Robert West

Robert West

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne

Robert West is a tenure-track assistant professor of computer science at EPFL (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne), where he heads the Data Science Lab. His research aims to understand, predict, and enhance human behavior in social and information networks by developing techniques in computational social science, social network analysis, machine learning, and natural language processing. Bob also collaborates closely with the Wikimedia Foundation, in his role as a Wikimedia Research Fellow. Bob’s work has won several awards, including best/outstanding paper awards at ICWSM’21, ICWSM’19, and WWW’13, a best-paper runner-up award at WWW’16, a Google Faculty Research Award, a Facebook Research Award, a Hewlett-Packard Graduate Fellowship, and a Facebook Graduate Fellowship. He is actively involved in the research community, e.g., as an Associate Editor of ICWSM and EPJ Data Science and as a co-founder of the Wiki Workshop (held at WWW and ICWSM) and the Applied Machine Learning Days. Bob received his PhD in Computer Science from Stanford University, his MSc from McGill University, Canada, and his undergraduate degree from Technische Universität München, Germany.

Broccoli: Sprinkling Lightweight Vocabulary Learning into Everyday Information Diets

The learning of a new language remains to this date a cognitive task that requires considerable diligence and willpower, recent advances and tools notwithstanding. In this paper, we propose Broccoli, a new paradigm aimed at reducing the required effort by seamlessly embedding vocabulary learning into users’ everyday information diets. This is achieved by inconspicuously switching chosen words encountered by the user for their translation in the target language. Thus, by seeing words in context, the user can assimilate new vocabulary without much conscious effort. We validate our approach in a careful user study, finding that the efficacy of the lightweight Broccoli approach is competitive with traditional, memorization-based vocabulary learning. The low cognitive overhead is manifested in a pronounced decrease in learners’ usage of mnemonic learning strategies, as compared to traditional learning. Finally, we establish that language patterns in typical information diets are compatible with spaced-repetition strategies, thus enabling an efficient use of the Broccoli paradigm. Overall, our work establishes the feasibility of a novel and powerful “install-and-forget” approach for embedded language acquisition.