There is No Try, There is Only Du…olingo Transcript

Megan Figueroa
[music] Hi and welcome to the Vocal Fries podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination.

Carrie Gillon
I’m Carrie Gillon.

Megan Figueroa
And I’m Megan Figueroa. [pause] Well… cunt. [both laugh]

Carrie Gillon
Wow.

Megan Figueroa
[laughs] Just right out of the gate. [both laugh again]

Carrie Gillon
I mean, we might as well… talk about that. I do have some housekeeping I do want to bring up that I forgot to mention, but we’ll talk about it later.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Carrie Gillon
So, yes. This word has come back…

Megan Figueroa
Yeah…

Carrie Gillon
Into the consciousness because of Samantha Bee.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah…

Carrie Gillon
Calling Ivanka Trump a feckless cunt.

Megan Figueroa
Right…

Carrie Gillon
Which… somehow softens it a little.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah…

Carrie Gillon
The feckless does?

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Carrie Gillon
But anyway, so let’s talk about the reaction to it.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. Cuz people were atting us on Twitter. And… you know…

Carrie Gillon
Right. Which makes sense. I mean, we’ve talked about it before– the word–

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, was it our fourth… episode? Where we talked about swearing? Third or fourth?

Carrie Gillon
[sighs] I don’t know…

Megan Figueroa
I think it was…

Carrie Gillon
Third or fourth, yeah.

Megan Figueroa
Um… right, so cunt is the one that’s like a sheath, right? Like the etymology was…

Carrie Gillon
No…

Megan Figueroa
Was…

Carrie Gillon
No, that’s vagina.

Megan Figueroa
Oh. Okay, okay, okay, okay. All right.

Carrie Gillon
Yeah, cunt is the… uh… Old English ver– word.

Megan Figueroa
Okay, okay.

Carrie Gillon
For vagina.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Carrie Gillon
So…

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. And… a thing that I always forget because I’m American, so I don’t think about anyone beside myself and my country…

Carrie Gillon

[laughs]

Megan Figueroa
Is that cunt is not as offensive of a word in other parts of the world.

Carrie Gillon
Right, no.

Megan Figueroa
So…

Carrie Gillon
Yeah, in not– so in North America it’s really quite offensive and is a slur in some cases.

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Carrie Gillon
Um… but, basically, the rest of the English speaking world as far as I understand, it’s not that bad.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah… Yeah.

Carrie Gillon
And so I think part of the confusion was– were people saying this, you know, all swear words are slurs now? No…

Megan Figueroa
Right, right, right

Carrie Gillon
No. It’s a slur only because of who it targets and how it’s used.

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Carrie Gillon
But that’s only really true in North America as far as I understand.

Megan Figueroa
Right. And since it was a woman calling a woman… this word… it is different than a man using the word to denigrate a woman.

Carrie Gillon
Yeah, for me, it’s definitely different.

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Carrie Gillon
I mean, I try not to use misogynistic language at women like that…

Megan Figueroa
Right, right.

Carrie Gillon
So, I don’t usually call women bitches or things like that. I’ll use the word bitches…

Megan Figueroa
Yeah…

Carrie Gillon
Or I might say someone’s a boss bitch like…

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, yeah!

Carrie Gillon
Cuz it’s like…

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Carrie Gillon
But not like: you bitch.

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Carrie Gillon
So I… wouldn’t… choose to use this word… in this way.

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Carrie Gillon
It’s still a lot… less offensive from a woman than it is from a man and also we have to take into consideration the power differential here.

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Carrie Gillon
At worst, they’re at the same level. At worst.

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Carrie Gillon
That doesn’t seem as bad as if she had used it… directed it at someone who had a lot less power than her.

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Carrie Gillon
Or was a different race.

Megan Figueroa
Right, right.

Carrie Gillon
So, I just think it’s a lot more complicated than saying: Oh, it’s totally fine. Or: Oh, it’s the worst thing ever. [chuckles]

Megan Figueroa
Yeah…

Carrie Gillon
Or: it’s just as bad as calling a black person an ape. NO!

Megan Figueroa
Right, right, right. No, that’s… Yeah, no, like Rebecca Tracer said in the cut… It was like Samantha Bee was using… the word for… marginalized… communities like because she was talking about immigration, and how… fuckin terrible it was for Ivanka to tweet a photo…

Carrie Gillon
Yes.

Megan Figueroa
At that specific time with what was happening in the world and the hashtag Where are the children? Again, it goes back to power and… and it’s really complicated. Just… shades of gray. Right?

Carrie Gillon
[laughs] Yeah, so part of me understands people who are like you should never use this word in this way. Okay, maybe that is true, I don’t know. But part of me is like, but if there’s ever a time we can use it it’s when we’re punching up. And she was definitely– in my opinion– punching up.

Megan Figueroa
Yes. She was punching up. Um… I think we should– end it with the best response– in my opinion– which is Sally Field. [chuckles] who tweeted “I like Samantha Bee a lot, but she is flat wrong to call Ivanka a cunt. Cunt’s are powerful, beautiful, nurturing, and honest.” So, here we’re seeing some like reclamation of…

Carrie Gillon
Yes.

