Parallel text style learning, like Assimil courses, can be a great way to improve your fluency.

DIY Assimil : Parallel Text Learning with ChatGPT

Assimil language learning books are hugely popular in our polyglot community. And for good reason – many of us learn really effectively with its parallel text method.

They’re especially userful when the base language is another of our stronger languages, adding an element of triangulation. I learned a heap of Greek vocabulary from the French edition Le Grec sans Peine, at the same time as strengthening my (ever slightly wobbly) French.

Now, Assimil is already available in a great range of language pairs. But it’s not always a perfect fit. For example, some editions are more up-to-date than others. More off-the-beaten-track languages still aren’t available. And at times, you can’t find the right base language – no use learning Breton through French, if you don’t have any French.

Enter ChatGPT (or your alternative LLM of choiceBing also does a great job of these!).

DIY Assimil Prompting

Copy and paste this into your AI chat, changing the language (top), translation language (middle) and topic (bottom) to suit.

You are an expert creator of language learning resources. I want to create some text-based learning units for beginner Malay learners (level A0/A1 on the CEFR scale). The units follow the parallel text approach of the well-known Assimil language learning books.

Each unit has a text in the target language (about 250 words) on a specific vocabulary topic. It should be narrative, talking about how the topic relates to an everyday person. It should be divided into logical paragraphs. After each paragraph, there is an English translation of that paragraph in italics.

The text should be written in very clear, simple language. The language must read like a native speaker wrote it, and be error-free and natural-sounding. Source the info for the text from target language resources online, making it as up-to-date and authentic as possible. It should be completely original and not copied or lifted from any other source directly.

After the text, there is a glossary list of the key topic words from the text, sorted alphabetically and grouped by parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs etc.).

Are you ready to create some content? The first topic is: Mobile Technology

This prompt creates a prose-based parallel text unit. However, if you prefer dialogue-style texts, simply change the second paragraph of the prompt:

Each unit has a humorous dialogue in the target language (about 20 lines) on a specific vocabulary topic. The dialogue should relate the topic to everyday speakers through colloquial, idiomatic language.

The prompt works a treat in both ChatGPT Plus (paid) and Microsoft Bing (free). I also got very useable results in the free version of ChatGPT and Claude 2. It works so well as the focus is purely on what LLMs do best: spooling off creative text.

How Do I Use Them?

So, with your shiny, new Assimil-style units spooled off, what do you do with them?

Personally, I like to copy and paste the output into the notes app on my phone. That way, they make nice potted units to browse through when I have some spare moments on the bus or train. They’re equally handy copy-pasted into PDF documents that you can annotate on your phone or tablet.

Parallel text for Malay language learning created by AI

Parallel text in Malay and English created by AI

In terms of real-world use, the self-contained, chatty texts typically created make perfect material for the islands approach to improving spoken fluency. Create some units in topics that are likely to come up in conversation. Then, spend some time memorising the phrases by heart. You’ll be able to draw on them whenever you need in real-life conversation.

Enjoy prompts like these? Check out my book AI for Language Learners, which lists even more fun ways to get results without paying hefty course book price tags!

MRT sign in Singapore

Learning Malay Without Really Meaning To

Malay is one of Singapore’s recognised languages, alongside English, Mandarin and Tamil. And while it was never on my radar before, it’s been hard to miss it on a recent trip to the Southeast Asian city state.

Picking up bits and pieces of Malay has been a lesson in learning via immersion. Not the usual kind, though. In this case, it’s immersion without intention. I didn’t plan to learn Malay on this trip at all. Instead, it’s been seeping in with me barely noticing. Quite simply, I’ve been spotting the same words and phrases so often, that I’m remembering them without even meaning to.

Malay has a beautiful rhythm to it; it’s surprised me how much I’ve enjoyed assimilating these distinctive-sounding new words and phrases into my memory, and it’s given me a real fascination for the language I didn’t have before. To share that newfound love, I’ve collated a few of my favourite bits of Singaporean Malay realia below. I hope they give you a feel for the shape of the language too, whether you’re learning it actively or otherwise!

