My latest project has just begun and I’m excited by the prospects. The project focuses on providing conversation practice on very specific topics via AI (artificial intelligence). Think of it this way: imagine you are having an SMS chat with a buddy. Depending on the subject things can branch off in all sorts of directions, but generally you’ll probably focus on one task. For instance, let’s say you want to meet up for coffee. You’d have a chat about where to go, what time to meet, etc. Got it? Now imagine English students doing the same thing on their phone to work on specific conversational targets: Ordering in a restaurant, asking for clarification on a given topic, etc. That’s what ESLai does.

Conversation Practice

Chat bots have always held out promise for practicing conversation, but they’ve also been rather vague and conversation tends to not be too focused. Also, you need to get online to use these chat bots. Now, using, English learners can use the one tool they can’t live without: their mobile / smart phones.

Here’s a possible scenario: Take a standard lesson,  place a QR code into the materials. Students scan the QR code with their mobile phone  – it doesn’t matter which type because the software adapts automatically to the phone in question. Next, students practice conversing. Not general or generic conversation, but topic specific conversation to practice the skills presented in the lesson. Even better, students can use this as homework out and about,  repeating and having a different conversation each time as the AI adapts to responses. This isn’t your standard role-play…

To get an idea, check out one of the demos either on ordering a pizza, or planning a picnic. As you go through you’ll notice the conversation wander depending on your response, but you’ll also notice that the conversation moves forward to reach it’s final destination of ordering a pizza or making plans for a picnic. That’s how conversations normally evolve.

I think the element of controlled conversation is the most interesting and useful aspect of this new project. It boils down to English conversation practice via mobile that  works on specific functional goals, but also provides a natural ebb and flow in getting there. Of course, it’s not the same as speaking to your buddy, but it will give English learners a chance to test drive their newly found language function chops, as well as engage English learners on their favorite toy: their mobile phone.

If you’d like to take a look at a mock-up lesson from a standard text-book that provides access to the practice in the context of a lesson, you can take a look at and download this PDF of a beginning level lesson on Ordering Food in a Restaurant complete with practice activities, role-play and target grammar review. Feel free to print it out and use in class, and if you do, I’d appreciate an e-mail to let me know how things went and what your students think of the app. Don’t worry too much about students having their mobile phones on in-class (pssst: they already do!)

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