Megan Figueroa
A slur, right? So…

Carrie Gillon
Yeah.

Megan Figueroa
Um…

Carrie Gillon
And, well, in that case, the way she’s using it is not a slur. Sort of like using the word cunt to describe… anatomy.

Megan Figueroa
True, yeah.

Carrie Gillon
Is not a slur.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, good point.

Carrie Gillon
You might think it’s vulgar or a swear word– fine. But it’s not… that is not a slur. So she’s reclaiming that aspect of it, and…

Megan Figueroa
Good point.

Carrie Gillon
I definitely think we should do that.

Megan Figueroa
Yes.

Carrie Gillon
Definitely think we should reclaim it that way. And then if we want to extend it as like… it doesn’t– it shouldn’t have as much power as it does as a slur… That’s harder work.

Megan Figueroa
Yes.

Carrie Gillon
But anyway, I thought… I thought it was very clever, and I loved that response.

Megan Figueroa
Me too. And I didn’t even know Sally Field was like on Twitter. So…

Carrie Gillon
No, I didn’t either.

Megan Figueroa
[laughs] So, bless her for being on Twitter and doing that.

Carrie Gillon
It also reminds me of… I think it’s Dan Savage who says it, or maybe he got it from somewhere else origionally, so apologies if that’s the case… but one of my favorite things that he’s ever said is… Or he says constantly is, you know, pussies are strong. They push out babies. So, if you call someone a pussy, it has… It should have the opposite meaning than people intend.

Megan Figueroa
It should, yeah. But we hate women.

Carrie Gillon
So we should call them scrotums instead. Because scrotums are wea… [both laugh]

Megan Figueroa
Oh… we’ve used a lot of words.

Carrie Gillon
Yeah…

Megan Figueroa
That might people uncomfortable. So you’re welcome? [laughs]

Carrie Gillon
I kind of feel like if you’re not up for that kind of talk, you’re probably not listening to this.

Megan Figueroa
That’s true.

Carrie Gillon
Okay, so… we have some housekeeping. As we mentioned last time, we’re going to be at the Podern Love convention in New Orleans in August around August 10th to 12th. And if you want to join us, there is a 10% off ticket sales… code, and it’s vocal: V O C A L.

Megan Figueroa
Yay!

Carrie Gillon
So that would be awesome if you wanted to come and meet us or meet other podcasters…

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Carrie Gillon
There’s a lot… There’s probabaly going to be a lot of other people there, so…

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, it’s going to be fun. And, we’re going to do a live show… there.

Carrie Gillon
We… are. That is the plan. We have not [laughs] gotten any of the details down yet, but we are planning on a live show, hopefully that does work out.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, fingers crossed.

Carrie Gillon
Um, if you’re from New Orleans, and you’re… you have something interesting to say about language… can you please email us at vocalfriespod@gmail.com? Because… yeah, it would be awesome to have someone local to talk to.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. Another housekeeping? We are on Patreon. So, if you are so inclined to help an indie podcast, you can find us on Patreon.

Carrie Gillon
The URL is patreon.com/vocalfriespod so… pretty easy to find.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. And I just want everyone to know the type of sacrific…ces that we put forth for our art.

Carrie Gillon

[laughs]

Megan Figueroa
We turn off our air… our AC’s to record so it sounds more professional. And we live in fucking Ari-zona.

Carrie Gillon
In Central and South Arizona.

Megan Figueroa
And shit is hot… HOT.

Carrie Gillon
[quietly] So hot… [both laugh] So the other other way if you’re- you don’t feel comfortable giving us a monthly payment which I totally understand.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Carrie Gillon
You could also just– you know– throw us a couple bucks, you know through coffee, you know, basically pay– uh– pay for a coffee for one of us… and that’d be nice as well.

Megan Figueroa
Yes, exactly.

Carrie Gillon
So we also had an email from Charlie Lloyd, who had some questions about… the nonbinary pronoun use. I don’t want to read the whole email– it’s kind of long– but, he says, “It occurred to me that despite growing up with a fairly conservative Bri- British English and not knowing that trans people existed until I was in my late teens”– that’s kind of normal for many of us– “I have always used singular theys specifically for people whose gender was unknown.” Yes, that’s… a pretty standard use of it. “So rather than writing him or her or his/her, I would write them and their. And, much to the distaste of high school English teachers. You sort of touched this– on this– in the episode and made it clear this usage is very different from the kind of usage that trans people are asking for, but I wanted to mention my experience because British English has a reputation for being incredibly conservative, especially the standard. But I was never told by my family to change this practice despite other Prescriptivism being present. I wonder if there’s been any research on this subject of singular they in various regional varieties of English. Is the British English more accepting of it, or am I barking totally up the wrong tree.” And I want to say I don’t know if there’s any research.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, I don’t know.

