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article imageDuolingo's chatbots can teach you how to speak new languages

By James Walker     Oct 7, 2016 in Technology
Duolingo has created what may be the first useful implementation of chatbots. The popular language learning app now lets you participate in AI-powered conversations to strengthen your understanding of new languages and give you experience of using them.
Duolingo's app offers fun and simple courses in a wide range of languages. It has achieved widespread success, helping millions of people to learn a new language and gaining a presence in schools across the world. Its emphasis on short, gameified sessions that motivate people to come back every day has made it popular with users worldwide.
As useful as Duolingo can be, it has always fallen short in one key area. To really master a language, experts agree you need real-world experience of using it. That means participating in actual conversations to test your knowledge. Today, Duolingo announced a new feature that enables its users to do this. You can now chat to an AI bot that mimics real conversations.
Duolingo s language learning app now includes chatbots
Duolingo's language learning app now includes chatbots
Duolingo Bots Press Kit
Duolingo is pitching its bots as a way to prepare for real-world dialogue. It said that fear of embarrassment is one of the largest barriers faced by people learning a new language. Talking to a bot removes this obstacle. It doesn't matter if you make yourself sound stupid, use a word in the wrong place or completely forget how to finish your sentence. You can shrug it off and try again.
"One of the main reasons people learn languages is to have conversations," said Luis von Ahn, Duolingo CEO and co-founder. 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."
To make its bots appealing, Duolingo has given each one a unique personality. They have interests and can generate unique responses to questions. They use machine learning technology to become smarter the more you interact with them. Bots can be accessed with a single tap within the Duolingo app. If you need help, you can tap "help me reply" to generate response suggestions. You can also see real-time translations or hear pronunciations of words used in responses by bots.
Duolingo s language learning app now includes chatbots
Duolingo's language learning app now includes chatbots
Duolingo Bots Press Kit
Duolingo is pitching its implementation of bots as the first-ever "useful chatbot." Amid the recent onslaught of bots released by companies including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, the company may quietly have won over them all. The initial response from early reviews has been extremely positive. Duolingo appears to have avoided the negative image associated with most chatbots so far.
The Guardian notes there are limitations but these aren’t significant enough to detract from the overall experience. Duolingo has avoided the "I'm sorry, I don't understand that" of most chatbots by using a very different approach. The app uses autocomplete to detect words the bots won't understand before you send a message. You're then prompted to change the word before it's sent.
The autocomplete technology can also recognise when you're going off-topic. This helps you to stay focused on the scenario created by the bot, an helpful aid if you're not sure how to reply or you've interpreted the question incorrectly. For now, bots are text-only but Duolingo plans to introduce a spoken implementation later on.
Duolingo s language learning app now includes chatbots
Duolingo's language learning app now includes chatbots
Duolingo Bots Press Kit
Duolingo is now four years old. It's spent most of its existence at the top of the educational app charts on every platform, having successfully transformed digital learning. Its unexpected success has necessitated a prolonged period of growth. Von Ahn told the Guardian it's only in the past year the company has been able to settle down and begin to work on new technology, such as chatbots.
Chatbots are available today to English-speaking users of Duolingo's iOS app learning French, Spanish and German. Duolingo said that more conversations and languages are coming soon, as well as support for spoken dialogues. The company hasn't announced when the feature will roll-out to other platforms. Duolingo is currently accessible on iOS, Android, Windows and the web.
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