AI chatbots can be an amazing tool for language learning, especially if you’re studying on your own. There are several potential benefits to using AI chatbots for language learning, such as providing personalized and customized instruction, allowing learners to practice their language skills in a interactive and engaging way, and offering instant feedback and correction.

In theory, AI chatbots can be more affordable and accessible than traditional language lessons, making them a useful option for learners who may not have access to a teacher or who cannot afford expensive language courses. But are they any good? Today I’d like to explore some tips and tricks how you can integrate ChatGPT into your language learning routine.

In my examples I will focus mostly on learning German, but most of these should work for other languages as well.

Please note that AI (not unlike humans) is fallible and will sometimes get things wrong or just be generally weird. Caution is advised!

What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is a chatbot that uses natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning algorithms to understand and respond to user input. NLP is a branch of artificial intelligence that deals with the interaction between computers and human language, and it is used to enable chatbots like ChatGPT to understand and interpret human speech.

This can be useful for a variety of purposes, such as providing information, answering questions, or engaging in interactive conversations. It doesn’t really “understand” language in any sense of the word, but if you feed it the right input you can get impressive outputs. Remember: GIGO (garbage in, garbage out)

For the time being ChatGPT is free and anyone can use it here: chat.openai.com/chat (needs registration).

1. Set ChatGPT To Your Target Language

Every conversation with this chatbot is running in a thread. While you can’t change its default language you can set its output language per thread by writing something like:

let’s speak German

Here’s the response I got:

Gerne. Wie möchtest du gerne sprechen?

Translation: Sure. How would you like to speak?

Note: “Gerne” means “gladly” or “with pleasure” in German. “Wie” means “how” and “möchtest” is the informal second-person singular form of the verb “mögen,” meaning “to like.” “Du” is the informal second-person singular pronoun, similar to “you” in English. “Gerne sprechen” is the infinitive form of the verb “to speak,” and “möchtest” is the conjugated form of the verb “to like” in the present tense.

As you can see, not only did ChatGPT respond in German, it even provided a translation and further explanation of the word “gerne”. That’s pretty helpful!

Let’s continue the conversation:

Wie geht es dir?

Mir geht es gut, danke der Nachfrage. Wie geht es dir?

Translation: I’m doing well, thank you for asking. How are you?

Note: “Wie geht es dir?” is a common way to ask “How are you?” in German. “Mir geht es gut” means “I’m doing well” and “danke der Nachfrage” is a common way to say “thank you for asking.” “Wie” means “how” and “geht” is the third-person singular present tense conjugation of the verb “gehen,” which means “to go.” “Es” is a pronoun that means “it” and “dir” is the second-person singular pronoun, similar to “you” in English.

You see how well this works? Simply by having a chat conversation with this bot you can learn quite a bit.

2. Correct Your Grammar And Spelling

As you’ve seen above this bot seems to “know” quite a lot about grammar and spelling. Will it be able to correct my input and perhaps provide additional information? Let’s give it a try:

Can you correct my German grammar and spelling?

Sure, I’d be happy to help with that! To get started, could you provide the German sentence or text that you would like me to correct? I’ll do my best to help with any grammar or spelling issues that I can identify. Please keep in mind that I am a large language model trained by OpenAI, so my knowledge is based on the text that has been fed into my training data. If there are any specific topics or areas that you would like me to focus on, let me know and I will do my best to assist.

That sounds promising! Let’s give it some broken grammar and spelling:

Ich habe ein House gekaufed. Es ist zehr schon.

Here is a corrected version of your sentence:

“Ich habe ein Haus gekauft. Es ist sehr schön.”

In this sentence, “House” should be spelled “Haus” and “gekaufed” should be spelled “gekauft”. Additionally, “zehr” should be spelled “sehr” and “schon” should be spelled “schön”. In German, nouns are always capitalized, so “Haus” is capitalized in the corrected sentence. I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions or if you would like me to provide more detailed explanations.

Not bad at all! It caught all of my spelling errors, fixed the participle “gekauft” and even reminded me that nouns are always capitalized, although that wasn’t really an issue here.

