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AI-assisted app to improve spoken English put on students' tablets in Kyoto Pref.

Kyotango Mayor Yasushi Nakayama, left, receives an explanation about an AI-assisted application to improve English skills, at Kyotango City Hall. (Mainichi/Toshio Shioda)

KYOTANGO, Kyoto -- The board of education here has installed an AI-based English study app on the tablets of all 441 second-year junior high school students in the city, it announced recently.

    The ELSA Speak app is designed to improve the students' English pronunciation and speaking ability, and the education board says the initiative is the first of its kind at public junior high schools in Japan.

    The app, developed with the support of tech giant Google LLC's AI investment arm, will go into full-scale use at six junior high schools in Kyotango from mid-May, according to the municipal education board. The board said the app has 40 million users in 101 countries.

    Utilizing AI speech recognition technology, the app automatically evaluates each student's English pronunciation at the word and sentence level, helping them improve. The app can furthermore create an individually tailored curriculum by analyzing pronunciations each student is poor at, so they can swiftly identify and tackle their weak points.

    The education board said it expects the app will help students improve their pronunciation and build confidence in speaking English, thereby boosting their opportunities to converse in the language. The board noted that the app is also expected to help English teachers keep tabs on their students' progress and enhance the efficacy of their classes by helping students with their problem spots.

    It cost some 2.2 million yen (about $17,100) to purchase the app. According to Kyotango Mayor Yasushi Nakayama, the app will initially be used by second-year junior high school students in the city for three years, and the city will set aside funds to expand the initiative as needed, based on results.

    (Japanese original by Toshio Shioda, Maizuru Local Bureau)

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