Last updated on
As of late, we are becoming increasingly more aware of the role that artificial intelligence (AI) plays in our lives. The launch of the conversational bot ChatGPT in November 2022 sparked the flood of releases of innovative AI-driven applications, including those for learning foreign languages such as German. Our enormous attention to AI is new but not so new is artificial intelligence itself as many AI-based technologies have been in use for years.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a computer-based simulation of human reasoning, problem solving and decision making. Unlike us humans, machines can process and evaluate vast amounts of data practically in no time while avoiding making mistakes that humans are typically prone to. The ultimate goal of AI engineers is to make intelligent machines that would think and even act like humans but be many times more efficient and error free.
One important aspect of AI is its ability to understand human language and respond in a human-like way. This valuable feature of AI can be used in language learning, especially when combined with voice-recognition technology. Although AI can help foreign-language learners in many different ways (e.g., by explaining grammar, meaning of words, correcting mistakes or teaching pronunciation), by far the most common and the most practical use of AI in German learning is for practicing conversation.
What Are the AI-Driven Language-Learning Tools?
To begin with it is necessary to mention that AI-driven language-learning tools cannot fully replace human interaction and, therefore, they are not a substitute for classroom lessons but a supplementary instrument used alongside conventional learning methods. As a result, AI cannot deprive German language teachers and private tutors of their job. Its greatest advantages are convenience, customization and economy. The AI-powered tools such as ChatGPT are available at any time and at no cost, they can be used to address any aspect of language development and since they do not judge the student, they do not cause anxiety or embarrassment to them. But keep in mind that there is nothing that an AI-powered tool can do that a human tutor could not do with regard to helping you learn German.
AI can be found as an important component of many tools you are already using when learning German or doing translations, though you may not be aware of it yet. Some of the most popular AI-driven tools that can help you learn German include:
AI-powered conversational chatbots use natural language processing (NLP) technology to understand human language and respond to queries like a real person. At first glance they look and feel like an instant messenger (e.g., Skype or WhatsApp), but instead of another person, your conversation partner is an intelligent bot. AI-chatbots are pre-trained on a certain set of data and can thus be of a generalist nature or used for certain specific tasks such as marketing, coding, generative art, etc. While they usually provide competent answers, not everything they say is always absolutely correct.
- ChatGPT, launched in November 2022, is an AI-driven conversational chatbot developed by OpenAI. It is built upon GPT-3.5 (the older version) and GPT-4 (the latest version) language prediction models. The older version is free for everyone while the GPT-4-based version of ChatGPT is a premium paid service. ChatGPT was trained on data available until September 2021 and has no knowledge of current events. When interacting with the chatbot it feels like having a conversation with a real person but don’t ask it about things that happened after September 2021. ChatGPT is the most important AI-powered tool that every German learner should be aware of. It is the engine that drives many other AI applications that you may also find useful when looking for ways to improve your German.
- Bing Chat is a GPT-4-based language model developed by Microsoft. It gives you access to the latest AI technology and to real time data for free. Bing Chat is only accessible through Microsoft Edge browser. In general, if you choose ‘precise’ answers from the three options available, the answers tend to be more accurate than those of the free version of ChatGPT but a little less comprehensive. Just like ChatGPT, Bing Chat is a great AI tool for training various aspects of language development. The advantage is that it comes equipped with voice-recognition technology.
- Character.AI is an AI-chatbot platform that allows you to create and chat with chatbots impersonating famous or fictional figures. One of the fictional characters you will find on this platform is HyperGlot who is fluent in several languages, including German and is ready to help you practice your German language skills for free. Seemingly, the advantage of this platform should be inbuilt voice-recognition functionality, allowing you to have a normal voice conversation with HyperGlot right away without having to install speech-recognition extension onto your web browser. But, unfortunately, the speech recognition is so buggy that you can only use this tool for text chatting.
There are also other conversational bots, often called virtual AI companions that can be used to improve your German language communication skills. Some are based on the GPT technology while others use their proprietary technology and are pre-trained on their own set of data. One that is certainly worth keeping an eye on is Google Bard. Google Bard could become a serious competitor to ChatGPT and Bing Chat once it becomes available in the EU and starts supporting the German language.
Mobile Apps for Language Learning
A number of mobile apps for learning languages have recently started embracing AI, for example by integrating AI-chatbots into their applications. Moreover, some apps are using AI technology to evaluate students, provide instant feedback to them and to personalize their learning experience accordingly. For more comprehensive information on German language learning apps enhanced by AI technology visit this page.
Machine translators such as Google Translator or DeepL have been relying on AI technology for quite some time. More recently, AI-chatbots such as ChatGPT came into play. They can also translate texts into German with about as high accuracy as the best among the specialized machine translators. For more detailed information on AI-powered translation tools read a separate post about automatic translation.