Malay on the MRT

Singapore’s public transport network, the MRT, has rich pickings for Malay learners. It’s replete with public information notices, all of which have to be in the country’s recognised languages. It’s very often the language of do’s and don’t’s (very Singapore!), but it’s also simple, clear and full of basic, reusable vocabulary.

Harap jangan naik bila lampu berkelip

Multilingual sign, including Malay, on the Singapore MRT

Multilingual sign, including Malay, on the Singapore MRT

jangan – don’t
You see this everywhere, although the harap – also meaning ‘hope’ in Malay – converts it into the slightly politer please don’t.

naik – climb, ascend

bila – when

kelip – flash, blink
The ber- prefix in Malay can be used where we might use a present participle in English; hence, berkelip – flashing.

Jangan berdiri dekat pintu

A Malay sign on the Singapore MRT

A Malay sign on the Singapore MRT

Another jangan here – you do get used to don’t on public transport! 

diri – stand
Again, we have the ber- prefix here; it can be used in a stative sense, so maybe this is something like ‘be standing’.

dekat – close, near

pintu – door

Keselamatan di tangga bergerak

Multilingual sign, including Malay, on the Singapore MRT

Multilingual sign, including Malay, on the Singapore MRT

keselamatan – safety, security
Arabic learners might spot the root of this word – it’s ultimately from salaam, with Malay word formation morphology around it. The pattern ke-an is used in Malay to form abstract nouns like those ending in -ness in English.

di – on, at

tangga bergerak – escalator
Literally ‘moving stairs’. We see that ber- prefix again on bergerakmoving.

Sembilan sembilan sembilan

No visual for this one. That’s because I only ever experienced it as a tannoy announcement. It’s the repetition really makes it stick, wedged in, as it was, between swathes of otherwise unintelligible words that blended into one.

Sembilan sembilan sembilan simply means 999 – the emergency number in Singapore (as in the UK). Incidentally, nine is now also the only Tamil word that I know, after repeated exposure to oṉpatu oṉpatu oṉpatu in the same multilingual announcements!

What Next?

My unintentional Malay lessons have piqued the appetite for some proper lessons in the future. While it’s not a language that the course book publishers cater for hugely well, there are some great resources out there, including a trusty Colloquial. There’s also Teach Yourself, of course, 

But doesn’t the whole accidental learning exercise underscore the serendipity of polyglothood, the routes that lead us to our language adventures? So often, you don’t choose the language – the language chooses you.

Have you ever found yourself memorising words and phrases in a language without really meaning to? Maybe it was while travelling, like my story; but perhaps closer to home, too. Please share your ‘accidental language learning’ stories in the comments!

The Singapore skyline

Singapore, Polyglot Delight

I write this a little further-flung than usual, in stunning Singapore. It’s not just a pretty face; Singapore is alive with the linguistic diversity of multicultural waves crashing together. English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil intertwine in a place not quite like any other.

The language blend is a living, breathing aspect of daily life, from official communications to street-side chatter. Supported by official language policy, every community’s language is accorded equal respect. Deliberate language planning promotes harmony among its diverse ethnic groups by fostering positive multilingualism. English serves as a lingual bridge, while Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil preserve the city state’s dominant cultural identities.

Add to that the snatches of a hundred tourist languages on the streets, and it really is a language lover’s paradise destination.

Singapore – a Celebration of Languages

Out and about the city this week, I was lucky enough to catch a performance by talented Indian popstar Armaan Malik. You couldn’t pick a more appropriate visiting artist to carry the torch for linguistic diversity. Malik is renowned for his linguistic versatility, with a repertoire of twelve languages. Hearing him effortlessly switch between languages from Hindi to Tamil, neatly mirrored how Singapore embraces and celebrates multiple languages (not to mention the plethora of pop fusion bangers he treated us to!).

Indian pop sensation Armaan Malik performing at the Esplanade in Singapore.

