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Posts Tagged ‘Foreign Language Conversion’

The ThanksUSA team loves hearing from scholarship recipients. This week’s featured scholar, Brianna Bikker, has received $6000 in ThanksUSA scholarships since 2009, including a $3000 Goldman Sachs Gives/ThanksUSA Scholarship for the Spring 2011 semester. After receiving regular updates from Brianna about her academic progress and collegiate experiences, I knew that I wanted to share her story with readers. Currently in her junior year of Electrical Engineering studies at Texas A&M University, Brianna has a very interesting research focus: Foreign Accent Conversion. This will be a two segment blog beginning with Brianna’s research and concluding next week with her experiences studying abroad and life as a military child.

Brianna Bikker

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Brianna has always had great math skills and was interested in puzzles. She knew that she would pursue a degree that would incorporate mathematics, but she did not want to limit herself. She decided to pursue engineering because it would allow her to apply her skills in math and science while pursuing real-life problems that affect people daily. “Where would we be without engineers?” asks Brianna. “I want to have a job where my work produces something that people 10, 20, or 100 years down the road couldn’t believe living without.”

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Brianna’s current research could lead to just that. Brianna explains her research and related end-goals:

My research in Foreign Accent Conversion focuses on essentially removing the “foreign accent” from a recording of a foreigner’s spoken English. Basically, when a foreigner speaks English with an “accent,” it just means that the way his or her muscles move differently and the shape of his or her throat are not the same as a native speaker’s would be; this produces a different sound. In the graphical representation of speech (called a spectrogram), mispronunciations have a different shape than the correct, native pronunciation does.  So, in accent conversion, we use different signal processing techniques to manipulate the speech recording of that foreign speaker so that the areas of mispronunciation become identical to the correct pronunciation instead.  The idea is that when the new modified speech of the foreign speaker is played back, it should sound exactly like that same person speaking English, just without a foreign accent. Of course, this is a lot trickier to perfect than it sounds; computer production of “speech” sounds a lot less smooth than human speech.

Ultimately, my research might lead to a way to improve the actual accent of foreign speakers. Theory says that a person listening to his/her own voice without an accent will help eliminate any foreign accent more quickly and accurately than listening to an instructor’s accent and trying to mimic it.

To compliment her studies, Brianna is involved in the student branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). She was also named a University Scholar by Texas A&M’s Honor Program. “As a University Scholar, I participate in representing the school in discussion panels, hosting honorary visitors at Texas A&M, Professional workshops, and service projects. Essentially, there are 12 students per class selected to represent the school,” explains Brianna.

Last semester, Brianna had the unique opportunity to study at Texas A&M University’s branch campus in Dohar, Qatar. Please visit next week to read about the experiences that broadened Brianna’s global perspective.

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