We report on a novel approach to training and testing Italian verb morphology by developing a flashcard application. Instead of manually curated content, this application integrates a large-scale finite-state morphological (FSM) analyzer which both analyzes a user’s input and dynamically generates specific verb forms (flashcards). FSMs are widely used in natural language processing as part of a system’s text preprocessing pipeline. Our main contribution is to leverage the FSM as the core component to implement a dynamic verb generator based on defined morphological features or return a form’s morphological analysis. Therefore, we developed Card-IT, a web-based application powered by the FSM that uses flashcards as a way for learners to utilize the analyzer in a user-friendly manner. The two-sided cards represent both functions of the FSM: analysis and generation.
Card-IT can be used to quickly analyze a form or to look up entire verb paradigms where the users (teachers or learners) can freely define morphological features, such as tense, mood, etc. Optionally, they can choose to leave any feature unspecified. Depending on the user’s selection, the application returns the corresponding flashcards, which can be saved and organized into a new or existing deck for testing and training. The organization and sorting of decks and cards allow learners to study verbs based on their individual study interests/needs e.g., one might choose to focus on subjunctive forms or past tense only. Additionally, teachers can create decks to provide their students with specific learning content and exercises.
As studies have shown, knowledge of the underlying linguistic concepts benefits the acquisition of a new language (e.g., Heift, 2004). Therefore Card-IT embeds explanations of linguistic terms (e.g., mood, conditional) using visual components, to allow learners to identify linguistic patterns and raise their metalinguistic awareness over time. Moreover, in Card-IT all linguistic terms are provided in the target language.
We plan on evaluating Card-IT with experts, Italian teachers, and implementing their feedback before evaluating it with students. At its current version, Card-IT offers three functions: (1) form analysis and look-up as mentioned above; (2) training, and (3) testing. In training using the self or teacher-curated decks generated with the help of the FSM, learners can study and learn verbs along with their inflectional forms. The testing mode consists of two different exercises: a conjugation quiz that prompts the user to type a form based on provided linguistic specification; and a tense quiz that offers a form asking the user to pick the corresponding tense out of three. Optimally, the learner may also select a mixed-mode that combines both testing exercises.
Feedback plays a crucial role in learning in that it must be both informative and motivating, yet not discouraging (Livingstone, 2012). Whenever the learner enters an incorrect verb form, the FSM the system checks whether it corresponds to any other tense/mood configurations. If so, the system reports it to the user to provide targeted feedback on errors with indications of how to improve rather than just an (in)correct message.
Although Card-IT is still in the latter stages of development, you can try out the demo at cardit.vialab.ca by logging in using firstname.lastname@example.org with the password livecardit.