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You are here: Home HAIL Abstracts 2005 CSIRO ICT Centre



Using language technology to help patients with limited English

Professor Harold Somers
Professor of Language Engineering
School of Informatics
University of Manchester
United Kingdom

(A joint HAIL/SALS-SIG Seminar)

Tuesday 15th February 2005 at 11am


Immigrants, asylum seekers and other speakers of minority languages often have a level of English which is sufficient for their day-to-day needs, but is inadequate for more formal and stressful situations like a visit to the doctor. There is plentiful evidence that communication difficulties are the single biggest source of dissatisfaction with health services on the part of patients, and are equally recognised as a major problem by health-care providers. This talk will present a range of ideas for computer-based support for patients with limited or no English (PLONEs). The CANES (Computer Assistance for Non-English Speakers) group of projects aims to address this problem through the use of a range of language technologies, some sophisticated, others less so. As a proof-of-concept, we have been concentrating on the problems of Somali speakers with respiratory complaints, though we are currently extending our work to other languages and areas of health-care.

Ideas range from a self-help tool for initial enquiries based on simple pattern matching, template-based generation for instruction labels on prescription drugs, computer-mediated interviews to establish the patient's history, to a desktop translation/interpretation assistant for the doctor-patient interview. In all cases we want to explore a range of I/O media including voice, symbols and text, with touch-screen supplementing use of keyboard and mouse, bearing in mind that users may have varying levels of (computer-)literacy, and also remaining mindful of cultural, ethical, sociological as well as linguistic issues.

Short resume

Harold Somers is temporarily in the Language Technology Group in Macquarie University, on 8 months' study leave from the School of Informatics, University of Manchester, which he recently joined from the Department of Language Engineering, UMIST following the merger of these two Manchester universities.

Originally a linguist by training, he came into Computational Linguistics over 25 years ago, and is probably best known as a specialist in Machine Translation. More recently his research has been focussed on empirical methods, with a particular interest in the rapid development of resources for less-studied languages, with Assistive Technology an obvious application.

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