Indian pop sensation Armaan Malik performing at the Esplanade in Singapore.

Beyond the music venues, alive with the desi sounds of the Kalaa Utsavam festival of Indian culture, every corner of Singapore offers a new linguistic encounter. Singlish, the local flavour of global English, buzzes in the markets, whilst public signage bristles with diverse scripts. If language shapes our experience of a place, Singapore is many places, all in one.

Multilingual signage in Singapore

Multilingual signage in Singapore

Admittedly, I didn’t expect non-anglophone Singapore to be that evident or accessible to visitors. I feared English would dominate, consigning the others to be just home languages, out of the public sphere.

But on the contrary, a xiéxié here and there is as common and as welcome as a thank you; Singaporeans seem to anticipate a natural fluidity in everyday language use. That, of course, means you can dive straight in and have fun dabbling as a language tourist.

More than a destination

Singapore is more than a physical destination. It’s has a multi-dimensional linguistic identity, reminding us of the power of language in shaping our perceptions of the world around us. Here, languages don’t just coexist; they create a dynamic, inclusive community.

It’s a mind-opening experience for any language lover – I thoroughly recommend spending some time here if you get the chance!

ChatGPT releases custom GPT models

ChatGPT, Your Way : Custom GPTs In The Wild!

This week saw one of the biggest recent developments in consumer AI. ChatGPT released GPTs – customisable AI bots – into the wild for Plus members, and the community has gone wild.

In a nutshell, GPTs are AI bots with custom behaviour that you define. And you define that behaviour using natural language, just like how you talk to regular ChatGPT.

Crucially, GPTs are shareable. So you can come up with a killer app idea, set it up in seconds, then share your creation with the world. Already, linguists and language lovers are sharing their creations on the socials.

ChatGPT for Worksheet Creation

Obviously, I couldn’t wait to get playing when the GPT creation tool went live this week. I’ve long been a cheerleader for topic-based units for independent study, especially when preparing for spoken lessons. So the first thing I coded up was a foreign language worksheet creator!

It’s the kind of thing I’ve been writing and sharing prompts about for a while, now. The big game-changer, of course, is that now, all that functionality is packaged up into a single, one-click module. Open it, tell it your language, topic and level, and watch it go. This will produce a range of resources and activities for independent learning, including a vocabulary list, reading comprehensions, and cloze quizzes.

Genuinely useful for self-study!

Foreign Language Worksheet Creator GPT in ChatGPT

Foreign Language Worksheet Creator GPT in ChatGPT

It’s already been a learning experience, for all of us tinkerers. For one thing, I found out not to overload it by trying to do too much at once, or turning on all its capabilities (browsing, code interpretation and image creation). I ended up with a uselessly slow initial version that I can no longer even reopen to edit.

Ah well – these things make us!

Old English Monkeys

When you do get a working version, however, you can boggle at the versatility of it. That’s thanks to the billions of training points backing up the platform. I asked it to create an Old English worksheet on the topic “Monkeys”, in the style of a Modern Languages worksheet, as a cheeky wee test. Admittedly, ChatGPT did say that it would be a challenging task. After all, just how many Old English documents do researchers train their LLMs on? But the results were really not bad at all…

An Old English worksheet in ChatGPT

An Old English worksheet in ChatGPT


I expect many of us are playing these games, pushing the new tech to see how far it can go. At the very least, we can all revisit those isolated prompt ideas we’ve been collecting over the past months, and turn them into shareable GPTs – for work and for fun.

Have you had chance to play yet? Share your proud creations with us in the comments!

An illustration of a robot taking a picture of a book page, to illustrate AI image analysis in the context of language learning course books.

AI Image Analysis for Language Learners : Your Course Book Assistant!

Image upload and analysis is one of the most game-changing recent additions to AI platforms. Combined with a knack for text recognition, it’s possibly one of the most revolutionary for language (and other!) learners, too.

In short, if it’s on a page, you can now get it into AI and do things with it. Because of this. image analysis has huge potential for extending, and breathing new life into printed materials, producing the very best synthesis of old and new tech.

