Thursday, February 24, 2011

Xtranormal Activity

I recently stumbled upon a great software application that appears to have a lot of language and learning potential. I was sent the following video entitled "One Professor's Fantasy":

It has a few swear words, so be warned if you are a bit squeamish about that kind of thing. There are so many nuggets of truth in there and I have found myself saying, or nearly saying, most of these things. Here's a video I made today loosely based on a conversation from this morning.

So, the question is, how are these videos made? And the answer is 'very simply!' The Xtranormal website allows you to use scenes, characters and background noises to create your own dialogue. You can then change camera angles, add motion, and add various other tricks to help you make a more dynamic animation. All of this is free, but naturally there is a more sophisticated version which you can subscribe to.

I believe there is great potential for language learning here. At its simplest, the animations can be used to replace those very static language presentations on the whiteboard. With just a little Xtra preparation, you can offer your students sound, movement and text. Another approach could be to use the characters as good and bad examples of presenters. Not surprisingly, you will be amazed when you hand over the tools to students and see what language they can produce using these characters.

So it's all great and there are no drawbacks, then. Well, no. There is one HUGE drawback, and that is the computerised voices used to sound out the dialogues - you probably spotted it in the video above. As text-to-speech engines have still not mastered intonation, information structure and good use of pitch and the tonic foot, the speech can sound from mildly to extremely unnatural. Let's hope that this can be fixed in the near future.

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