling their story. During the game, the robot introduced new vocabulary words and modeled good story narration skills.
Furthermore, because children may learn better when appropriately challenged, we asked whether a robot that matched the “level” or complexity of the language it used to the general language ability of the child might help children improve more. The robot told easier or harder stories based on an assessment of the child’s general ability. This work is supported by the NSF Expeditions in Computing award in Socially Assistive Robots.