Carrie Gillon
But my guess is your family’s not going to pick on your speech? There, so there’s a difference between how we speak and how we write, so your teachers are picking on your writing, and your family would be picking up your speech usually. Sometimes family members get involved with like reading your writing, but generally that’s the case. So if they were only listening to you speak, they might not even notice…

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Carrie Gillon
You using the singular like that because that’s way more accepted than it is in writing.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Carrie Gillon
But if there is research on like, acceptability in terms of regions, I would love to hear it. So, please let us know.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, yeah. And then we will share.

Carrie Gillon
Thank you, Charlie. I’m sorry, we didn’t get to your entire email, but we’re happy that you emailed us. And please if any of you– if any of you have questions feel free to email us at vocalfriespod@gmail.com or, you know, give us a shout on our Facebook page or… on Twitter.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. We respond… usually. Unless we– unless we missed something. But…

Carrie Gillon
Yeah, sometimes I think things get missed. But you know,

Megan Figueroa
Yeah

Carrie Gillon
Generally speaking, especially on Facebook, I think it’s harder to– well, I shouldn’t say that sometimes Facebook eats things…

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. Like our souls?

Carrie Gillon
Hmmm? [both laugh] Oh my god. Well ok– oh and the episode today… is about… edtec.

Megan Figueroa
And I think a lot of us have some sort of experience with it. So…

Carrie Gillon
Mhmm! So hopefully it is interesting. And yeah… keep sending in questions or suggestions. We love to hear from you. [music rolls]

Megan Figueroa
So today, we are joined by Joan Palmiter Bajorek. She is a PhD candidate in the second language acquisition and teaching program at the University of Arizona. And she is interested in educational tech and speech technology. So thank you so much Joan for being here with us.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Thank you so much for having me.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. And, it’s so funny. It’s like a perfect day to have you because I just got an email from Duolingo– and we’ll get into why that’s perfect– But I got an email from Duolingo that’s like: big changes. Like– you know– it’s better. We’re better now. So, that’s kind of the educational tech field that we’re talking about. Right?

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yes.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. Um… so… let’s get into it then. So could you explain a little bit what educational tech is.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yeah, that’s a great question. So educational technology or edtech is a field where we talk about technology supporting learning… in more sophisticated ways than you could probably do from a human. So like, in a classroom, you might like have a textbook that has like fill in the blank exercises, but through language technology– and edtech– we can do more sophisticated things… with speech, with machine learning, with multimodal we frequently talk about. So you can hear things, you can see things, there are videos built in. So it’s really using tech as a support tool for learning.

Carrie Gillon
Cool.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. Perfect. And… so is there science that says that this is a good way to learn?

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
[chuckles] That’s a great question, and a question that I struggle with in my field because so many products are… proliferating right now. The amount of new technologies and software we have is huge. The amount of research being done on the outcomes for actual students… barely exists. So, when I do research, I definitely see that students definitely feel supported and that they think this technology is helping them, but I would love to see more empirical research that demonstrates exactly what those outcomes look like.

Carrie Gillon
Yeah, that’s very important, because I hadn’t really thought of that, but I don’t know anything that’s shown that these products actually work, and I’ve always had a suspicion that they’re not that helpful? Like I’ve used Duolingo cuz I was trying to learn a little bit more Spanish, and yeah, I know more vocabulary now, but…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Right, and I think what’s really important to me is like what your actual goals are. Like what claims are made by the company and what are you using the technology for, specifically? And if you want to beef up some of your Spanish vocabulary, awesome. You know, Duolingo could support you in doing that, but if they make other claims that potentially aren’t supported, that’s where I have issue with these companies.

Carrie Gillon
Yeah, same.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. And do you feel like they are making claims?

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Oh, yes.

Megan Figueroa
That…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Oh, yes.

Megan Figueroa
Okay.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Do a quick search online and see what kind of things they say about what their product can and cannot do. It’s a– it’s a fun time. As a researcher I– I get lots of kicks and giggles.

Megan Figueroa
Yea-yea-yea-yea-yeah. Well, I mean, I bet there are a lot of our listeners– because I think– I mean, we’re using Duolingo as an example, but I think it’s– we use it because it’s- it’s so… like, I think that everyone knows what Duolingo is. We say Duolingo, and you may have it– an app on your phone or on your computer or you’ve at least heard a friend talking about it. Everyone knows what Duolingo is.

Carrie Gillon
It also gets posted a lot like co- examples– like example sentences that are like really ridiculous. Like why would you ever need to know this…

Megan Figueroa
Yes!

Carrie Gillon
…in any language? Let alone a second language?

Megan Figueroa
Yes.

Carrie Gillon
I wish I could think of an example right now.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Oh, there’s tons.

Megan Figueroa
Oh, there’s a whole Twitter– there’s a whole Twitter on it. And they’re so hilarious. And sometimes they– it matches up with whatever picture in a hilareous way? You know so…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Well, and I think that’s something pretty impressive about Duolingo is they’re relatively a new company, and that they’re already pretty much a household name is pretty impressive. I think 2011 is when they officially launched? So…

Megan Figueroa
Wow.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
It’s 2018 right now, and the fact that we all know about them. I think is a… they did some good marketing.