A screenshot of AI chat in the Bing App, with an arrow showing the 'upload an image' function.

The image upload icon in the Bing app.

At its very simplest, it’s a handy summary and explanation tool. Just upload your page image, and prompt:

Analyse this page from my [LANGUAGE] course book. Summarise it in a few short bullet points I can use for revision.

Useful in its own right. But with some extra prompt magic, you can produce individually tailored support material on the fly – material that will help you to delve really deeply into those language learning texts, making it work for you.

Let’s see what it can do for starters!

Working with Vocab Lists

Vocab in Context

Take the most conventional form of book-based, language learning data. Most course books have vocabulary lists and glossaries of words in the current chapter top. But beyond the dialogues or passages they are attached to, there’s rarely any other in context use of them.

Personally, I find it really helpful to see individual items embedded in sentence examples as an aide memoire. I usually seek them out in mass sentence banks and other manual-search online resources.

Even easier with AI:

Analyse this entire page from my [LANGUAGE] course book, noting all of the vocabulary items internally. Then, create a useful, practical sentence using each and every item. The sentences should relate to real-world contexts where possible. Make sure you include every single entry – don’t leave any out. Constantly double-check that the language is natural-sounding and grammatically correct. Output them in table format listing the word, your sentence and an English translation of that sentence.

ChatGPT Plus analysing a page of Swedish vocabulary.

ChatGPT Plus analysing a page of Swedish vocabulary.

ChatGPT Plus analysing a page of Swedish vocabulary.

The trick here is the analyse the entire page instruction. LLM / AI platforms tend to take shortcuts when working with lists, sometimes skipping list items. Adding this stipulation is great at keeping it on track!

Rationalising Vocab Lists

You can also sort such material in an order that works better for you. For instance, I work best with vocab when I classify it first, be that by parts of speech, topic or otherwise. AI makes light work of it:

This is the material I’m currently studying in [LANGUAGE]. First, analyse the entire page, noting all of the vocabulary items listed. Then, rewrite that list, grouping the items by their grammatical part of speech and in alphabetical order. Where the word isn’t in its simple dictionary form, provide that too. Include any entries you couldn’t categorise at the end. Double-check throughout the process that a) you haven’t left out any items, and b) that your categorisation of each item is correct. If you detect errors, start again.

ChatGPT Plus analysing a page of Swahili vocabulary to create model sentences for context.

Microsoft Bing analysing a page of Swahili vocabulary to create model sentences for context.

Microsoft Bing analysing a page of Swahili vocabulary to create model sentences for context.

You can also combine this with the AI Anki decks trick to really digitise those paper lists.

AI Translation Exercises

Now, how about some methods for actively working with vocab? Personally, I’m a  big fan of the translation method. Now I know this isn’t everybody’s cup of tea (it’s one thing that turns some off Duo) but if it works for you, you can produce a raft of exercises in seconds:

Here’s a page from my [LANGUAGE] course book. Analyse the entire page, noting all vocabulary items internally. Then, create a set of 20 practical, useful sentences using this vocabulary in context. Make them relevant to real-world, current affairs contexts where possible. Present half of these sentences in English and half in the target language for me to translate for practice. Add a key for any extra words you used that aren’t included in the list, as support. Add the translations of all sentences at the end as an answer key.

ChatGPT Plus analysing a page of Hebrew vocabulary to create translation exercises.

Bing analysing a page of Hebrew vocabulary to create translation exercises.

AI Exercises

You can also extend course book pages with worksheet-style practice exercises. Here’s a prompt that should produce a diverse set of activities in an output perfect for copy-pasting into a note, or PDF, to pore through on the move:

Here’s a page from my [LANGUAGE] course book. First, analyse the entire page, noting all vocabulary items, sentence frames and grammatical structures internally. Then, create a set of worksheet-style activities for me to practise using that material. Vary the activity types, including exercises like gap-fill / cloze, matching and translation. Add an answer key to all exercises at the end.