Browser Extensions for ChatGPT
The role of browser extensions is to add new functionality to your web browser such as custom scripting and styling of a certain website. For example, ChatGPT doesn’t understand human speech, so if you wish to have a spoken conversation with ChatGPT, you will need to install a browser extension that will provide such functionality. Some of the best extensions for Chromium-based browsers that add speech recognition to ChatGPT are:
- Voice Control for ChatGPT enables you to talk to ChatGPT as if you were talking to a real person. Once logged into ChatGPT, all you need to do is to set the language at the bottom of the page to German. In the browser settings, German AI voice will be assigned automatically (because there is only one German voice to choose from). Furthermore, you can adjust the speech speed in the browser settings as needed. The only slightly annoying thing about this extension is that you have to press and hold the spacebar while speaking. Once released, your message will be automatically delivered to ChatGPT. ChatGPT will in turn read aloud its written response. A useful thing for language learning is that you can listen to and at the same time read the chatbot’s response.
- Talk-to-ChatGPT is yet another voice-recognition browser extension for ChatGPT that is easy to use and reliable. In the browser settings choose German as a language of communication (that is, a language of speech recognition) and German AI voice (at the time of testing there was only one German voice to choose from) and you can start a conversation right away. Other possible adjustments include changing the talking speed and voice pitch as well as a few other controls. With this extension you do not even need to touch the keyboard. You can speak as you normally would when having a conversation with another person and once you take a pause, your message will be sent automatically to the chatbot. ChatGPT will reply in writing and simultaneously in voice so that you can listen to its response while reading the text. You can also define a ‘stop’ word and/or a ‘pause’ word in the browser settings so that your message will not be sent off until you say that ‘stop’ word. This will allow you to make pauses while speaking.
There are also other browser extensions enabling voice recognition for ChatGPT, some of them highly sophisticated with an array of different functions and options, but when tested, they didn’t seem to work as flawlessly as those two listed above.
What to Use AI-Powered Chatbots for and How?
AI-powered chatbots are to German-language learners best known as free tools for practicing written and oral communication skills, that is, text chatting and oral conversation. But in fact, these intelligent chatbots can do a lot more. They can act like your free personal German-language tutor, helping you in all areas of language development (grammar, spelling, writing, pronunciation, correcting mistakes, translating, etc.), just like a human tutor. Nonetheless, while beating humans on speed and efficiency, AI-powered chatbots still have their limitations in terms of the quality of their output. As a result they are more suitable for certain tasks than for others. Therefore, make sure you have a good understanding of what to expect from conversational chatbots such as ChatGPT regarding their use for language acquisition so as to avoid learning bad habits.
Despite being used for both, text chatting and spoken conversation, conversational chatbots only understand text. When you talk to them using your voice, your speech is turned into text so that the chatbot can process it. The chatbot will respond in text and will in turn read the text it generates aloud which creates an impression that it is talking to you. Therefore, you may need different language settings, depending on whether you are text chatting or talking to the chatbot. That is, when text chatting, you can set the language to English or German, depending on you preferences. But, when having a spoken conversation, you will have to set the language to German, especially the language of speech recognition. The chatbot would not be able to understand you if you spoke to it in German while the language of voice recognition was set to English (or another language other than German).
A conversational chatbot is an ideal language exchange texting partner. When using ChatGPT or Bing Chat for text chatting, you are not required to make any adjustments to the settings. You can even use English as a default language and thus work with English prompts (a prompt is an instruction or a topic for discussion you provide to the chatbot so that it knows how to respond). For example, you can use the following prompt:
Let’s have a chat about topic in German at an upper-intermediate level (B2). Every time I make a grammatical mistake, show me what mistake I made and how to fix it.
This way you will not just develop new vocabulary in a specific field but also improve your grammar skills. There are also other things you can ask the chatbot to do for you as discussed below.
Correcting Mistakes and Providing Explanations
As suggested above, you can have a text conversation with the chatbot and ask it to correct your mistakes on the go. Likewise, you can ask the chatbot to correct your text and provide explanations for corrections made. If you just need to fix your mistakes in the text, use the following prompt:
Fix the grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes in the following German text: insert text
For correcting your text along with explaining why corrections were made, use this prompt:
What are the grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes in the following German text: insert text
* When using Bing Chat for language learning it is suggested to choose the ‘precise’ mode (other two options are ‘balanced’ and ‘creative’) to obtain the best results.
You can ask the AI chatbot for explanation of grammatical concepts that you find difficult to comprehend and to provide examples in sentences. A possible example of a prompt is:
Write me 8 sample sentences using the German noun “der Koch“, in different grammatical cases, both in singular and in plural.
Interacting with an intelligent chatbot feels like chatting with your private German tutor who is always ready to address your weaknesses. It may sometimes mean explaining the same grammar concept over and over again. You can ask the chatbot anything and as many times as you like while paying nothing for its efforts. And, you do not have to feel ashamed if it takes you a bit longer to understand its explanations.
