The Challenge

How might we encourage users to push the boundaries of their comfort zones and try speaking with other accents?

The Outcome

A mobile app and a voice assistant that tracks and helps to modify user’s code switch habits

 

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What It Is

Code-switching is an everyday experience for many immigrants, and it often happens involuntarily and quickly – without the speaker recognizing the change. Switch tracks its users’ code-switching habits via a mobile app and through smart speakers by learning the users’ speech patterns. I wanted to explore how digital technology might give immigrants agency over self presentation through speech.

Accent is a signal you don’t deserve
to be treated the same.
— Henry Yu Professor of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia
 

What’s a Code Switch?

Code-switching is the practice of shifting accent and intonation depending on social context. For example, immigrants will adjust their accent to sound more like those around them to fit in. Code switching is most often recognized when speakers shift from using accents and slang to a more grammatically proper (or white) “Standard” way of speaking.

 
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How It Works

The app first learns the users’ speech patterns by asking them to read example phrases (just as Alexa learns to recognize its users’ voices). Then the app prompts users to set their code-switching goals. Having learned the speech patterns associated with each accent, Switch now listens to the user throughout the day, either on a phone or a smart speaker device. At the end of the day, the app generates a color-coded and time-stamped graph of where and when the code switch happened.

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Two Opposing Goals

Switch was designed with the knowledge that there are two opposing objectives when it comes to code-switching. While users want authentic self-expression, they also strategically change their accents depending on context to win acceptance. By allowing for this flexibility in the goals they set, the app entrusts users with the agency to choose how they present themselves through speech.

 
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Turning on and off an accent is a
privilege… a protective layer.
— An Interviewee
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Why you need it

More than a tracking app, Switch is a habit-changing app. Depending on the users’ needs, it can nudge them to code-switch less, encouraging them to speak more like their culturally authentic selves, or to code switch more, helping them to speak Standard English like their white colleagues at work, for instance. In both cases, the app encourages users to push the boundaries of their comfort zone and try to speak with the other accents. Switch empowers users to embrace the multitude of their identities, and feel more comfortable expressing themselves authentically, regardless of context.

 

Process

 
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Paper Prototype + User Testing

 
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Scenario Mapping + Low-fi Wireframes

 
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