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New Software Helps a Range of Language Learners

December 1, 2000
A computer program is helping aphasics and others to learn language. (Bay Get)

A man who used a computer to rehabilitate himself into society after suffering from aphasia (loss of the power of language) in the wake of a brain hemorrhage has applied his experience to develop language-training software. The software casts a personal computer in the role of teacher and enables users to learn to recognize words and to practice pronunciation. It lets people study independently in their own homes. The developer explains: "If people can interact with a computer through this software, that in itself creates an opportunity for broadening their window on society." As part of his efforts to support people with aphasia by expanding their ties to society, he has created a homepage that acts as a forum for exchange among people with aphasia and helps organize national conferences for aphasics.

Picture Cards, Words, and Speech
The man who developed the software is 62-year-old Takuya Goto, who lives in the city of Yokohama. The program, titled Kotoba no Sanpo (Walking Among Words) takes the same form--an HTML document--as Internet homepages, and combines picture cards, words, and speech. Simply by clicking a button, users can practice reading words and pronouncing sounds. The software is designed to allow users to master basic nouns and verbs and includes a seven-group set of 350 picture cards representing nouns and a similar set of 324 verb picture cards.

Goto, who was working for an electric machinery maker, was struck down by a brain hemorrhage at the age of 46. The aftereffects were impaired movement on the right side of his body and aphasia. At first he could not even say the names of family members. "You can't express your thoughts. You can't even let people know that you can't say what you want," he says. The tool that helped Goto overcome the frustration of aphasia and return to society was a personal computer.

He attended computer classes every day while his rehabilitation continued. The effect was remarkable. By the time his three years of sick leave ended, he had mastered computing so thoroughly that he took on such jobs as developing business software and making spreadsheets for his company.

Bringing Aphasics Together
Goto began developing the language-training software after he retired. "So many people helped me," he explains, and he was determined to repay them. Having received permission to use picture cards developed by the Communication Disability Clinical Research Group, Goto sought advice from language and medical experts.

Goto's project progressed steadily and was selected for funding under a Yokohama City scheme supporting research on and development of new technology and new products by small and medium-sized businesses. The finished software turned out to be so comprehensive that it has been suggested for use not just by people with language disorders but also by foreign learners of Japanese.

Besides his foray into software development, Goto has created his own homepage, which includes a bulletin board where aphasics can post comments. People with aphasia often feel isolated, but by exchanging views via this Internet bulletin board they can broaden the scope of their contact and interchange with society.

Goto is also devoting a great deal of energy to his role as organizer of national conferences for aphasics held in Fukuoka in 1998, in Chiba in 1999, and in Yokohama in September 2000. The theme of the 2000 conference was "Opening Up to Language: A Bridge to the Twenty-First Century."

The conferences attract aphasics from all over Japan. One of them posted the following message on Goto's bulletin board: "My experience was that using a personal computer positively affected my rehabilitation. The best activity on a computer is using the Internet, such as making friends through e-mail, browsing web sites, and inputting key words, all of which also serves as language training. I took part in the conference because I wanted to tell other participants about my experience."

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.