Duolingo's Chatbots Want To Help You Learn Spanish, French And German: Not Flashcards But AI Conversations To Teach Languages


Duolingo, the company behind the streamlined language-learning app that bears its namesake, is upping the ante on its language lessons by getting artificial intelligence involved. Today, it is launching Duolingo Bots, AI-powered instructors you can have an ongoing conversation with to aid you in learning a language in a more effective way.

Chatbots have sauntered their way progressively in smartphone technology in recent years. If you've been trying out Google Allo for the past couple of weeks, you have probably run into Google Assistant already, and the concept of a chatbot won't seem novel. Google's not the only one with a chatbot, however. Facebook also employs its own chatbot, guiding them through the process of sending out a message to none other than President Barrack Obama himself. Chatbots are "bots" that can identify and analyze your message for context and meaning to issue a response, thus carrying out a logical and rational communication thread the same way you would chat with a human being.

Duolingo is now launching its own chatbot, three in total, for its free language lessons within the app. Duolingo describes the bots as "the most advanced way to learn a language."

"From grabbing a slice of pizza to hailing a taxi, Bots prepare you for real-life conversations — minus the awkwardness and anxiety," reads the Duolingo Bots site. In the app, language lessons, while efficient, intuitive and functional, stay largely one way. With bots, users can take advantage of a more dynamic two-way communication process, with "instructors" responding to their language-related messages be it simple translation jobs or language practice. As users interact more with the AI-powered bot, it gets smarter.

"One of the main reasons people learn languages is to have conversations," says Luis von Ahn, Duolingo chief executive and cofounder.

Duolingo says that the bots are prepared to answer "thousands" of possible questions issued by the users. Learning a language can be a tall order, but now, thankfully, the chatbots are here to make it less difficult. The three chatbots are named Chef Roberto, Renée the Driver and Officer Ada. For now, the bots can only help in three languages: French, Spanish and German, but Duolingo says that new bots will be added regularly, and other languages are coming soon.

Often associated with the attempt to learn a new language is the inherent awkwardness that comes with mispronunciation, failing to nail the correct inflection to elicit the right word and many more barriers. The bots can ease users into comfortably testing out the language since Duolingo says the bots "won't judge you."

"Students master vocabulary and comprehension skills with Duolingo, but coming up with things to say in real­-life situations remains daunting. Bots offer a sophisticated and effective answer to that need," says Von Ahn.

You can try out Duolingo Bots by downloading the latest version of Duolingo on the App Store today. Conversations with the bots will stay text-based for the time being, but Duolingo says that spoken interactions are in the pipeline.

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