Computer Aided Colloquial Language Learning
Project Details
Feyisola Ogunfemi (
Advisor: Ani Nenkova
    In this senior design project, we solve part of the problem of teaching common speech to second language English learners by focusing on idioms. We chose to focus on idioms because their figurative nature make them difficult to understand to second language learners, as their meanings can not be deciphered though a literal translation.  Thus in order to understand idioms, the user must have prior knowledge of their meanings and their appropriate usage. It is difficult to learn more idioms through existing tools, such as an idiom dictionary.   Dictionaries are only useful if the user knows what idiom they are looking for, as they are only searchable by idiom.  However, this does nothing to help the user learn new idioms.  We plan to incorporate this idea of an idiom dictionary, but alter it to allow users to expand their knowledge of idioms and appropriate usage.
    There are two main aspects to our project. The first is a browser of idioms and definitions, much like existing dictionaries.  However, the system also returns example paragraphs found in the New York Times.  By reading the idioms in context, the user will learn more about appropriate idiom usage.  This is much better than existing dictionaries that only show one example sentence, where one sentence may not be sufficient for complete comprehension.  The second aspect is the main differentiating factor in our approach - the focus on keywords in definitions. Through various algorithms, we derived a list of keywords for each idiom based on the definition. When a second language learner has an idea on what he would like to say, this sort of approach is very helpful in finding creative ways of saying it. Using keywords to organize the idioms allows us to present the data in a way that is more suitable for learning. By viewing sets of related idioms at a time, the student would be able to understand the concepts and learn more at once.  The system eliminates the need for a teacher and allows this to be a stand alone tool to teach this specific aspect of English. Our system is a teacher and has a better dictionary than current solutions, which makes it the perfect teaching aid for a second language English learner.
Senior Design Project 2009, CIS Dept. University of Pennsylvania