You might even like to try a more dynamic approach with this paper-to-exercise technique. The following prompt should set up a turn-based game (my favourite kind!) that recycles chapter vocab in live conversation:

Here’s a page from my [LANGUAGE] course book. First, analyse the entire page, noting all vocabulary items, sentence frames and grammatical structures internally. Then, let’s have a conversational, turn-based activity using the material. Present me, turn by turn, with a sentence in the target language using the vocabulary. I have to provide the missing word. Don’t give me any clues or model answers until I’ve made my response each turn!

Admittedly, turn-based language gaming worked better in Bing before recent updates forced it to focus solely on being a fancy search engine. If it does stray, just remind it that you’re playing a vocabulary game!

Choose Your Platform!

All these prompts have one thing in common: they play to the power of AI to take information and display it in different ways. That’s gold for learners, as the human brain learns best when presented with material in multiple, not monotonous formats. For one thing, this helps beat the context trap of repetitious learning. Recycling vocab in as many ways as possible is key to remembering it in unlimited, unpredictable future situations.

Tech-wise, you’ll see that I’ve used Bing in most of these examples. It’s an excellent place to start if you’re new to AI yourself, not leave because it’s accessible, user-friendly and completely free! Additionally, the Bing app allows you to snap a book page easily with your phone camera. And Bing’s internet connectivity out-of-the-box gives it more breadth and up-to-the-minute relevance when creating your materials.

That said, you can use these prompts with any platform that allows image uploads. ChatGPT, for instance, has the added bonus of multiple uploads – ie., pages – so you can process a larger chunk of chapter in one go.

Whichever platform you choose, the most important piece of advice remains the same: don’t just stick with these potted prompts. Instead, experiment constantly to find what works for you, building up your own prompt library to copy-paste. AI can, and should, be an incredibly personalised experience. Good luck making it your own!

Have you used AI image analysis in your learning? Let us know your own tips and tricks in the comments!

A neon lock with a glowing owl motif, reminiscent of Duolingo

Green Handcuffs – Duolingo and the Walled Garden of Welsh

What happens when you pour your heart into learning a language on service X, then service X mothballs the resource? It’s a situation many Welsh learners found themselves in this week, as Duolingo announced an indefinite pause to further development of its Welsh course

The immediate question is where do these learners go? There are other Welsh courses, of course, like the excellent materials at But the Duolingo announcement begs a further question: how do these learners take their progress with them? Progress data, the result of weeks, months, years of hard learning work, is locked into Duolingo’s proprietary system.

Now, you can already request your personal data from Duolingo. The Duolingo Data Vault is definitely a welcome addition in data transparency, allowing you to access personal data records the site holds on you. But crucially, language-based progress is missing. There’s nothing to say what you’ve studied, item for item. That means there’s no way to pick up where you left off elsewhere, with a true record of where you are.

No wonder users feel a bit stuck inside a course consigned to gather dust.

Duolingo Data Vault files, unzipped.

Duolingo Data Vault files, unzipped.

Interoperability and Language Learning

It all sounded very familiar after tech activist Cory Doctorow’s recent discussion of open internet practices in The Internet Con. This quick read (well worth a look for anyone invested in apps and services – ie., all of us) bemoans the walled gardens that Big Tech firms have become. They’re great places to be, when they work for/with us. But when they suddenly change at the whim of execs, the lack of interoperability – standards or conventions that allow you to use data from one service on another – leaves us stranded and at their mercy.

Don’t like a recent update? Tough, you’ll just have to stay, or start from scratch on another service.

It’s not for a lack of standards. Language learning platforms have long used industry-wide formats to allow interoperability. Take the plain old CSV (comma-separated value) spec. You’ve long been able export your Anki deck in this plain text format, and import it into another service like Quizlet or Educandy.

Not to be too hard on Duolingo (we love it really), there’s a clear counterargument to allowing full export of full vocabulary and phrase lists, as with Anki and Quizlet decks. The full complement of learning text is the result of lots of hard work on company time; it’s a copyrighted resource just as a course book is.

