French, powered by artificial intelligence

I can’t believe it was three long years ago that I first wrote about the magic of the Duolingo language learning app. Three years of free French lessons (with a few hiatuses here and there) and I definitely feel like I know more of the language than I ever have before. What’s also amazing is looking back at my initial post, to see how the app has developed.

It has a fresh and much cleaner look now, the lesson style has changed slightly from a “three strikes and you’re out” approach to a more “keep trying and you’ll get there” system. There are also a lot more languages out there to choose from, I’ve already experimented with a spot of German and Dutch, but always come back to the more familiar French.

duolingo-chatbotsWhat’s great about the app, though, is that they’re always trying to innovate and develop, introducing new concepts and dropping those that don’t work. Recently, they’ve introduced a new Chatbot feature, in which you are tasked with indulging in a text message style conversation in French.

From grabbing a slice of pizza to hailing a taxi, Bots prepare you for real-life conversations — minus the awkwardness and anxiety. The hardest part of learning a new language just became easy.

Duolingo Bots are powered by artificial intelligence and react differently to thousands of possible answers. Feeling stuck? Hit “help me reply” and they’ll come up with suggestions. Best of all — the more you practice, the smarter they get.

At first, I was superbly excited by the idea – having a go at piecing together full conversations is a great idea, even if it is with artificial intelligence rather than a real life French person. Unfortunately, the reality doesn’t quite live up to my expectations, as the conversations are more structured than I’d imagined. You have a variety of options you can say, and as you start typing an auto-correct style feature will help you if you’re stuck. But if you type something that the app isn’t expecting, then you can’t submit it, even if it still fits within the conversation.

It’s still a fun experience though, feeling as though you are participating in a conversation, and it’s always a good feeling when a question is asked and you know exactly what is being said. It’s not quite what I imagined it would be, but it’s still a really good development – and one that is stacked full of potential for future updates.