Innovation in Language Learning

Edition 17

Accepted Abstracts

Hearables for Language Learning

Rory McGreal, Athabasca University (Canada)


Hearables are wireless smart micro-computers with artificial intelligence that incorporate both speakers and microphones. They fit in the ears and can connect to the Internet and to other devices; they are designed to be worn daily.  One form of specialised hearables are the earphone language translators that offer potential in language teaching. This opens up the possibility of taking full advantage of these devices to support other forms of mobile learning ain  both traditional and distance education. Hearables can support the  delivery of lectures, educational podcasts, notifications, and reminders through a wide variety of applications, while supporting interactivity. Intelligent hearables can determine the context and choose the right time and place to deliver the best content. These devices can become one of the principal ways we interact in learning and provide continuous support for independent, personalised, just-in-time, and self-directed learning contexts. Of particular interest to language teachers are the specialised hearables that serve as earphone language translators such as Google Pixel Buds and Waverly Labs Pilot. This feature and others open up the possibility of taking full advantage of these devices to support language learning in both traditional and mobile formats including other forms of  both traditional and online education. The capability of hearables for intelligent voice recognition (IVR) and natural language understanding (NLU) enables these devices to serve not only as translators, but also as powerful interactive digital advisers. In fact, these hearable interactions could become the principal means for spontaneous queries  in any language. This has opened the possibilities for  using IVR and NLU to support learning. With the availability of  hearable devices, one can begin to explore in what ways, they can be advantageous in language learning. Hearing is a private and personal activity. This should be kept in mind when designing applications and tasks. Perhaps one of the most significant advantages for hearables comes with their ability to provide features that exceed the capabilities of the basic hearing aid. Hearables can augment the ability of the user to hear and discriminate sounds, helping the users to focus on those sounds that are the most important – super hearing, which can provide immeasurable benefits for language learners. For example, a student could  be monitoring conversations in a target language. Hearables also facilitate switching from one function to another seamlessly, while providing useful advice as needed. With the growth of augmented reality and other forms of multimedia, users will need to have audio input, so hearables could become essential in these alternative language learning environments. In a mobile immersive environment, perhaps the most important application will be the ability of users to instantly access the information they need in real time.

Keywords: Hearables, Wearables, Audibles, Mobile Learning;

[1] Hunn, N. (2015, February). The Market for Smart Wearable Technology: A Consumer Centric Approach retrieved from
[2] Banks, L. (2018, June 13). The complete guide to hearable technology in 2018. Retrieved from

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