Opening the Duolingo Garden Wall

But when it’s tied to user progress, it becomes something else; a personal record of items we’ve committed to memory. Other programs export this as a matter of course. Anki, for example, will export frequency and accuracy data alongside vocabulary item entries. It shouldn’t be too hard to export this subset of Duolingo material in a universal format that could be loaded without fuss into an app like Anki.

Duolingo might well fret about losing users if the effort costs of leaving were reduced like this. No big tech corp is under obligation to organise its data in a way that helps users migrate. But you can imagine a world of interoperable ‘take your data with you’ standards to have a double-edged benefit.

First off, it could incentivise Duolingo to strive for constant betterment, to be additive rather than reductive in its updates. The race would be to the top, rather than the bottom, to maintain a winning app for all. There’d be an open door, but nobody would feel the need to defect (or the resentment that they can’t).

Likewise, there’s a general benefit even if the resources simply aren’t there for a Welsh continuation on Duo. Course migration standards would allow smaller companies to step in and fill in the gaps. Duo could focus on its core projects and nobody would feel linguistically homeless. And, of course, if Duolingo offered the missing service again in future, it would be easy to move right back.

Perhaps it’s time to make a request of our beloved owl in the name of an open web for linguists.  As the trailblazer that you are, could you be a leader in open standards, prising ajar the door to these walled gardens?

A neon globe surrounded by books - the AI future is here.

AI for Language Teachers – the Essential Bookshelf

Clearly, emerging Artificial Intelligence platforms have colossal potential to transform education. Indeed, they are already doing so, proving to innovative disruptors that teachers and students are still grappling to understand. Given the pace of change, where can educators find solid training on practical, classroom-ready AI techniques?

Thankfully, a raft of publications has sprung up with teaching practice at its core. Many of the best titles are from author-educators who have self-published from personal experience. Self-publishing, of course, is a quick, reactive way to get books out there, so it’s unsurprising that there are so many gems that don’t originate with big publishing houses.

It must be said that the majority of current titles are US-centric – again, unsurprising, given that largely US-based AI companies have generally release the leading-edge innovations in the US first. That said, the following picks are all notable for a universal approach, with a generality that should make them useful whatever the setting.

Without further ado, here is the language teacher’s essential AI bookshelf!

The Essential AI Bookshelf


Amazon product image - the AI Classroom The AI Classroom With five-star reviews almost across the board, the authors of The AI Classroom were quick off the mark; the book has become an early leader for practical teaching ideas utilising artificial intelligence. It contains a broad range of ready-to-use prompts, perhaps the most reliable hallmark of the best AI guides for teachers and learners on the market at the moment. What is particularly insightful is the discussion of school policy as an important consideration – an indispensable consideration, particularly for department heads and administrators.


Amazon product image - The AI-Infused Classroom

The AI Infused Classroom by Holly Clark is a practical and visionary guide for educators who want to use emerging LLM tools to transform teaching and learning. Clark, a seasoned teacher and edtech expert, is author of The Infused Classroom series, which explores how to amplify student voices with technology. This book builds on those ideas, demonstrating how to leverage AI as a catalyst for innovation, creativity, and deep learning. The book adopts a refreshingly student-centred approach to classroom AI, and is a source of invaluable best practice for teachers of languages and otherwise.


Amazon product image - AI for Learning Part of the AI for Everything series, AI for Learning is a book that explores how the medium can, and should, positively impact human learning in various contexts. The authors offer a clear and engaging introduction to the concepts, applications, and implications of AI for learning. The book serves as both an explanatory introduction and practical guide, covering topics from core concepts of AI to how it can develop critical thinking and digital citizenship skills, and prepare learners for the future of work and learning. The book also addresses the ethical and social issues that arise from using AI for learning, such as privacy, bias, accountability, and trust.


