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HELPING AMERICANS UNDERSTAND INDIANS

SARID Staff, October 30, 2006

The average US American’s culturally-conditioned unwillingness to understand English spoken by foreigners, though not apparently, fellow countrymen, is a major problem for companies wanting to increase profits by outsourcing telemarketing services to countries with low cost, skilled labor.

The India Research Lab of IBM, which runs large call centers in India, says that because English is the current lingua franca of the business world, communicating effectively in English could make or break a firm’s assimilation into the global business environment.

The company claims that it has developed a web-based, interactive, training method to iron out local idioms, grammatical differences and other characteristics of “Indian” English. The need to develop the new technology was driven, in part, by IBM's own plans to expand and hire more people in India.

The technology, called Sensei for the Japanese word for teacher, is designed for easy learning, allowing students to interact with the tool as if they are playing an online game. IBM’s India Research Lab spent two and half years developing the technology, which it claims is the first of its kind. The new method analyzes speech, unlike most existing solutions that are available off-line, which require listening to model speakers and mimicking their accent.

The approach uses specially adapted, advanced speech recognition software to evaluate grammar, pronunciation, comprehension and other spoken-language skills, and to provide detailed scores for each category. There are also voice-enabled grammar evaluation tests that identify areas for improvement by highlighting shortcomings and providing examples of correct pronunciation and grammar. The aim is to get people to speak “accent-neutral” English, presumably what is known as “Mid-Atlantic”.

IBM says that while the software was created for both Windows and Linux operating systems, the prototype currently runs on Windows only. IBM is working on the potential applications of the technology. The service was initially developed for a leading Indian call center but is now available for individuals, schools and businesses in the country. The technology might be useful to people who speak English as a second language improve their speaking skills, perhaps even to Americans in those states, such as Alabama, that do not speak “standard” American.

Sources: OutSourcing World (http://www.oswmag.com), Presszoom (http://presszoom.com), Associated Press (http://www.ap.org), IBM (http://ibm.com). 


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