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SLU Professor Awarded Digital Humanities Advancement Grant for Second-Language Pronunciation App

by Maggie Rotermund
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Maggie Rotermund
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ST. LOUIS – Dan Nickolai, Ph.D., associate professor of French at Saint Louis University, has been awarded a Digital Humanities Advancement Grant through the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The grant totals $325,000, which includes $50,000 in matching funds from the Saint Louis University Research Institute. 

Dan Nickolai, Ph.D.

Dan Nickolai, Ph.D., is an associate professor of French at Saint Louis University. Submitted photo. 

The grant will fund the further development of iSpraak, a web-based application Nickolai created for second-language pronunciation instruction, assessment and research. He plans to scale up the development and dissemination of the app as a free and open source option for language pronunciation instruction.

Nickolai has been using the app in his classroom. He said his students work on their second-language skills asynchronously through the app, allowing them to improve their pronunciation and get feedback on where they need to improve before they turn in graded assignments. 

Nickolai is the director of the Language Resource Center, an academic support facility housed in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. The LRC provides educational technology and language pedagogy expertise to the department’s faculty and students. The center’s mission is to enrich, enhance, and transform second language and cultural learning, teaching, and research at Saint Louis University.

Nickolai is also the president-elect of the International Association for Language Learning Technology.

“We are extremely excited about the NEH award which will allow us to enhance, scale, and provide free and open access to the project to language students, teachers, and researchers everywhere,” said Nickolai. “Working with the NEH is ideal because the study of language and linguistics is at the core of an education grounded in the humanities and liberal arts. The knowledge of languages is what allows us to examine human societies and cultures. Learning languages connects us across time, borders, and communities. It is profoundly rewarding to be developing impactful digital tools that enhance language pronunciation instruction and learning.”

The Digital Humanities Advancement Grants program (DHAG) supports innovative, experimental, and/or computationally challenging digital projects, leading to work that can scale to enhance scholarly research, teaching, and public programming in the humanities. The program also supports research that examines the history, criticism, ethics, and philosophy of digital culture or technology and its impact on society.

National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at www.neh.gov.

Saint Louis University

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.