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Enhancing second language acquisition with Audacity

By Frank Tuzi on December 20, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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As a language educator and IT aficionado, I am constantly searching for tools that I can use in conjunction with language education. Lately I've been using the audio manipulation and conversion tool Audacity to record and edit audio inputs and convert them into a variety of formats, including the ever popular MP3, for a number of uses in courses and course materials preparation.

For example, I use an MP3 player/recorder to record my lectures, which allows me to move around the classroom while recording. I then copy the audio file to the computer and edit it with Audacity so absent students can hear the lesson. To edit a recorded file, simply copy the MP3 file to your computer and open it in Audacity. The file will appear in spectrograph form and can be played from the interface. To delete unwanted segments, select a section and click the delete button. Cutting and pasting audio clip segments is similarly intuitive. Audacity users can even combine different audio clips together.

Teachers can also collect language samples and dialogs from native speakers and use them in the creation of listening and speaking materials. For example, I often go to conferences and collect spoken exchanges, or write scripts for native speakers to enact. I then take the audio files and edit them in Audacity to remove unwanted pauses, fillers, and coughs. Audacity can also modify other aspects of audio files, such as volume, tempo, bass, background noise, and pitch. For example, to change the volume or amplitude of a portion of the clip below, I simply selected the area to modify, selected amplify from the effects menu, and pressed OK. It was that simple. Audacity usually has a preview button for all of the effects dialog boxes, and it has undo/redo capabilities. Modifying the amplitude is only one of about 20 effects included in the program.

Before After

In addition to live recordings, language teachers can use Audacity to capture streaming audio off the Internet and local media. Teachers can record the audio of a live radio show or prerecorded radio streams, as well as local audio, such as that of a CD or DVD while it is playing. To capture a small dialog from a movie on a DVD, set Audacity to record from vol and click the record button. After the dialog is completed, stop recording. Review and edit the audio clip if necessary and save it as an MP3 file. This procedure works for any audio that runs through the speakers.

Audacity also provides an excellent opportunity to offer language students with a comparative analysis of their own spoken work with that of their native-speaking instructor. The Audacity interface includes a basic spectrograph of audio files. By loading a student's spoken audio file and a native speaker's audio file, students can listen and view the differences between the audio samples. With a visual and auditory representation of spoken language, learners can better recognize the differences and teachers can create more opportunities for students to acquire the appropriate pronunciation.

Finally, language educators can use Audacity when assigning tasks to students. Traditional language teaching focuses on grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. More recent research suggests that task-based language teaching -- teaching language by giving students specific real-life tasks -- is more effective than simply focusing on linguistic elements. I assign students a task, such as creating a commercial for a product or service, and they use Audacity to complete the audio components of that task. Audacity can also be used to develop sound effects for theatre activities or add background music over audio. With these capabilities, students can use Audacity to complete their tasks and in the process learn language.

How students can use Audacity in courses

Language students can also use Audacity to meet their own personal needs. In addition to completing any activities that their teachers assign them, language learners can use Audacity to practice their pronunciation and compare it to native speakers'. Students can also use Audacity to modify lectures they record with an MP3 player, enhancing the recording to make it easier to understand. Several of my students use Audacity to help themselves prepare for speeches; students record their speeches themselves or ask a native speaker to recite the speech, then use Audacity to compare and modify the files, and save them as MP3s to download into a player.

My students are particularly pleased with Audacity because its interface is available in multiple languages. In the lab, students save their preferences in their personal user profile, so that even there they can use Audacity in their own language.

With all of the benefits that it offers, Audacity does have one demerit: it does not work out of the box with MP3 files, due to legal issues; MP3 is a patented format. Red Hat and Fedora versions of Audacity don't even allow MP3 files to be opened. However, there are ways to get around these difficulties. The Livna repository includes a package of Audacity that allows MP3s to be opened, and the LAME encoding library enables Audacity to encode audio files into the MP3 format. LAME is included in many Linux distributions.

As a language educator, I recommend Audacity for teachers, students, and researchers. It provides a number of great tools for analysis, content creation, and learning.

Frank Tuzi is an associate professor of linguistics and technology.

Frank Tuzi is an associate professor of linguistics and technology.

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on Enhancing second language acquisition with Audacity

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Re:why MP3?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 21, 2006 02:12 AM
When recording some performances of music students at the university I work at, when I suggested ogg as a format for them to download their recordings as, I was met by the responses "oh we don't know how/can't be bothered/don't want to install an extra plugin/player to be able to listen to them" One student out of the 60 I recorded actually knew what ogg was and was happy I'd mentioned it! A better format, yes, in my opinion, sounding closer to the original than mp3 at the same bitrate, but in the real world mp3 is what everyone knows and what everyone can play with no fuss (on their computers and hardware mp3 players). I'll keep evangelising ogg/flac though...

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It's Fanboy Beatdown Time

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 21, 2006 06:05 AM
why use MP3 at all?

I'll tell you why. It's because regardless of Fraunhofer; MP3 is the most playable format there is. Regardless of vague threats from Fraunhofer, MP3 can be played by any computer and most importantly it can be played by any portable music player. Does portable music player sound strange? Perhaps that is due to it being more commonly referred to as an MP3 Player!

Most people don;t care about formats. They care about content. They want to be able to play the audio file and if it is an Ogg file there is a 99% chance that they won't be able to play it.

With Ogg, they can't play it on their computer without installing additional software, read pain. With MP3 they already have the software on their system. all they have to do is click the file and it plays!

With Ogg, they can't play it on their MP3 Player. What are the top MP3 players, iPod, Creative Zen, Sandisk, Zune? None of these play Ogg! They play WAV which is too big, MP3 which is small and sounds good, and some other format like WMA or M4A which are DRM tainted and proprietary to Microsoft and Apple respectively.

Now don't be stupid and assume that I am unaware of the few several manufacturers of Ogg capable players. I am well aware of them but, lets face it, Samsung and iRiver combined are tiny bit players in the Flash/MP3 Player market, Apple especially and more recently Microsoft are the dominant players. Please excuse the pun.

MP3 is the best/most playable option right now. Ogg may catch on but, it's a long way off and unless Fraunhofer starts suing individuals, it is unlikely that Ogg will ever take over the mainstream.

And don't even get me started on the whole negative connotation from the piss poor name aspect.

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why MP3?

Posted by: Administrator on December 21, 2006 01:17 AM
Given that Fraunhofer(sp?) has asserted their ownership of all MP3 encoders, and Ogg has created Vorbis to be as cross-platform as possible, why use MP3 at all?

(Not flamebait. I'm interested in hearing real reasons for going this route.)

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Spanish Teacher Using Audacity with 6-th Graders

Posted by: Administrator on December 21, 2006 03:25 AM
A 5-minute audio interview I did with Chris Craft, who uses Audacity with his students to create commercials in Spanish (it's at the bottom of the page).

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Wish Audacity add .VOX format file support

Posted by: Administrator on December 22, 2006 02:54 PM
We need to edit VOX file to provide IVR service.

And wish Audacity can enhance audio export function.

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Re: Wish Audacity add .VOX format file support

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 203.87.208.250] on November 02, 2007 08:36 PM
That's true. I hope someone could develop a plugin for Audacity, adding a capability for it to edit and export VOX audio formats.

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