Carrie Gillon
Yes. Yes, they did.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. No, I thought that they were… older than that. Yeah, there’s a Twitter called “shit Duolingo says.” [all laugh] Which… Yes. Oh my gosh, one of them– one of the first ones that came up was– “You must be tired from running through my mind all day.”

Carrie Gillon
[sighs] Well, I guess that’s a thing that people do say at least…

Megan Figueroa
That’s true.

Carrie Gillon
Like there are examples that are just things that are never said or– or you would never expect them to be said.

Megan Figueroa
Like, “Where can we hide the bodies,” which is another one?

Carrie Gillon
[all laugh] Well, again,

Megan Figueroa
Technically that could be useful…

Carrie Gillon
I’m certain that that’s been used. [laughs]

Megan Figueroa
Joan, do you know, how… how those sentences— is it like data mining? And how those are created?

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yeah, I mean, this is one of the interesting things that not all companies share where or how they choose to curate their content. But Duolingo first and foremost, is a big data company. So…

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, yeah.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Even though they’re a multilingual data company, those are not potentially sentences curated by actual humans.

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yeah

Megan Figueroa
And so I think the question that we– well at least I– well we want to ask because of the type of podcast we are about linguistic discrimination is… okay, so I had Duolingo on my phone, and I’m trying to learn more Spanish– at least vocabulary because it does help with that– the little flag that it uses is this… is Spain.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yes.

Megan Figueroa
So… tell me about that [laughs]. How come it’s the Spanish, you know? Yeah.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yeah, this is a question I ask many companies and most of them laugh and…

Megan Figueroa
Oh!

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
The biggest concept– I think a lot of companies know that this is a thing, or they have to make choices, right? They choose that image when they put the… on Spanish, right? I also see this for English that they have the British flag. And when it comes to British English, even if the language they’re actually teaching is American English or New Zealand or…

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
You know, so forth. It’s really about prestige dialects is what I would say. And especially if it’s big data content, they are probably not only using Castilian Spanish, despite whichever flag they use.

Megan Figueroa
Hm… right.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
So…

Megan Figueroa
Right, and can you tell us just what prestige dialect is? Just for the listeners…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Oh, yeah, so I think about this a lot in my work, which languages we choose to teach and learn around the world? And for example, when people want to learn English and they want to improve their English, they’re probably not interested in an Mississippi accent. They’re probably more interested in learning a affluence speaker dialect of the English language. And so those are… we call them prestige or lower prestige. We can– we can talk about that different…. Yes. That’s what I want to say about prestige dialects.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, and we’ve talked about it before, right Carrie? Yeah, go ahead.

Carrie Gillon
Yeah, we have. I was just gonna say this leads into a question about your past. So you taught French, or sorry, you taught English in France, right?

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yes.

Carrie Gillon
Yes, and this whole idea of prestige dialectics comes into play here, right? So can you talk about your experience in France and teaching English there?

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Absolutely, and I think it would be a big statement to say that I taught English. I would say that I was mostly like a cultural liaison?

Carrie Gillon
Oh, ok. Ok.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Just to be– just to be clear about what my actual role was. It was kind of like Teach for America but in France? I don’t know if you know about TFA?

Carrie Gillon
Oh…

Megan Figueroa
Yea- yea- yeah.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yeah, so I worked at three underserved middle schools, and I was teaching– teaching– I was working on English with a lot of students. And, we would be practicing sentences like, oh, you need to take your schedules and walk down the corridor and talk to the headmaster. And I was like, this is not American English, right? Like, I was frequently– well, frequently– implicitly and explicitly told that I spoke a non prestige dialect, and at one point was told that I spoke vulgar English, which I like wanted to die laughing. I was like really? Like I’ve never been told before that I speak vulgar English as my native language… dialect. So I’m originally from Portland, Oregon. I’ve lived most of my… oh well as I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so that’s where I’m from originally.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, I think a lot of American English speakers– or at least, quote unquote standard English speakers– have never heard that they speak a vulgar version of English.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Right.

Megan Figueroa
We’re not used to being told that our dialect is somehow not as good. I mean, that’s, you know, that’s a problem too, but it’s interesting to me to hear that.

Carrie Gillon
Yeah, if you watch… if you watch like the news about the English language, you’ll notice that if anything coming from like say the UK, oh, Americans are ruining English. So it’s a thing that exists out there…

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, apparently.

Carrie Gillon
And… but Americans don’t tend to read international venues as much

Megan Figueroa
That’s fair.

Carrie Gillon
So they don’t realize [laughs] that they’re being denigrated.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Well, and it also makes sense for French learners that they would want to learn a British accent or those lexical items…

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Because that might be the population they would be interacting with if they wanted jobs in London. Right?

Megan Figueroa
Yes.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
So it definitely makes sense for practical reasons. In that respect.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. Yeah, and that’s true of um… So if you are taking English say in an African country, they learn British English too.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yes…

Megan Figueroa
Right?

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
That’s what I understand.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Carrie Gillon
And it used to be the case in Asia as well, but the British form… the British version was the more prestigious one but more recently, it switched American. So…

Megan Figueroa
Oh!

