Lern frm whr u r!

By Samir Makwana | Published on 01 Mar 2007
Lern frm whr u r!

Efforts are underway to enable you to learn Indian language on your cell phone

The mobile phone, a tool originally intended for just communication, has gone beyond the basics-it is now used for entertainment and commerce as well. It's the case of a single device enabling a lot of things. Mobile content such as screensavers, mobile games, and other applications are being offered for entertainment as well as edutainment.

Even newspapers can be read on a mobile phone: recently, Pressmart and IMI Mobile announced the availability of mPaper (mobile newspaper) for nine Indian dailies on the mobile phone. Pressmart, a subsidiary of Bodhitree Consulting Ltd, is a digital media delivery partner of leading newspapers and magazines. IMI Mobile is an end-to-end Value Added Services enabler.

Besides this, Kalnirnay-a calendar, almanac, recipe-book, and a source of other useful information in seven languages, is now being made available on the mobile phones by Enable M, a mobile content and services provider company. And now, mobile content aggregators are developing educational content as well.

Where It Began
At the Reliance Mobile Application Contest in February 2005-06, an application called TeachMe Hindi bagged the second prize in the corporate category. TeachMe Hindi was developed by Jayadev Gopalakrishnan, CEO, and Anupam Varghese, CTO, of Tinfo Mobile Pvt Ltd. This award came on the heels of their earlier award for developing an application called "All-Minder", an application for the visually impaired to hear SMSes and missed calls, at the Reliance Mobile Application Contest 2004-05.

The TeachMe Akshara series consists of a number of applications under the "TeachMe" head for different vernacular languages (presently, Hindi and Malayalam). TeachMe Hindi is the Hindi language module from the TeachMe Akshara series. The application helps the user read and write letters in Hindi and Malayalam. The letters of the language come up on the screen, and one can know about how the alphabet is pronounced and written.

"TeachMe Akshara was developed to teach illiterates or semi-literates about the vernacular languages of India. Though TeachMe Akshara was meant to teach only basic letters, we consulted language teachers for formulating and verifying the content," says Gopalakrishnan. TeachMe Akshara happens to be the first vernacular language teaching application for mobile phones. An animation of the letter, along with a picture, appears on the phone's screen when a particular letter is selected.

TeachMe Akshara relates letters to sounds using image associations

The majority of the Indian population lives in rural areas, and the penetration of the mobile phone have been good. The application is appropriately targeted towards the rural and semi-urban population.

In January 2007, Enable M Mobile Technologies Pvt Ltd, a mobile content and services provider and mobile value added services aggregator, formally released LILA Hindi Prabodh for mobile phones, in collaboration with C-DAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing), Pune. LILA stands for "Learning of Indian Languages through Artificial Intelligence," being developed by C-DAC for computers, and is now available for mobile phones. LILA Hindi Prabodh for mobile phones is from the LILA series being developed by the Applied Artificial Intelligence Group at C-DAC.

It uses MMC multimedia cards-the latest Hindi Prabodh courseware is embedded in the card, and a multimedia interface has been incorporated.

Within a few years, we can expect the mobile content market to boom,
and we will see more applications that can exploit the use of mobile
phones as educational tools

"The courseware is an adaptation of the LILA series applications available on CD and the Web. The object was to address the target group which consisted of government employees, language enthusiasts, tourists from outside India, and the common masses interested in learning Hindi," says Amit Jhaveri, COO, Enable M.

Multimedia output for learning has been used in LILA Hindi Prabodh for Mobile, where the user can read and listen to Devanagri letters as used in Hindi. The translation of a Hindi sentence into English and sentence structure patterns can be learnt. The courseware also carries exercises and practice sets. In addition, video clips of narrative sections of lessons in Hindi and a Hindi-English Dictionary are embedded in the MMC.
How It Works
Most of the rural population can afford a basic mobile phone. "TeachMe Akshara is developed on the innovative VectorDraw engine that works even with basic level monotonic handsets with Java support. It was important for us to take this design consideration because our aim was to make this application usable by any mobile phone owner," says Varghese. The application is 16 KB for colour phones and 32 KB for black and white phones.

The easy-to-use program focuses on enabling learning of the Hindi and Malayalam alphabets. It teaches the user to read and write the letters, and how they are pronounced.

If one wants to learn how a letter is written in Hindi, by selecting the Write option, one can view an animation of a pencil drawing the letter on a notepad playing on the screen.

Pronunciation is learnt when the user selects a letter: on clicking it, a graphic to depict an object (such as a pomegranate) whose name begins with that letter comes up. Thus the user can relate the graphic with the letter. As the animation of the letter is played on the screen, the pronunciation of that letter is played over the phone's speakers.

Thus, one learns a language by first learning to read the letters, then how they are written by watching the animation, and finally the pronunciation of the letter.

LILA Hindi Prabodh uses artificial intelligence to educate users about the Hindi language. Unfortunately, the MMC can, of course, only be used with mobile phones supporting the card format.

"About 30 odd lessons with ten exercises for self-assessment are included in the courseware. Animation of letters and words being written in Hindi are played on the screen along with their pronunciation. Audio elements are added to learn the pronunciation and videos of the narrative aspects of lessons are added to give the course an enjoyable learning experience," says Jhaveri.

...and also shows you how to write the letter in question

The translation of a Hindi sentence can be seen in English: the sentence is written with English letters, and the sounds are spoken in Hindi. The user can also view video clips of lessons in the narrative sections.
The Formal Launch
TeachMe Akshara wasn't launched formally, so not many know about it.

"Since our product was made public and was not formally launched, we have received very few commendations. The feedback from the people cannot be assessed since the product has not been able to fully reach the general public. Talks are on with a couple of big corporations to look to it as a potential Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) tool, and we believe it will soon be available to the general public. Very soon, it would be available for Reliance customers through the R-World menu," informs Varghese.

Concluding Notes
According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, more than 149.5 million people in India owned a mobile phone, and 6.4 million subscribers were added in December 2006. With such mobile penetration, the choice of a proper path for implementation of this technology has to be made. The flexibility of personal learning via mobile phones breaks the barriers of location and time.

Within a few years, we can expect the mobile content market to boom, and we will see more applications that can exploit the use of mobile phones as educational tools. The mobile content and services market in India is in a nascent stage. For now, kudos to the efforts of Gopalakrishnan and Varghese.

Samir Makwana


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