The world’s newest technology could be the key to preserving the world’s oldest languages.
Opie, an artificially intelligent and social robot was built by Queensland University to assist Indigenous students in practicing their traditional languages.
It is currently being trialed in the Northern Territory, but lead researcher Professor Janet Wiles is hopeful Opie will find a home in the Riverina, among the Wiradjuri.
“I very much have a soft spot for the Riverina, my mum grew up near West Wyalong, so I’d love to see how the Wiradjuri community could use the robot,” Professor Wiles said.
The program is entirely led by community elders, who record and transcribe the stories and words that are then used to help students practice their languages.
“We’ve found that pronunciation practice is actually one of the hardest parts of any language learning,” said Professor Wiles.
“It’s actually the confidence to be able to say the words aloud, so that’s something the activities do focus on.
The robot is intended aid educators in the hopes that the nation’s more than 300 different Aboriginal languages will not fade from memory.
“Children learn language through interacting with other people, so the robot is not there to replace language learning,” said Professor Wiles.
“But children do like tech, and the robot bridges that digital divide to get children excited over practicing language.
Language is connected to land, and we have had a long history of removing Indigenous people from their land. That’s particularly apparent in the Riverina. So, we’re focusing on recording and transcribing language in the places where the language has been disrupted, and where we are now seeing it revive.Professor Janet Wiles
For the past three years, Wiradjuri man Mark Saddler has too been employing robotic technology in his cultural language programs around Wagga.
He says Opie the robot could become a useful tool in preserving the Wiradjuri language, as long as it does not replace the involvement of community elders.
“The Wiradjuri language needs to be taught by Wiradjuri people, the elders need to be involved with something like this if it’s going to work,” Mr Saddler said.
Schools are struggling to keep Indigenous children coming, they’re desperately looking at a ways to get the children an education [and] robotics is a good way to get today’s children involved.Mark Saddler
“Language is best taught locally by the local leaders and elders of that community.”