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Teach your cat to speak and listen – but not necessarily write

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Teach your dog to speak, or at least listen, and it can be easier than you might think.

Read moreThe new canine-language apps have been created by the Cambridge Animal Language Lab, which aims to develop new, more expressive, ways of teaching the dog to understand human language.

The team of linguists at the Lab are working on the app, called Hello, as part of a partnership with Microsoft Research, and are also working on a version for dogs that’s based on the Oxford English Dictionary, which is also being developed.

The Hello app allows dogs to interact with words, phrases and other sounds, which they can then read aloud.

It can teach them basic language, and the researchers hope that by using the technology they’ll be able to teach them to recognise different expressions of the same word, such as the words “snow”, “water”, “hot” and “lazy”.

“They can use this to say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ or even ‘please’, to tell us they’re hungry,” Dr Simon Higgs, who led the project, told the BBC.

“That’s what we wanted to do.”

He said the app would allow dogs to be taught to use their natural language skills.

“They don’t know what the other dogs in the room are saying, and they don’t need to, because we can see what they’re saying and we can hear what they sound like,” he said.

“So we have a really good way of teaching them to understand what’s being said and what sounds they’re doing.”

The researchers hope to have Hello ready for release in 2017.

“We’re going to have a free app for dogs, but we’re also going to be releasing a free, open source version of the app,” said Dr Higgs.

“The goal is to put it out to the public, so that we can help other people learn to speak more efficiently and understand their own language better.”

What’s in a word?

Dr Higgs said that while Hello has already been downloaded by more than 100,000 dogs, it has been designed to be easier for people to learn.

“It’s designed to make learning easier by using lots of different techniques, like having lots of audio examples and talking about what they’ve heard, rather than having a very short vocabulary list,” he explained.

“In the long run, we hope to make it easier for anyone to use this language, because it’s very accessible.”

Dr Higgses’ team hopes that by creating this language-learning app they’ll have a much wider audience, and one that is more likely to learn to use the language they want.

“If you’re teaching a child to speak English, the next thing you’d want to do is get them to start speaking English,” he added.

For more information, visit the Cambridge University Blog.

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