ChatGPT screenshot

ChatGPT for Language Learners

The buzz around AI imaging seems only five minutes ago, yet there’s another brand new tool creating ripples. And this time, it speaks.

ChatGTP is an AI model that processes natural language, making sense of instructions and carrying them out. You could think of it as a kind of ask me anything bot, and it went truly viral at the end of last year thanks to its uncannily human-like language abilities

Of course, it didn’t take long for the language community to see the potential. The algorithm has already captured the imaginations of teachers, who are using it to great time-saving effect in generating quick and simple lesson plans. No surprise, then, that the polyglot community has followed suit in exploring the new tech’s potential for supporting language learning.

As with all tech, the best way to assess it for yourself is to get your hands dirty. In that spirit, I headed to’s ChatGPT portal to see for myself what it could do. Note that this might be easier said than done right now; lately, you’re more likely to see the message ChatGPT is at capacity right now as the fellow curious inundate the platform with requests.

ChatGPT for (Language) Beginners

I started off at the place that seemed most fitting: at the beginning. What about some learning tips for a newcomer to a specific language, for a specific purpose? ChatGPT turned out solid phrase lists, and – impressively – not always the most obvious cut-and-paste choices. Accompanying advice was on the whole quite generic, but very sensible and practical:

ChatGPT screenshot

What I love is the variability; ask the same question twice, and you’re unlikely to get the same answer. There’s always some overlap, but it’s interesting to see how suggestions vary from answer to answer:

ChatGPT screenshot

Occasionally, you get a bit of extra advice for free, too:

A screenshot of a conversation where the user asks the AI engine ChatGPT for French tips for a trip to France.

ChatGPT seems really good at making what we might call potted lessons like these, which explains its popularity as a quick lesson plan generator.

Off the Beaten Path

Where it struggles, I found, was when you stray from the mainstream path – presumably, fields where the algorithm finds much scarcer material to work with. For example, Explain how tense works with Modern Hebrew verbs produced a very convincing piece of text that sounded like it came straight from a Routledge Comprehensive Grammar. Unfortunately, the Hebrew itself was an absolute hash, omitting any mention of vowel patterns, and focusing on suffixes, as if Hebrew were a typical Romance language or similar.

The problem, I’m guessing, is a paucity of sources. I’m not sure where it cobbled the points together from, but they seemed like a very bad, rookie guess at how to express tense in Hebrew, based on a very limited set of observations. Perhaps I’m being harsh; experimenting with different question phrasing might have improved things, and I’m impressed enough that it dealt so well with Greek.

It’s early days, though. Development is entering a new stage, backed by some big money, and refinements will come thick and fast. Crucially, the spark is already lit; ChatGPT has captured imaginations, and it already looks like a truly helpful and practical tool is emerging. 

Have you taken your first steps with ChatGPT as a language learner? Let us know how you got on in the comments!

An array of neon signs of nonsense words on a wall. Image generated by the Stable Diffusion AI algorithm.

Polyglot in the Machine: AI for Language Learners

AI is the order of the day lately. Have you seen how many fantasy photos have been filling up Instagram lately? Thanks to the now wide availability of open source AI algorithms, some powerful computing power is in the hands of users courtesy of apps like Dawn AI and Lensa. Type in a few words, and the computer does the painting.

It’s new tech, opening new possibilities alongside new ethical challenges that users are gradually becoming sensitive to. But the benefit to individual language learners here is apparent very little imagination stretch. First and foremost, these algorithms parse human language. So why not, for instance, type in some target language – say, ein Hund mit grünen Augen (a dog with green eyes) – and see if the picture matches what you meant to say? It should act as a kind of machine validation that the language you produce makes sense.

It already works to a point with some languages. Models like Dall-E (seen at work below in the web-based cope reasonably well with non-complex, non-English prompts.

A screenshot from, a web-based AI image generator built on DALL-E Mini.

It can be hit and miss, but Craiyon understood my German for the most part!

So it works – up to a point. The current stumbling block is linguistic and cultural bias. For a start, models like Stable Diffusion were initially developed and trained with English input. And as one web experimenter shows, non-English results can leave a lot to be desired, with a definite advantage for Western European languages. This isn’t surprising, given that the technique samples from pre-existing web content; the predominance of certain languages means there is a lot more of that to learn from.

Ai Work In Progress

It’s clear these techniques are nascent and emerging, as most casual users will admit. Even if English is your target learning language, for example, images can frequently be so off the mark that you may question whether it understood a single word of your prompt.

Things are improving, though, especially with regular updates to the Stable Diffusion model. There are even a couple of language augmentation projects floating around in beta, including. one that adds ‘Japanglish’ capabilities to the current algorithm, overcoming one particular cultural blindspot.

And, if you have the skills, you can add to many ongoing open source projects to extend and finesse the capabilities of AI algorithms. I’m sad to report that that isn’t in my skillset, but it’ll be interesting to follow how this develops over the coming months!

Amazon Echo Dot - Alexa for Language Learning

Alexa: Your Personal, Digital Native Speaker

It’s a language learning ‘secret’ that isn’t so secret any more: changing the language setting on your smart devices is a brilliant way to create a personalised immersion environment without going abroad. And the recent explosion of artificially intelligent digital assistant devices is taking this one step further. Voice-activated gadgets, like Amazon’s Alexa, place a (robotic) native speaker right in the centre of your home.

Swayed by the temptingly low price on the entry-level Amazon Dot, I’ve been getting to know Alexa for the past few months. First off, it’s a cliché, but this is definitely the kind of gadget you ‘never knew you needed’. After eyeing the unit with some cynicism for the first few weeks, soon I was constantly asking it to play music, convert currencies and measurements, tell me the weather forecast or simply the time. It’s both easy and fun, and gives you that sense of the future is now!

You digital language assistant

But it’s not just about voice-activating mundane, daily tasks. Ever alert to new learning opportunities, changing Alexa’s language settings was top of the list of experiments to try. And it works a treat, especially for pronunciation; suddenly, I was having to focus intently on expressing my commands in a nice, clear German accent so that Alexa could understand. (Incidentally, I’ve also found switching the language of Apple’s assistant Siri has these great pronunciation drill benefits!)

Interacting is as simple as asking a question like “”Alexa, was sind die Nachrichten?” (Alexa, what’s the news?) or “Alexa, wie ist das Wetter heute?” (Alexa, what’s the weather like today?). For more capabilities – including lots of silly (but briefly entertaining) games – there are hundreds of extra installable skills on Amazon. A useful hit list of the most useful can be found here.

The only snag with Alexa is that it is currently only available in English or German. Great news for Germanists, who won’t feel underrepresented in the language learning world for a change; but a pretty large black hole for everyone else.

Skilling up Alexa as language tutor

However, all is not lost. Users can still download Alexa Skills from Amazon, which augment the device’s capabilities. Already there are a good number of language learning skills, although they vary greatly in quality. It’s clearly early days for the device in terms of educational skills, but the start is promising.

A simple search on Learn Spanish or similar will yield plenty of results for you to try out. Here are a couple of links for the more mainstream languages:

Feedback ranges from decent right down to downright terrible on some of the skills available. However, the facility to give feedback on Amazon is a route for users to shape and improve Alexa as a language learning tool. Try new skills out, and write an honest review for each one – your thoughts will help developers to tweak and adapt Alexa skills for an incrementally better experience.

Watch this space

In summary, Alexa is an excellent investment for Germanists, but hit and miss for students of other languages – at least for the time being. There is a sizeable clamour around Spanish support on Amazon’s developer space, with pressure for other languages too. It would only seem a matter of time before she becomes more than just bilingual.