Amazon product image - 80 Ways to Use ChatGPT in the Classroom You can’t beat a good old ‘X ways to do…’ guidebook, and this volume boasts an impressive 80 of them! 80 Ways to Use ChatGPT in the classroom gets straight down to brass tacks with organised, practical prompt examples. A particular strength of this book is a welcome nod to balance throughout, with ample discussion of the issues as well as the well-fanfared benefits. As one of the earliest of these guides to appear, the focus is ChatGPT. However, as with all of these books, the knowledge is easily transferrable to other platforms.


The cover of AI for Language Learners by Rich West-Soley As the only title to focus specifically on languages – and the one I penned myself – I could hardly leave out AI for Language Learners! Written to be accessible to individual learners as well as classroom teachers, it’s packed full of practical prompt ideas. These cover language reference, practice activities and resource creation. What’s more, the book includes access to a website with copy-paste prompt for those with the paperback. That is definitely a boon to those those typing fingers! The book was a labour of love over summer 2023, and is the product some very enthusiastic experimentation to support my own polyglot learning. I hope you have as much fun trying the prompts as I did writing them.

Brave New World

As AI comes to land firmly in classrooms over the coming months, we’ll undoubtedly be seeing title after title appear. Are there any favourite titles of yours that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments!

Fun With Texts : Travel Edition

I came across an ancient video this week that took me right back. The video in question  was from a series of video diary entries I made on a trip to Austria in 2004. In this particular segment, I was proudly showing off the stash of free leaflets I’d cached from Klagenfurt town hall – treasures of authentic texts to take home for my teaching materials box.

German-language texts from Austria - leaflets about the EU in 2004

Austrian leaflets about the EU (2004)

A still of Rich West-Soley showing some leaflets from Austria in a video from 2004

Showing off my Austrian leaflet haul in 2004 in a video shot on a phone just a little more sophisticated than a toaster, judging from the quality

Fast forward 19 years, and I’m approaching the end of a wonderful, extended trip around Greece. It’s been a holiday full of wonderful sights, amazing food, and of course, lots of language practice. Incidentally, Greeks must be amongst the most encouraging people on the planet when you try to speak their language.

But what links this trip with that early noughties vid is that continued fascination with curating authentic texts. It’s a polyglot obsession that’s lasted well beyond my classroom teaching days; there’s no longer any teaching materials box to fill, but I’m still on the hunt.

Hunting Texts : Then and Now

The format has changed, naturally. It’s less about free brochures and leaflets now. Alas, my EasyJet baggage allowance won’t quite stretch to that any more. This time, it’s digital – and I’ve been going to town collecting text samples for my virtual Greek learning box.

Of course, Greece has a tradition of texts that stretches back a little further than many fellow European countries. It’s been particularly fun looking out for inscriptions on the many ancient monuments, and spotting similarities and differences between the ancient and modern languages.

A stone tablet in an Ancient Greek ruin, with a partial inscription in Greek

Authentic Texts in stone!

An Ancient Greek artefact

But it’s the modern examples that really hit the spot – the more everyday and prosaic the better. From bags of crisps to public notices, every bit of writing is a potential new word learnt, and an extra peep into the target language culture. It’s addictive.

A notice to save water on a Greek ship

Save water, and save those words (in Anki!)

A washing machine control panel with Greek labelling

It’ll all come out in the wash

As far as I’m concerned, there’s never any going over-the-top when collecting digital texts. Knock yourself out with as much target language as you can! The criteria for what makes an authentic text are wildly broad – it can be the odd couple of words, a text-dense poster or an entire book. It all has worth to us as learners, no matter how long.

The only rule I try to stick to is one of practical use; I aim to try and use the images somewhere, be it a blog post (like this one on German political posters) or by scraping the language for Anki flashcard entries.

A bag of crisps with Greek labelling

Language snacks

Are you a curator of authentic texts in your target language? How do you collect them, and what do you do with them afterwards? Let us know in the comments!

AI for Language Learners by Rich West-Soley; ChatGPT, Bing and more for your languages study

AI for Language Learners – Book Now Available!

