Scalable Multimodal sign language Technology for sIgn language Learning and assessmEnt (SMILE)

The goal of the proposed project SMILE is to pioneer an assessment system for Swiss German Sign Language (Deutschschweizerische Gebärdensprache, DSGS) using automatic sign language recognition technology.

To achieve this goal, this project uses a multidisciplinary framework that follows two strands of research, one on sign language technology and one on sign assessment with a common link to sign language linguistics. A single institution alone cannot do the very different kinds of research involved in this project. Therefore, a project consortium of three partner institutes with complementary expertise has been built:

1. The Idiap Research Institute (Martigny, Switzerland) will coordinate the project and will contribute to the project by developing a novel automatic sign language assessment and feedback approach taking inspirations from a speech recognition approach that was developed under SNSF project FlexASR.

2.The Hochschule für Heilpädagogik (HfH in Zurich) will bring its expertise in sign language assessment and sign linguistics (through collaboration with Center for Sign Language Research, FZG, Basel). In addition, the HfH will play a central role in connecting the real world of L2 learners and the deaf community in the German part of Switzerland to the project.

3. The University of Surrey (England) will bring to the project its longstanding expertise in sign language technology, visual data acquisition and computer vision and in particular its wide experience in state-of-the-art sign language technology research through European-level projects such as DictaSign.

To achieve the end-goals, the project is organized as three sub-projects:

1. Resources and Tools, which will deal with creation of requisite DSGS sign language resources and tools.

2. Sign Language Technology, which will deal with development of an automatic sign assessment system with feedback based on sign language recognition/verification and sign production.

3. Assessment of L2 Learners and Feedback, which will develop and standardize a vocabulary test that can be aligned with levels A1 and A2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), and will evaluate automatic sign language assessment system w.r.t human assessment.

The SMILE project will involve not only experienced and internationally known researchers in their respective fields, but also young hearing and Deaf team members. The results of the project are expected to have an echo in the larger Deaf community -- not only through the involvement of many Swiss German Deaf signers with the project as subjects, but also because the national Swiss Deaf Association has recently decided to align its sign language curricula to the levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This SMILE project follows the CEFR approach by developing an assessment system that tests the production of vocabulary of DSGS at level A1 with first time integration of new technologies for sign language. SMILE will thus lay an advanced platform for teaching and learning systems, both specifically for DSGS and as a model for other sign languages.

Keywords: Sign language technology, Sign assessment, Computer-/mobile assisted language testing, Sign language recognition, Common European Framework of Reference