Teaching You New Vocabulary
A good idea is to ask the AI chatbot to teach you new vocabulary from a specific area, for example, to make you ready for some upcoming event such as a visit to the doctor, hairdresser, garage or even a job interview. For this you may find the following prompt useful:
Teach me advanced German vocabulary (C1) for insert activity
Moreover, you can ask the chatbot to teach you how to say certain things differently. To do so, use this prompt:
Give me examples of how to say the following German sentence differently: insert sentence
Testing Your German-Language Skills
You can ask the AI chatbot to create a language test for you to examine your general German-language skills. However, the chatbot can also generate a customized test that will focus on a specific area where you need improvement. It is all up to you. Don’t forget to tell the chatbot what type of examination questions (e.g., multiple choice, short answers, etc.) you are expecting, their number and difficulty level. For example, you can use the following prompt:
Create a language quiz consisting of 10 multiple choice questions to test my German-language knowledge (difficulty B2).
Conversational chatbots are the latest AI-powered tools that can be used to translate texts. As already mentioned above, machine translators such as Google Translator have been employing AI for years. But, conversational chatbots such as ChatGPT can translate texts surprisingly well too. For more information on using AI to translate text from/to German read the article about machine translation.
Probably the most common use of AI-powered chatbots in language learning is for practicing conversation, that is, spoken conversation. Conversational chatbots such as ChatGPT can act as your German-language exchange partner, allowing you to train your German-language communication skills for free at any time you like and for as long as you wish. You can have a spontaneous conversation with the chatbot or can discuss certain specific topics of your choice. By choosing topics of your interest, you can practice specialized vocabulary associated with a particular area of activity or exercise specific grammar concepts.
Bear in mind though that before starting a voice conversation with ChatGPT, you will need to install a browser extension, enabling speech recognition (see the browser extensions for ChatGPT above) and change its language settings to German. Bing Chat, on the other hand, comes equipped with this functionality, so you will not have to install anything, you will only need to change your preferred language to German. That is, the language of voice recognition must be in both cases set to German for the chatbot to be able to understand you speaking German.
Irrespective of whether you use your voice or text to communicate with the chatbot, its output is the same, just the form changes. Therefore, when having a spoken conversation with the chatbot you can ask it to do the same things you would when text chatting (for ideas check out the previous sections). However, as suggested in the previous paragraph, when having an oral conversation with the bot, you must use German as the sole language of communication. That is, you can use all those prompts mentioned above while communicating with your voice but they must be translated into German. The chatbot can only understand your speech in one language at a time and that is the language of speech recognition (i.e., German).
There are two more aspects of language learning that require speech recognition capability for practicing and thus were not mentioned before. These include learning the correct pronunciation and practicing listening comprehension.
The most straightforward way of testing your German pronunciation is to use your voice to communicate with the chatbot. If a certain German word gets repeatedly mistyped, there must be something wrong with your pronunciation of that particular word. To check the correct pronunciation of that word, enter it into Google Translate (it is also an AI-powered tool) and set the language of the text box to German. Then click on the icon ‘Listen’ as many times you want to hear it. You can also copy the whole sentence containing that word into the text box to hear it in the context of a sentence. Once you have learned the correct pronunciation of the problematic word, say it to the AI chatbot again, ideally in a sentence, to find out whether the bot can eventually understand you correctly.
Training Listening Comprehension
The simplest method of practicing listening comprehension with AI is to copy the German text you wish to listen to to the Google Translator, set the language of the input box to German and hit the ‘Listen’ button. The advantage of Google Translator is the ease of use and a large word limit of 5,000 words. However, if you find the speech of Google Translator too slow or too fast, the only way to adjust it is in the settings of your device, which is quite complicated.
* Please note that Google Translate and Google Translator aren’t the same thing, though they both use the same technology. Google Translator has a significantly larger word limit.
The second option is to use ChatGPT with browser extension enabling voice recognition. Its benefit is the ability to control the speech rate. First, set the language of speech recognition to German and then copy the German text after one of these prompts:
Lies diesen Text laut vor: insert text
Read this text aloud: insert text
As long as the language in the voice controls of the speech recognition extension is set to German, the result will be the same, irrespective of the language of the prompt. That is, the chatbot will read the text with an authentic German accent. You can easily adjust the speech speed in the voice controls of the extension. This makes ChatGPT more suitable for training listening comprehension than Google Translator, which does not offer such controls.
* Please keep in mind that Bing Chat cannot be used for this task because it does not provide spoken answers to text inputs, that is, it speaks only when spoken to.
Those listed above are the most common applications of artificial intelligence in German learning. Nonetheless, there is certainly more you can do with the AI. Some learners go as far as to ask AI-powered chatbots to create personalized study plans for their individual needs, including recommended study and reading materials and corresponding mock tests. But, bear in mind that AI has its limitations too and is best suited for teaching you the ‘standard’ German language (for colloquial German look somewhere else). As a complementary learning approach, AI-based learning is not meant to completely replace human interaction but rather to offer alternatives to people living in places where access to classroom lessons is difficult or to highly self-conscious individuals to free them from the fear of failure. Also, remember that in order to get the most out of AI-driven chatbots you must use appropriate prompts. Some helpful prompt ideas can be found at learnprompt.org and aihabit.net.