Learning2gether with Phil Hubbard and Vance Stevens on Interactive Participatory Drama and Traci Talk

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Phil Hubbard joins Vance Stevens to discuss how the team at CPI (Courseware Publishing International in Cupertino California) developed Traci Talk and envisaged its use. The session was instigated by Sherry Schafer, an ESL professional with research interests in pronunciation and vocabulary teaching, who wrote us for more information after reading about Traci Talk, saying that “It seems like a very innovative program due to the integration of speech recognition technology. Also, the video game aspect of it seems to be very appealing and motivating to L2 users.” She will contribute her insights having used the program with some of her ESL students.

More generally we’d like to open up a discussion about whether there’s a place for interactive participatory dramas these days in language learning. Are there apps out there now that do something similar (branching dialogues with voice)? Would it be possible (or better) to have something like this embedded in a virtual world or other environment? Could a chatbot be programmed as a suitable “suspect”?


Chen, H.  (2001). Evaluating five speech recognition programs for ESL learners.  Papers from the ITMELT 2001 Conference. Available: http://www2.elc.polyu.edu.hk/conference/papers2001/chen.htm.

Hideto D. Harashima, H. (1999). Traci Talk – The Mystery. Software Review, Computer Assisted Language Learning, 12:3, 271-274. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1076/call.

Hubbard, P. (2002). Interactive Participatory Dramas for Language Learning. Simulation & Gaming,33: 210-216. Abstract:http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=633603.

Stevens, V. (2002). Vance’s work with Speech Recognition in Traci Talk, up to 1997. ESL_Home. Available: http://www.vancestevens.com/speech_r.htm

The Abu Dhabi Women’s College, Independent Learning Center, has this to say about Traci Talk in its online list of offerings: http://adw.hct.ac.ae/site_ilc/ilc%20materials/ilc_soft_guide.htm


You are involved in a plot … In this program, you are asked to solve a mystery by taking a train to “Cupervale” and posing as a visiting professor at Cupervale University. The person who requested your help has arranged for you to meet one suspect on the train to Cupervale, and for another to pick you up at the station in his cab. You are taken to your apartment where your neighbor is a third suspect, you meet a fourth at a dinner party, and so on.

The plot thickens … As you meet each character you have the opportunity for an extended conversation that can take many paths. You are able to talk to the characters using a microphone attached to the computer. In so doing, you are exposed to a large amount of natural and communicative English, which you hear, but can also see in text form if you wish. Many of your utterances are recycled in the program to reinforce learning.

Learn English while solving the mystery … At the beginning of the program, there is a basic training session where you can practice. Or, you can start conversing with the characters directly. Repeating the conversations allows you to obtain additional information by following the many different paths. When you feel you know each of the characters you can go to the next level by answering a series of 8 questions correctly (taken randomly from a pool of 60). If you pass this test, you can invite the suspects to your place for a chat and try to solve the mystery!!

Sophisticated, humorous, and satisfyingly rich in content, the story line has been designed to appeal to adult learners and engage them in an interesting and fruitful language learning experience

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