The English language is a fascinating mix of regional dialects and unique slang, shaped by centuries of history and cultural influences. Throughout its long history, the UK has had many invasions and visitors. From the Romans in ancient Londinium to the rolling hills of the Saxon heartland, and from the Viking raiders of the north to the Norman conquerors of the south, each wave of historical influence has shaped the dialects of the UK. Each region of the United Kingdom has its own distinct flavor of language and accent. Today, we embark on a slang tour to explore some of the expressions from different regions.
Can computers really mark exams? Benefits of ELT automated assessments
Automated assessment, including the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), is one of the latest education tech solutions. It speeds up exam marking times, removes human biases, and is as accurate and at least as reliable as human examiners. As innovations go, this one is a real game-changer for teachers and students.
However, it has understandably been met with many questions and sometimes skepticism in the ELT community – can computers really mark speaking and writing exams accurately?
The answer is a resounding yes. Students from all parts of the world already take AI-graded tests. PTE Academic and Versant tests – for example – provide unbiased, fair and fast automated scoring for speaking and writing exams – irrespective of where the test takers live, or what their accent or gender is.
This article will explain the main processes involved in AI automated scoring and make the point that AI technologies are built on the foundations of consistent expert human judgments. So, let’s clear up the confusion around automated scoring and AI and look into how it can help teachers and students alike.
AI versus traditional automated scoring
First of all, let’s distinguish between traditional automated scoring and AI. When we talk about automated scoring, generally, we mean scoring items that are either multiple-choice or cloze items. You may have to reorder sentences, choose from a drop-down list, insert a missing word- that sort of thing. These question types are designed to test particular skills and automated scoring ensures that they can be marked quickly and accurately every time.
While automatically scored items like these can be used to assess receptive skills such as listening and reading comprehension, they cannot mark the productive skills of writing and speaking. Every student's response in writing and speaking items will be different, so how can computers mark them?
This is where AI comes in.
We hear a lot about how AI is increasingly being used in areas where there is a need to deal with large amounts of unstructured data, effectively and 100% accurately – like in medical diagnostics, for example. In language testing, AI uses specialized computer software to grade written and oral tests.
How AI is used to score speaking exams
The first step is to build an acoustic model for each language that can recognize speech and convert it into waveforms and text. While this technology used to be very unusual, most of our smartphones can do this now.
These acoustic models are then trained to score every single prompt or item on a test. We do this by using human expert raters to score the items first, using double marking. They score hundreds of oral responses for each item, and these ‘Standards’ are then used to train the engine.
Next, we validate the trained engine by feeding in many more human-marked items, and check that the machine scores are very highly correlated to the human scores. If this doesn’t happen for any item, we remove it, as it must match the standard set by human markers. We expect a correlation of between .95-.99. That means that tests will be marked between 95-99% exactly the same as human-marked samples.
This is incredibly high compared to the reliability of human-marked speaking tests. In essence, we use a group of highly expert human raters to train the AI engine, and then their standard is replicated time after time.
How AI is used to score writing exams
Our AI writing scoring uses a technology called latent semantic analysis. LSA is a natural language processing technique that can analyze and score writing, based on the meaning behind words – and not just their superficial characteristics.
Similarly to our speech recognition acoustic models, we first establish a language-specific text recognition model. We feed a large amount of text into the system, and LSA uses artificial intelligence to learn the patterns of how words relate to each other and are used in, for example, the English language.
Once the language model has been established, we train the engine to score every written item on a test. As in speaking items, we do this by using human expert raters to score the items first, using double marking. They score many hundreds of written responses for each item, and these ‘Standards’ are then used to train the engine. We then validate the trained engine by feeding in many more human-marked items, and check that the machine scores are very highly correlated to the human scores.
The benchmark is always the expert human scores. If our AI system doesn’t closely match the scores given by human markers, we remove the item, as it is essential to match the standard set by human markers.
AI’s ability to mark multiple traits
One of the challenges human markers face in scoring speaking and written items is assessing many traits on a single item. For example, when assessing and scoring speaking, they may need to give separate scores for content, fluency and pronunciation.
In written responses, markers may need to score a piece of writing for vocabulary, style and grammar. Effectively, they may need to mark every single item at least three times, maybe more. However, once we have trained the AI systems on every trait score in speaking and writing, they can then mark items on any number of traits instantaneously – and without error.
AI’s lack of bias
A fundamental premise for any test is that no advantage or disadvantage should be given to any candidate. In other words, there should be no positive or negative bias. This can be very difficult to achieve in human-marked speaking and written assessments. In fact, candidates often feel they may have received a different score if someone else had heard them or read their work.
Our AI systems eradicate the issue of bias. This is done by ensuring our speaking and writing AI systems are trained on an extensive range of human accents and writing types.
We don’t want perfect native-speaking accents or writing styles to train our engines. We use representative non-native samples from across the world. When we initially set up our AI systems for speaking and writing scoring, we trialed our items and trained our engines using millions of student responses. We continue to do this now as new items are developed.
The benefits of AI automated assessment
There is nothing wrong with hand-marking homework tests and exams. In fact, it is essential for teachers to get to know their students and provide personal feedback and advice. However, manually correcting hundreds of tests, daily or weekly, can be repetitive, time-consuming, not always reliable and takes time away from working alongside students in the classroom. The use of AI in formative and summative assessments can increase assessed practice time for students and reduce the marking load for teachers.
