Student developing mobile application for learning the Japanese language

A WCU student is developing a mobile application to assist students learning the Japanese language.

A WCU student is developing a mobile application to assist students learning the Japanese language.

A Western Carolina University student is developing a mobile application to help Japanese students master language skills, including proper pronunciation and handwritten characters.

Richard Freeman, a sophomore seeking a special studies degree with a focus on Japanese and a minor in teaching English to speakers of other languages, has studied computer and electrical engineering and worked with retail and management training and development for Apple.

Freeman began developing the app when he realized most available applications for learning Japanese do not fully use the capabilities available on devices such as iPhones and iPads.

Freeman said it is common for a Japanese language app to show a character and have the student select the phonetic equivalent via multiple choice. “This gets complicated because it does not train the user to hear the correct pronunciations,” said Freeman.

He further noted that with some characters it is common to use a phonetic equivalent such as “fu” that does capture a pronunciation that would more accurately be a combination of saying “fu” and “hu” at the same time.

“In the app, we take away all this and have an audio file played of the character being pronounced by a Japanese person,” said Freeman. “We also take away the multiple choice and replace it with a hand writing recognition pad used for Chinese and Japanese characters by iOS devices. This forces the user to not only be able to recognize the sound and associate it with a character but also forces them to write it correctly. This is much more reminiscent of how a quiz would be given in a real classroom setting.”

Another part of the app focuses on pronunciation, using voice recognition/dictation tools.

“You see the character, then have to actually say it and pronounce it correctly,” said Freeman. “As a student in the Japanese program, these are tools I really wish I had when learning the basics,” he said.

Freeman said he hopes to have a version of his app with the basic quizzing functions available by this summer and is planning a series of updates to expand the app’s capabilities.

“I want to continue to develop this app to not only help myself continue to learn the Japanese language, but also so that I can one day take this and change it to make it a tool to aid myself after graduation when I hope to be teaching English to Japanese speakers,” said Freeman.

He and Masafumi Takeda, WCU assistant professor of Japanese, delivered a presentation about the app titled “What Can I Help You With?: Application of Voice Recognition Technology into Mobile-Assisted Language Learning (MALL)” at the Southeastern Association of Teachers of Japanese annual conference held in Charlotte in February.

For more information, contact Takeda at 828-227-3905 or mtakeda@wcu.edu,  or Freeman at rjfreeman4@catamount.wcu.edu.