Many English-as-a-second language learners have trouble using near-synonym words (e.g., small vs.little; briefly vs.shortly) correctly, and often look for example sentences to learn how two nearly synonymous terms differ. Prior work uses hand-crafted scores to recommend sentences but has difficulty in adopting such scores to all the near-synonyms as near-synonyms differ in various ways. We notice that the helpfulness of the learning material would reflect on the learners’ performance. Thus, we propose the inference-based learner-like agent to mimic learner behavior and identify good learning materials by examining the agent’s performance. To enable the agent to behave like a learner, we leverage entailment modeling’s capability of inferring answers from the provided materials. Experimental results show that the proposed agent is equipped with good learner-like behavior to achieve the best performance in both fill-in-the-blank (FITB) and good example sentence selection tasks. We further conduct a classroom user study with college ESL learners. The results of the user study show that the proposed agent can find out example sentences that help students learn more easily and efficiently. Compared to other models, the proposed agent improves the score of more than 17% of students after learning.
Knowing how to use words appropriately has been a key to improving language proficiency. Previous studies typically discuss how students learn receptively to select the correct candidate from a set of confusing words in the fill-in-the-blank task where specific context is given. In this paper, we go one step further, assisting students to learn to use confusing words appropriately in a productive task: sentence translation. We leverage the GiveMe-Example system, which suggests example sentences for each confusing word, to achieve this goal. In this study, students learn to differentiate the confusing words by reading the example sentences, and then choose the appropriate word(s) to complete the sentence translation task. Results show students made substantial progress in terms of sentence structure. In addition, highly proficient students better managed to learn confusing words. In view of the influence of the first language on learners, we further propose an effective approach to improve the quality of the suggested sentences.