Carrie Gillon
At least in some of the Asian countries I shouldn’t make a blanket claim.

Megan Figueroa
Righ-right. Yeah, and I guess the same could be said about… Castilian Spanish, but, like you said, even though it has the Spanish flag on say, Duolingo’s app, it’s not like they’re teaching us vosotros or something that…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Exactly.

Megan Figueroa
Spaniards use.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Right.

Megan Figueroa
So I thought that was really interesting. And they must have made a conscious decision to use that flag.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Absolutely.

Carrie Gillon
It would be… It would be hard to choose between any of the other Spanish language speaking countries, though? So…

Megan Figueroa
True.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Well, I don’t know if I agree with that, actually. At least in my experience, when we’re talking about pedagogical materials, they’re teaching kind of like a Mexican standard?

Carrie Gillon
Ok.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
And if if I were designing that product, that’s what I would put the flag of. But that’s a personal choice, clearly.

Megan Figueroa
Oh, I see.

Carrie Gillon
Yeah, I guess if it really is Mexican, or– or most closely related to Mexican then yes, that would make sense. But if they’re trying to be more… general which I guess would be difficult…

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Carrie Gillon
Then I would be like, well which would you choose? I don’t know. Anyway.

Megan Figueroa
But I guess that’s a decision that goes further back. So… like, when they’re creating, what materials come out on Duolingo are they choosing– you know– like Guatemalan and or whatever.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Well and where are they getting their data from? Probably a more affluent user base.

Carrie Gillon
Yes.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
And, that may be from Europe and not from Mexico. You know? I don’t know that data. So…

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Carrie Gillon
Wow.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, that’s good point. So data mining, then they need somewhere where they’re getting a lot of data.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
And I doubt that’s geotagged. I would bet you a lot that it isn’t.

Megan Figueroa
Ah… okay.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
For example, my professor does researching Welsh? And there’s clearly in Wales there’s a large population, but there’s also a large population in Argentina. And depending on where you get your Twitter data from, that could be significantly varied in the usage of that language.

Megan Figueroa
Right. Wow. Okay, so you don’t think it’s geotagged? That’s interesting.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Well, it depends on where they get their data from. If they shared that with me, I’d love to hear. [laughs]

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. [laughs] And so do you think that’s a problem then?

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Is it a problem…

Megan Figueroa
When they’re creating these apps, are they are telling people that they’re learning Welsh? And then you go to an actual Welsh speaker, a native Welsh speaker. I know that for Welsh it’s usually– you are usually bilingual in Spanish and Welsh or English and Welsh. But if you go to Welsh speaker and they’re native and they’re like, we don’t say that here. Is that? Is that a problem? Or what do you think?

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Oh, we definitely understand each other, but I think there are cultural positionings? You know what I mean? Like if you chose to learn one version, I think there are implications to the choices we make when we learn second languages in which dialects of those languages? And that has a lot of meaning and cultural impact when you use that language in certain ways.

Megan Figueroa
Speaking of cultural impact, one of the cool things that I think that Rosetta Stone’s doing is that they have a Navajo version now.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yeah, I was– that’s one of the things I wanted to talk to you guys about today

Megan Figueroa
Yeah

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Is related to the choice of languages you support. Which has been very controversial in different softwares. For example, I– for Duolingo– just going back to Duolingo really quickly– that they support Klingon and they support High Valerian, but they don’t support languages from the Philippines. Like it’s interesting the choices that they make. And Rosetta Stone supporting Navajo is a statement. You know, it’s not… It’s a specific choice that they chose to make. And props to them for doing so because it’s not easy to support languages like that. So…

Carrie Gillon
Yeah, if I know anything about anything it’s that Athabaskan languages are really complicated.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Carrie Gillon
The verbs? Oh my.

Megan Figueroa
And- and the whole way that Rosetta Stone is set up is that it’s trying to get you to learn implicitly, right?

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yeah.

Megan Figueroa
And I have a hard time believing, well, science. Science tells me that there’s… just… adults are not going to learn these things implicitly, right?

Carrie Gillon
Well I don’t know about that. So I was– I sat in a demonstration of a Navajo immersion class. And… they said like they had a rock and a stick and then they said– I wish I could remember, but I don’t– you know… I’m holding a rock vs I’m holding a stick. And in Navajo, the verbs are different depending on the type of handling you’re doing, so holding a rock is one form of the verb and holding a stick is a different form of the verb. And so… I yeah I picked up– of course I’m a linguist but– I picked up on the difference. So I don’t think it’s impossible. I think…

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Carrie Gillon
Maybe it’s more difficult…

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, you’re right.

Carrie Gillon
On a computer versus in person? I don’t know. But it is possible.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. And it was terrible on me as a scientist to say something so– something so strong but yeah, no, it’s much harder for adults to learn implicitly.

Carrie Gillon
Probably so.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
And I think most data would support the idea that especially for adult learners, some explicit content is very helpful.

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
But I do agree that having… being immersed in the language is so key for be able to use it instinctually. And if that’s one of your goals, than immersive experiences… I don’t know about completely implicit material. I wouldn’t support that. But I think having a strong combination of both is the best pedagogy.

