The purpose of the ACORNS project is to support the language revitalization efforts of Native American tribes, hence the name: [AC]quisition [O]f [R]estored [N]ative [S]peech. The acorn is sacred to the tribes of Northern California and Southern Oregon. The name ACORNS is chosen in honor of these tribes who helped spawn this effort. ACORNS is freely downloadable as long as it is used for non-commercial purposes.
From the ACORNS website: The ACORNS project’s goal is to support tribal programs to revitalize indigenous languages and cultures. Its audience includes language teachers who, with their students, create digital lessons for practice outside of class. The ACORNS application supports ten categories of language learning lessons.
The new release provides a mobile player application for Android compatible devices. It maintains a gallery of ACORNS lessons. These lessons, created from version 8.0, can be distributed to the device by email, by cloud-based services (ex. Drop Box), or by web-based hyperlinks.
This version also integrates language independent speech recognition into the question and answer lesson. Namely, students can respond verbally to questions posed by the creator of the lesson. If their answer matches one of the legitimate sentences, the program responds with a positive feedback audio.
The Sound Editor version 2 can encode audio recordings in mp3 format. It also provides a third audio work area (instead of two) and incorporates a pitch algorithm that enables audio to be sped up (or slowed down) while maintaining the pitch.
The ACORNS program is intuitive and requires minimal technical training. It is able to recognize any indigenous keyboard stored in true type font (ttf) format. It can handle files encoded in popular audio, video, and picture formats. ACORNS conforms to best practice criteria for working with linguistic data, in that it supports industry-standard export and import facilities using XML. ACORNS software works on all computer platforms.
The ACORNS software package allows language instructors and students easily to prepare and execute files containing language lessons. Each file contains a series of user-created lessons, which can be linked through the use of mouse clicks. Its implementation is similar to PowerPoint, except instead of preparing slides ant then presenting a slide show, we create language lessons and then students execute them. Presently, the program offers the following lesson types.
ACORNS Lesson Types
- Picture and Sound lessons allow you to insert a background image, then attach written and spoken words to various places on the picture. You can opt to use pre-existing recordings; however, ACORNS makes it easy to record your own audio and load your own photographs. Thus you can customize your lesson to the particular surroundings that define the language you are teaching. When students click a place on the picture where you have attached a recording, they will hear your description of it in the native language along with culturally relevant information.
- Multiple Choice lessons allow you to create a game similar to those found in commercial language acquisition products. Each lesson consists of a group of pictures. To each picture, you can attach a group of recorded audio. (As with Picture and Sound lessons, ACORNS allows you to load your own photographs and create your own recordings.) When students execute your lesson they will see four images displayed on the screen, then hear a phrase describing one of the pictures. Their task is to click the correct picture. When they succeed, the program randomly picks another set of four pictures and plays a sound attached to one of them. The game continues for as long as students want to play, offering a fun and intuitive way to practice associating words with concepts.
- Story Book lessons playback a piece of a story and display a picture that relates. Each lesson represents a page and you can link these together to form an entire story book. Students listen along and watch the captions highlight words during the playback. Students can pause and rewind to rehear parts of the story
- Magnet Game lessons display a series of magnets, each containing a word from a sentence. Students drag the magnets over adjacent words, which cause the magnets to merge. The goal is to reconstruct a group of sentences. After students succeed, they can click on the completed magnet, which now contains the entire sentence, to hear audio, see a picture, and also view additional descriptive information.
- Hear and Click lessons allow you to annotate an audio recording of a story with still and animated pictures. The student hears the story and sees a random selection of pictures scattered around the display. Their goal is to click on the appropriate picture as the story plays back. This lesson facilitates audio comprehension and is very immersive.
- Flash Card lessons contains three piles of cards. Initially all of the cards are in the leftmost pile. The student’s job is to correctly identify expressions that go with the cards. After enough correct answers, cards move to the middle pile. After more correct answers, the cards go to the rightmost pile. The goal is to get all the cards to the rightmost pile. A drag and drop facility exists where students can manually move cards between piles.
- Pictionary lessons show a group of pictures that relate to category of sentences or phrases used in conversation. Students click on these to hear a representative sentence and also see descriptive information that is displayed. This lesson is useful for students to become familiar with common indigenous sentences and phrases. It is a simple dictionary shown in pictures.
- Hear and Respond lessons allow you to annotate a lengthy sound recording (like a story or a speech) with its composite words and phrases. The annotations you create show up on a student’s screen as a transcript of the recording, but some of the words are left blank. Students listen to the recording and fill in the blank words and phrases. Thus this type of lesson facilitates practice in audio comprehension and correct spelling.
- Moving Pictures lessons displays four pictures at a time that move about the frame. Students click to hear attached audio. Periodically, every twenty or thirty seconds, the pictures change.
- Question and Answer lessons involve a fluent speaker who poses questions to the student. Each question may have multiple correct answers. The student answers the question, and if the answer matches one of those that are correct, ACORNS responds with a positive feedback audio.
- Mobile Applications With a single click, ACORNS can create web-pages that will execute on the mobile device through their browser application. These pages automatically resize according to the display size and will also recognize when the device changes from portrait (vertical) to landscape (horizontal) mode. These Web pages also run using standard desktop browsers.
- Pronunciation feature Students can replay audio that they heard, and if they have a microphone, they can repeat what they heard, and playback to see how their pronunciation compares.
- Language independent speech recognition is integrated into the Questions and Answers lesson type. Students can speak the answer to a question and then ACORNS can verify if they are correct. Language independent speech recognition is a difficult task, so we continue to refine this feature.
- Creating animated pictures ACORNS now has a feature that enables you to easily extract video frames from a camcorder recording and save these as animated GIF pictures. ACORNS supports these in most of its lesson types. Animated pictures are great for showing the movement needed to represent verbs in language instruction.
- Drag and drop A drag and drop facility allows one to use a mouse to drag pictures, audio, and video over the ACORNS application frame and dialog panels and then release to drop. Dropping a file will cause the file to open. Dropping audio into a file dialog or into an audio sound panel will automatically cause the file to be loaded.
- Indigenous feedback The default audio feedback used in lessons is a bird-tweet sound for correct answers; a frog croak for answers that were not quite right, and a squawk for incorrect answers. Users can override these with and record their own feedback responses in their indigenous languages. Each of the three categories of answers can have any number of possible responses.
- Sound Editor Application The ACORNS application incorporates a Sound Editor application. This application allows you easily to edit and manipulate recorded sound files. We believe that this program is more intuitive and easy to use than existing commerical products. The Sound Editor also runs as a stand-alone program.
- Additional applications ACORNS now supports a keyboard mapping program, called ELK ([E]xtended [L]inguistic [K]eyboards) that, unlike existing applications such as UKELELE or Tavaultesoft, works on all platforms and is free for non-commercial use. Finally, we are working on our first version of a dictionary application that can support language archival work, provide a framework for creating dictionary-based games, support multiple dialects and languages, create a web-presense of dictionary data, and support research projects related to automatic speech recognition.
- Language-based instructions ACORNS documentation and program commands can now be language-based. However, translation help is needed. If you are interested, click on the Developers Corner link for more information.