Language learning takes time, lots of time to progress to high levels of proficiency. The blended use of AI can:
address the increasing importance of formative assessment to drive personalized learning and diagnostic assessment feedback
allow students to practice and get instant feedback inside and outside of allocated teaching time
address the issue of teacher workload
create a virtuous combination between humans and machines, taking advantage of what humans do best and what machines do best.
provide fair, fast and unbiased summative assessment scores in high-stakes testing.
We hope this article has answered a few burning questions about how AI is used to assess speaking and writing in our language tests. An interesting quote from Fei-Fei Li, Chief scientist at Google and Stanford Professor describes AI like this:
“I often tell my students not to be misled by the name ‘artificial intelligence’ — there is nothing artificial about it; A.I. is made by humans, intended to behave [like] humans and, ultimately, to impact human lives and human society.”
AI in formative and summative assessments will never replace the role of teachers. AI will support teachers, provide endless opportunities for students to improve, and provide a solution to slow, unreliable and often unfair high-stakes assessments.
Examples of AI assessments in ELT
At Pearson, we have developed a range of assessments using AI technology.
The Versant tests are a great tool to help establish language proficiency benchmarks in any school, organization or business. They are specifically designed for placement tests to determine the appropriate level for the learner.
The Pearson Test of English Academic is aimed at those who need to prove their level of English for a university place, a job or a visa. It uses AI to score tests and results are available within five days.
English Benchmark is also scored using the same automated assessment technology. This test, which is taken on a tablet, is aimed at young learners and takes the form of a fun, game-like test. Covering the skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing, it measures the student’s ability and suggests follow-up activities and next teaching steps.
More blogs from Pearson
Language is not only a tool for communication but also a means to explore and comprehend diverse cultures, traditions, and perspectives. Europe, with its vast array of languages, is a prime example of this linguistic diversity. Each year on September 26th, Europe observes the European Day of Languages, which is a day solely dedicated to celebrating and embracing this linguistic richness.
Europe is a magnificent tapestry of languages, with over 200 spoken throughout the continent. This diversity is a symbol of the rich cultural heritage of each nation and reminds us of the intricate historical, social, and linguistic elements that mold our identities. The European Day of Languages inspires people to cherish and honor this linguistic heritage.
Why September 26th?
September 26th marks an important date for celebrating linguistic diversity and promoting multilingualism. This day commemorates the adoption of the "European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages" by the Council of Europe in 1992, a crucial document that recognizes and safeguards the linguistic rights of minority languages spoken within European countries. By celebrating the European Day of Languages on this date, it renews our commitment to supporting the rich diversity of languages and cultures that make our world a more vibrant and fascinating place.
What type of events happen?
The European Day of Languages offers language learners a chance to participate in language exchanges, which is an exciting opportunity. During such exchanges, learners from diverse backgrounds partner up and teach each other their native languages. This not only helps improve language skills but also promotes intercultural understanding.
Various European cities offer language workshops led by enthusiasts and experts, providing an introduction to different languages.
Storytelling is an incredibly effective tool for learning languages. Libraries, schools, and cultural centers hold multilingual storytelling sessions, where stories from different cultures are shared in their original languages. This helps both children and adults to better understand and appreciate the beauty of linguistic diversity.
Cinema provides a wonderful opportunity to explore different languages and cultures. Throughout Europe, foreign films are often shown with subtitles, enabling viewers to fully immerse themselves in new linguistic worlds.
Museums often showcase exhibitions highlighting the linguistic and cultural heritage of various regions, providing insight into the history and traditions of different languages.
Cafés and restaurants might offer special menus featuring diverse cuisines and multilingual staff – a delightfully tasty way to explore languages and cultures.
Games and Competitions
Language-based games and competitions, such as crossword puzzles and spelling bees, are organized in schools and communities to provide a fun and educational way to celebrate language.
If you are a teacher hoping to celebrate this occasion make sure to check here for ideas on what to do.
Check out what events are happening near you here.
Just like the European day of Languages, we at Pearson Languages are fully committed to empowering and celebrating language learners and educators alike. That's why we are now supporting French, Italian, and Spanish language learning with the Global Scale of Languages (GSL). With these new language learning frameworks at your fingertips, you can confidently design curriculums and personalize learning pathways to help fast-track your learners’ progress and help your learners be themselves in French, Italian and Spanish.
Whether you're a teacher, a language learner, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of languages, the European Day of Languages and the GSL provide exciting opportunities to explore, learn, and enjoy the rich tapestry of Europe's linguistic heritage.
Can we play a game? How many times have you been asked this in class? And how often do you say Yes? Young learners love to play games, and if you choose the right ones, they can have a hugely beneficial impact on their learning.
As well as being fun, games can provide learners with necessary language practice, as well as lowering the affective filter (i.e. anxiety, fear, boredom and other negative emotions that can all impact learning). Games also foster a positive, relaxed environment.
So are you ready to play? Here are a few tried and tested games that work especially well in the primary classroom. Each game is designed to consolidate and review the language students have been learning, and take from 5 to 15 minutes. The games are flexible enough for you to adapt them to different levels, age groups and skills.