Megan Figueroa
Right. And just aside from pedagogy, it’s great that it… that Rosetta Stone has Navajo. Are they working on any other native languages. Carrie? Do you know?

Carrie Gillon
I think so but I don’t remember what they are. So I don’t want to say

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, yeah. What…? Okay, we keep saying Duolingo… there’s one called mango too, right?

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yes.

Megan Figueroa
So I’m wondering, like, if I’m a user– I’m trying to choose between these– is there a true difference? Like if I try to learn Spanish from Mango versus Duolingo?

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yes, there’s a significant difference.

Megan Figueroa
Okay.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yeah, that’s I did a huge research project on these four big companies. So Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, Mango Languages, and Babble, which provide significantly different content for users and different ways of interacting with it. Mango Languages is mostly through public libraries and subscription services. And I think they do a fantastic job at specializing, and also working on– if we’re talking about explicit content– like color formapping– for pronunciation and morphology choices– they do a really cool job. And they also do like… you want to learn medical Spanish, like let’s just focus on that topic. Which I think could be very appealing..

Megan Figueroa
Oh, cool.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
to certain users.

Megan Figueroa
That’s reallyc cool.

Carrie Gillon
Yeah, that– that’s interesting.

Megan Figueroa
Ooh, that’d be really important for nursing. Oh, I bet… And if they have a law version too people that are working…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yeah, well that’s a big field right now instead of just learning whatever Spanish, I need it for this specific purpose tomorrow. You know, help me improve my skills.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. Oh, that’s a great application.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yeah. I really respect that company. The more I learned about it, the more I like them. Go Mango Languages.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Carrie Gillon
[laughs] They’re not paying for this just so… [all laugh]

Megan Figueroa
Yes, they are not.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
I also would love to talk about Babbel, which is one of my top companies when we’re talking about… so I focus a lot on speech technology. And when it comes to why you learn a language, I fundamentally believe that you don’t… that grammar and vocab is not the top priority. I really believe that when people want to learn languages for real, they want to speak, they want to listen, they want to communicate effectively. And Babble puts speaking at the forefront. No question.

Carrie Gillon
Interesting.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
You have to speak to finish the lessons. You know what I mean? Like

Megan Figueroa
Oh…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
It’s built into learning vocab it’s built into everything.

Megan Figueroa
Well, when I’m in Duolingo, I always turn like the part off where I have to speak.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yes.

Carrie Gillon
Yeah, so do I because so I also did French just to try and brush up on my French and it couldn’t understand me at all. And I’m like, okay, I know, my accents is– are not great, but it’s not that bad.

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Carrie Gillon
So, I was like what’s going on with this product. Now, this was a couple of years ago now, so maybe it’s better. So I’m wondering, like, how is Babble handling this better?

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Well, I don’t, I would first say that none of them do it perfectly and none of them do it as well as I wish they would. And they know this I’ve written constructive criticisms, this is not new news. [sighs] Speech technology. Why? I mean, the first thing to say is that you’re not alone in that a lot of people turn off the speaking things on Duolingo. From the stuff I see, over 70% of users choose to turn that off. So…

Megan Figueroa
Oh.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
There’s a New York Times article actually about this woman who completed Duol– completed Duolingo quote, unquote, and never spoke a word of the language she was supposedly learning.

Carrie Gillon

[gasp]

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
So I think that those are choices made by the developers and by the company related to, again, the outcomes for the users, right? Like this is something you have to question.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
The fact that Babble requires you to speak is a different type of intention.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah… That would be good for me because I avoid it. Mostly because I’m like, you asshole Duolingo. I said perfectly. [laughs] You know, but it… I mean I…

Carrie Gillon
Well, yeah. So we know for sure already, that automatic speech recognition is not that great yet. And so adding on top of it being your second language, I assume it does a bad job of that.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
This is something the more I read about, the more terrified I am that this is being used for assessment purposes.

Carrie Gillon
Same.

Megan Figueroa
Oh, yes.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
I know you had Rachael Tatman come speak and her work is so compelling about this. But– I especially working in language learning and language assessment, if we know that these assessment techniques are not fair, they potentially are not valid, they’re giving native speakers bad scores. The fact that…

Megan Figueroa
Oh.

Carrie Gillon
Right.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Immigration services use these to discriminate on who can and cannot move places. Or jobs? It gets really problematic really fast. But I think when we’re talking about using it for Duolingo, or using it for Babel or whatnot, they are making what I call threshold choices of what is an acceptable utterance target. And of course, this is even more problematic for women, or people who have breathier voices, right? Which they don’t tell their users of course,

Megan Figueroa
Right, right.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
But I think making those back end choices that significantly impact users. You’ve got to be really thoughtful about what you’re doing.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, and you might be giving the wrong message because… again, if you’re trying to learn the language as an adult, there are going to be some sounds that you might not ever be able to make, like…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Well…

Megan Figueroa
the Spanish… the trill r, right.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
There are actually are. I work on pronunciation, so I would refute that point. I know a lot of people believe that, but my research indicates that if you give people evidence based material that’s specific about different– you’re talking about a phoneme? Like your tongue doing specific things? You can improve.

