Speaking different langauges is great; it’s the learning part that sucks. Language education has come on in leaps and bounds in the last few decades. Rote memorization is gone, replaced with changing your Facebook language and audio training programs. But Duolingo might have just come up with the most teenager-friendly solution yet.
In the latest version of its iPhone app, Duolingo has new AI-powered chatbots that you can talk with to learn a new language. It’s a clever way of getting you practical experience, without having to actually kidnap a French person.
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The AI chatbots currently work only over text, and for just French, German and Spanish. It’s a short and limited list for now, but Duolingo says more languages and spoken conversations are in the works.
AI chatbots are this year’s cool new thing for companies. In some cases, the benefits are dubious — I’m not really sure that talking to a chatbot to order Dominos is easier than just calling the restaurant — but this seems like a legitimately useful application.
In some cases, I’d rather be chatting with an AI bot than a real human being. My language skills are limited, and it’s awkward to hash your way through a bad conversation with friends in a foreign language. Much easier is trying out a few phrases on a chatbot while waiting in line.
Of course, a bot is never going to be as good as a natural speaker who can understand idiom and correct your horrendous mangling of their language. But for a free app that you can use for ten minutes a day, it’s not a bad option.