It’s common advice to new language learners to practice speaking with native speakers of that language. But not everyone might have the luxury of having such people around. In the absence of real humans, popular language learning platform Duolingo is offering the next best thing: chatbots. It is definitely an interesting, and perhaps more useful, twist to an increasingly popular trend that is putting chatty artificial intelligence “persons” inside almost any app that accepts typed or spoken input.
It’s almost something that is probably more difficult to pull off compared to chatbots designed simply for entertainment. It juggles two different capabilities. On the one hand, you have a system that translates to and from different languages. Fortunately, that’s something that Duolingo has already down to a “T”.
On the other hand, you also have the requirement of having an almost natural conversation with what is supposed to be a real, speaking human being. Conversational language, however, is more complicated than formal ones, with nuances and subtle differences that can often get lost in direct translation.
Duolingo’s bots aim to let users practice what it would be like to hold a real-life conversation with a native speaker, albeit not about a random topic. Each bot has a particular persona that puts users in front of a chef, driver, or police officer. Duolingo promises that there will be more bots to come. And unlike a simple language tutor, these bots will supposedly also get smarter the more you use them. Two for the priced of one.
At the moment, Duolingo’s bots are available only on its iOS app and in Spanish, French, and German. More languages are promised to come soon, though no Android port has been mentioned yet.