Megan Figueroa
Uh-huh.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
It’s just that if you never get practice, you never get feedback, and it’s not based on anything real. No, you won’t improve, right?

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
I mean, you need to be supported in your learning overall.

Megan Figueroa
But… but how does that play… play out in how Duolingo recognizes.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Oh.

Megan Figueroa
You learning these phonemes…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
I think…

Megan Figueroa
Or these sounds. These individual sounds.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
I think they care more about amplitude and duration segmentation.

Carrie Gillon
Oh…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
I don’t think they care that if you can do their, but I have not seen their material, but considering the other research that I’ve done, that’s what I would guess is actually going on.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, and so now I’m thinking that that’s what I mean when I say that as an adult trying to improve on these things, I feel like Duolingo or these things aren’t going to…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Absolutely.

Carrie Gillon
They can’t really they don’t have the space to to teach you, right? Cuz you do need like actual, like “here’s what your tongue is doing” information and they don’t provide that kind of thing. I remember when I was learning French as, you know, a kid and then a teenager, I just couldn’t figure out what’s going on with the vowels at all. And then when I got into linguistics, I was like, oh, there are front rounded vowels. I understand now.

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Carrie Gillon
Like, I do think that just giving information, so also I learned a bunch of sounds for the indigenous languages that I’ve worked on that are not part of my native phonology. You can definitely learn them, it’s just a matter of– well– I guess a little bit of wanting to but also understanding what you’re actually doing with your mouth.

Megan Figueroa
Yes, I am so sorry… I am so sorry if I said that you can’t learn new sounds. I did not mean that.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
No, you are not the only one! Right, people tell me that every day of the week and as a researcher in this field, I also have to be really careful because it’s a… pronunciation and identity are so closely tied, that you can so easily offend people with this material. So I think what I have to say is: as a linguist, as someone who works in this field, I’m telling you, I can empower you to learn better if that’s one of your goals. I can give you strategic material. If that’s not one of your goals? No worries, but you can’t… I would… please don’t say that you can’t. You know what I mean?

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Carrie Gillon
It’s kind of like saying you can’t do math. Yes, you can. You’ve just been told all your life you can’t. It’s a lie.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Well and no one gives you practice? Like literally you turn off the thing that potentially could help you at all to speak the language?

Carrie Gillon
Yeah…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
That’s really sad.

Carrie Gillon
Yeah. It’s very sad.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
But I… if… I’d love to at least talk about there are companies that are dealing with pronunciation specifically. Most of them aren’t integrated into other speech technology software. So when we’re talking about regular ed tech, these companies do not focus on this material. There are… I’m… there’s a company I really respect called ELSA. It’s from San Francisco, spelled just like the Disney princess but all caps and they work on phoneme segmentation for English. It’s slightly problematic. They have a quote unquote native speaker score.

Carrie Gillon
Uh…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yeah, but they do do very sophisticated analyses, like I got a 97% on their diagnostic test. And I have supposedly a problem with my shwa. I don’t know what my problem is.

Carrie Gillon
What? [laughs] First of all, shwas are all over the place and secondly, what?

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
But it… I mean… 97% is not a bad score for talking about validity of scores and ratings.

Megan Figueroa
Absolutely.

Carrie Gillon
Sure.

Megan Figueroa
You bring up a good point about identity and pronounciation, and this is the big reason why I turn off the speaking part is because it makes me feel so much shame that I have to speak a little bit slower when I do encounter something like the Spanish trilled r, because when it’s like embedded in a word, it becomes a little bit more difficult. And some Spanish words have so many syllables. I’m like, I should be able to say this better or faster. I shouldn’t have to stop. And I think that’s a big thing that… I don’t know. I don’t know what the answer is.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
It is.

Megan Figueroa
What’s that?

Carrie Gillon
I was just going to say, that’s an interesting language ideology that you have in your head, right?

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. I mean, I… it’s not coming from nowhere. There are so many Spanish speakers and native Spanish speakers, other Mexican Americans or Mexicans that say that I should be able to speak Spanish. Since you know,

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Well, and I mean…

Megan Figueroa
My dad speaks Spanish.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Yeah, I think heritage identity? I don’t know if you consider yourself?

Megan Figueroa
Yeah,

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
That’s a personal identity choice, clearly.

Megan Figueroa
Righ- right.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
But, when we’re talking I… my master’s thesis that I did at the University of California Davis? I looked at pronouncation and confidence in heritage and non heritage speakers. And, by a large margin, we saw that heritage speakers always rated the presentation as significantly worse than non heritage speakers,

Carrie Gillon
Yeah…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Which doesn’t make sense if you’re speaking Spanish at home… your pronunciation is probably better than your non heritage peers.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah yeah.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
But it’s the way you feel about it that matters…

Megan Figueroa
Yep.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Right? So you’re not alone. You’re…

Megan Figueroa
No yeah.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Definately not alone.