It was a labour of love that happily took up most of my summer, and it’s finally out! I’m very chuffed to announce that my book AI for Language Learners is available on all Amazon stores.


The book is the product of months of tweaking, prodding and experimenting with emerging AI chat platforms. If you’re a Polyglossic regular, you’ll have seen some of those nascent techniques appear on the blog as I’ve developed and used them in my own learning. The blog has been a bedding ground for those first book ideas, and I’m thankful to everyone who has followed along with my own AI journey.

What we’ve come to call AI are, strictly speaking, actually large language models (LLMs). These LLMs arise from billions of words of training material – truly staggering amounts of data. The resulting super-text machines are perfect matches for subjects that benefit from a creative flair with words, and as language learners, wordplay is our currency. The book contains over 50 rich prompts for getting the absolute most out of AI’s impressive capacity for it.

The process has been huge fun. Of course, that’s thanks largely to the often unintentional humour our non-sentient friends ChatGPT, Bing and others. I try to get this across in the book, which has its fair share of lighthearted moments.

I hope you have as many smiles trying the recipes out as I did putting them together!

AI for Language Learners is available on Amazon Kindle (UK £2.99, US $2.99) or in paperback (UK £7.99, US $7.99). Even better: if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member, you can download and read it as part of your subscription.

An AI robot helper - just like the kind you can achieve for your language learning with ChatGPT's Custom Instructions.

Instant AI Language Learning : ChatGPT Custom Instructions

If AI is already an important parcel of your language learning routine, you won’t want to miss this.

OpenAI have added a Custom Instructions feature to the ChatGPT platform. Custom Instructions is a place for you to add important details you always want to mention before your chat session starts.

In practical terms, it can contain all of the regular priming that you usually add manually at the beginning of a session, like “you are a language teacher“, “you will speak in simple French around level A1” and so on. Automating this means you can open up your ChatGPT console and have your language assistant ready to go from the start, saving heaps of time. In a sense, it adds what has been sorely missing from AI so far: persistent memory of its users.

Even better – the feature is available to both free and premium users of ChatGPT, so you can start using it straight away!

Where Is It?

On the web app, you’ll find the new custom instructions settings by clicking your profile link at the bottom-right of the screen. On the mobile app, you’ll find it in Settings.

ChatGPT's custom instructions setting. Add prompts to get your AI ready from the get-go.

ChatGPT’s custom instructions setting in the web app.

The Settings option in the ChatGPT mobile app.

Settings in the ChatGPT mobile app.

Priming Your AI Assistant

Once open, you have two fields – an about you, and a response style option. The about you section tells ChatGPT the kind of user you are. This can include academic interests, favourite learning styles, talents and have and challenges you face – anything that a good learning assistant should know. For example:

I study several languages and am an active member of the polyglot community. My current projects are Greek, Icelandic and Polish. Indo-European linguistics is especially interesting to me. I love seeing the different links between all the different languages I learn.  I am a visual learner and love lists and tables, but I have concentration issues with long blocks of dense text. Apart from languages, I love music and travel, and learning about the world. Environmental activism is another of my passions.

In the response style field, you tell ChatGPT what kind of assistant you want it to be. For instance:

You are my personal language learning assistant, so all responses should be in both the target language I specify for a given session, and English. Any non-English you use should be aimed at a learner of around A2 on the CEFR scale, simple and clear. You will correct any errors I make in the target language, and give associated grammatical details to help me learn from my mistakes. Where there is an interesting cultural link to the target language country, you will include it in your response. You will always be supporting and encouraging, and nurture my love in language learning.

Try these for size, and you’ll notice a not-unsubtle change in the way ChatGPT responds to you. It uses those custom fields to colour everything that it relays back to you. And they’re there every time you turn it on – until you’re ready to change your assistant’s personality! You’ve created a robot teacher who just gets you.

Custom instructions are a fantastic way to get ChatGPT straight into the role you want as soon as you turn it on. Have you used them yet? Let us know about your experiences in the comments!