Having decided to dive back into learning Spanish this year, I recently downloaded the Duolingo app on the recommendation of my flatmate. I was left very impressed with the usability, simplicity and the more-ish-ness of the app. Accordingly, when I learnt they were bringing in a chatbot, it made me rather excited!
Ultimately, when we learn a language, we have visions of confidently ordering a cold beer in a trendy bar whilst chatting up the barmaid/tender or calmly sorting out a slight misunderstanding over the phone without any complications. Unfortunately, as was my experience when I first moved to France, the reality was more often than not a jumble of misplaced verbs and pronouns held together by a thick pseudo-French Irish accent.
And thus comes the hard part. No matter how well you know your subjunctive tense, it doesn't make up for being able to communicate fluidly and with confidence. The development of an app which can allow us to mimic, converse & make mistakes with a reasonably authentic other being can only speed up the learning process.
This fabulous app has the potential to revolutionise how we learn and should, fingers crossed, herald a new wave of confident linguists paving the way for more.
Is the technology going to be perfect? Not a chance. It will be many years before it is refined enough to learn our way of speaking, the intonations, the hard and soft sounds associated with different accents etc.
However, if Duolingo remains a completely free app, we might see the traditional teacher-student model turned on its head, making languages more accessible than ever before. This can only be a good thing.
By 2020, “my dream is for Duolingo to be as efficacious as a human tutor. If you were to spend thousands of dollars on a human tutor, we want Duolingo to be as good as that” he says. “In particular, I think it’s going to look a lot like a chatbot; a significantly smarter one.