Carrie Gillon
No, definately not.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. No, I bet that speaks to some people that are trying to learn like their heritage language or get better. Or you know…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
And a lot of my colleagues at the University of Arizona are on green cards and not native speakers of English. So the… English is their professional language. And I asked some of my colleagues to take some diagnostic tests, and they were very uncomfortable with that idea.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
For obvious reasons because most of their life they’re currently spending in English, but their pronunciation is a huge identity question of how good am I? Is the concept, but they’re intelligible, they’re professionals in their fields. Does it matter?

Megan Figueroa
Right.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
What kind of accent they have? So that speaks… you know, if they’re intelligible, why does it matter? Or how does it matter? To who they are?

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. Well, I think it’s great that there are people like you that are interested in edtech and like Duolingo, and all these things that are also interested in– in like cultural identity or identity of the speaker. These are important things. And that’s why we need linguists [all laugh] at these companies, right? I mean, you know, it’s not just like, I mean, maybe one day… like my friends are always picking up other languages like I’m going to learn Dutch or whatever, just, there’s no like heritage, or like cultural significance of… for them. But I just– I can’t do that because I’m so stuck on the idea that I need to learn Spanish, and I don’t even wanna– you know– go into any other languages. And, I would be happy if these companies– you know– started talking about– I don’t know– the cultural significance of learning different languages and all of this. And I don’t really see that yet.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
No, I don’t see it much either. But I think what’s really important is when people ask me about a tech companies. As a user, as a consumer, you have so much power. Like I think people are not realizing that you vote with your dollar. And depending on which of these companies you support or the tools you choose to buy, and tweet about and so forth. You have a lot of power to say, Hey, I’d love to see more of this kind of material in your product. You know, why did you choose to do this and that? I love that Duolingo has lots of different faces in their software. They have different skin tones,

Megan Figueroa
Yeah

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
They have multiracial couples that seem to be appearing. There’s a smiling Sikh man in their software, which strikes– sends a very strong message about the kind of company they are. So I think as consumers you choose– tell them what you want. Tell them what you need, and the– what you support what your fundamental values are. Because they do change the material all the time. Trust me. I talked to them.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, the the latest email I got, says meet the new Duolingo! Twice as much learning content, and you can focus on your favorites. So you can choose what to learn super deeply now. Yeah, I could, you know, this. These are good upgrades, and I can see how they would be responsive to user feedback.

Carrie Gillon
Is there anything that you want to tell– to leave the listeners with?

Megan Figueroa
I was just gonna say I know nothing. Thank you for teaching me.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
No! Not at all.

Megan Figueroa
That has become my…

Carrie Gillon
Your mantra.

Megan Figueroa
Aside from like don’t be an asshole is I know nothing, thank you. But it was the same one we had Rachael on. So you mentioned Rachael’s episode that was episode six. So listeners if you haven’t listened to that, these two episodes will pair nicely like wine and chocolate.

Carrie Gillon
And also the other one that we will pair with is the episode with Ethan Cutlu who talks about foreign accent. Foreign accent in speech and how discriminated people can be for having an accent… a particular accent.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah, definitely. It’s all related, right?

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
It absolutely is.

Carrie Gillon
It all intersects.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. [laughs]

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Well, and I think this is the concept of… so we’re talking about educational technology, but also about speech technology, and choices that are being made. And I’m… I love edtech, but I currently am pivoting more into speech technology in general, when it comes to voice assistants. As voice is being integrated as a user interface, how you know, Alexa and Google homes are becoming more and more prevalent. And PR just did a study with Edison group that now one in six Americans owns what’s called a smart speaker.

Megan Figueroa
Wow.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Which of course is it’s just a certain type of American, right? That’s not all Ameri– you know, like if we’re talking about demographics and socioeconomic status, you know, one in six…

Carrie Gillon
That’s still a large percentage.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Certain people. But I think when we talk about choices that are being made in the future of this field, it’s really about the native language and speech technology, and I’m hearing a lot of stuff about privacy questions. Which is a totally different discussion, but it’s also really important when we’re talking about big data companies, and what they’re doing with the data we give them or choose not to give them.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
So…

Carrie Gillon
Okay.

Megan Figueroa
Well… well yeah.

Carrie Gillon
That’s a whole nother topic that I am really fascinated in, but…

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Absolutely, no but I think that honestly those are connected.

Megan Figueroa
Very connected.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
No, I want to make sure that that’s mentioned. Yes.

Megan Figueroa
They’re definitely connected.

Carrie Gillon
Yeah. Ok, well then thank you so much for being our guest today.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah.

Carrie Gillon
It’s been wonderful.

Megan Figueroa
Yeah. Yeah, thank you.

Carrie Gillon
We leave our listeners with one final thought. Don’t be an asshole.

Megan Figueroa
Don’t be an asshole…

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Don’t be an asshole.

Megan Figueroa
Do not be an asshole. [laughs] Thank you, alright, goodbye.

Joan Palmiter Bajorek
Buh bye.

Carrie Gillon
[music] The Vocal Fries Podcast is produced by Chris Ayers for halftone audio. Theme music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, at Vocal Fries Pod. You can email us at vocalfriespod@gmail.com.

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