3. Ask for Explanations About Grammar

From what we’ve seen above, ChatGPT seems to have a knack for explaining linguistic stuff. Let’s try to have it explain one of my favorite German grammar topics: Wechselpräpositionen (yay!)

I’m having a hard time with Wechselpräpositionen. Can you explain them to me in simple terms?

Wechselpräpositionen, also known as “dative-accusative prepositions” or “two-way prepositions,” are a type of preposition in German that can take either the dative or the accusative case, depending on the meaning of the sentence. These prepositions are called “Wechselpräpositionen” because they can “switch” between the dative and the accusative case.

The most common Wechselpräpositionen in German are:

  • an (at, to)
  • auf (on, onto)
  • hinter (behind)
  • in (in, into)
  • neben (next to)
  • über (over, above)
  • unter (under, beneath)
  • vor (in front of)
  • zwischen (between)

The case that these prepositions take depends on the meaning of the sentence. For example, if the preposition is indicating a location or destination, it takes the accusative case. For example:

  • Er setzt sich an den Tisch. (He sits down at the table.)
  • Sie hängt das Bild auf die Wand. (She hangs the picture on the wall.)

On the other hand, if the preposition is indicating a direction or movement, it takes the dative case. For example:

  • Er geht auf den Tisch zu. (He walks towards the table.)
  • Sie sieht dem Mann hinterher. (She watches the man walk away.)

It can take some practice to learn when to use the dative or accusative case with these prepositions, but with some practice and exposure to the language, it will become more natural. I hope this explanation helps clarify things for you. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask and I’d be happy to help.

Alright, so while it generally is an okay-looking answer to my question, there is a glaring issue here. It switched dative and accusative! For location or destination we use dative, and for direction or movement we use accusative. Whoops!

As I’ve heard someone say recently: “ChatGPT is very confident, but it’s also very confident when it’s wrong.” Keep in mind that it’s currently in an early phase and may get better over time. For now, you can definitely use it to explain basic grammar stuff (the list of prepositions it gave above is accurate for example), but I’d always double check with a human (or human written resource).

4. Let It Write Simplified Stories For You

Yes, I know, as an author of German stories for beginners I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but ChatGPT can actually write some basic stories which may be useful for reading comprehension.

Tip: Use “simple language”, “Leichte Sprache” or similar keywords to make sure it keeps its syntax and vocabulary light and easy.

Hey, can you write a German story for me in simple language?

Gerne! Hier ist eine kurze Geschichte auf Deutsch:

Es war einmal ein kleines Mädchen namens Anna. Sie lebte in einem kleinen Dorf in den Bergen. Anna liebte es, im Wald spazieren zu gehen und die Natur zu beobachten. Eines Tages beschloss sie, tiefer in den Wald zu gehen, als sie je zuvor gewesen war.

Sie lief den ganzen Tag und kam zu einem kleinen Fluss. Der Fluss war kristallklar und sah sehr einladend aus. Anna beschloss, ihre Füße im Fluss zu kühlen. Als sie im Wasser stand, bemerkte sie plötzlich eine kleine Flasche, die im Schlamm lag. Sie grub sie aus und öffnete sie. Zu ihrer Überraschung fand sie einen Zettel darin, auf dem stand: “Wünsch dir etwas, und es wird wahr!”

Anna war sehr aufgeregt. Sie dachte lange nach und wünschte sich schließlich, dass sie immer glücklich sein würde. Plötzlich fühlte sie sich von innen heraus warm und glücklich. Sie wusste, dass ihr Wunsch in Erfüllung gegangen war.

Von da an lebte Anna ein glückliches Leben im Wald. Sie genoss jeden Tag und war immer dankbar für alles, was sie hatte.

Alright! There’s no real narrative tension here and the “plot” is … well, basic, but it’s something to read. Also, I do think some of the words and expression may not actually be all that “simple”, but you can certainly use such a story for practicing. Now let’s have it create a glossary of difficult words from the text and translate them to English:

Can you create a table of difficult words from this story and translate them to English?

Gerne! Hier ist eine Tabelle mit einigen schwierigen Wörtern aus der Geschichte und ihren Übersetzungen ins Englische:

kleines Mädchenlittle girl
Dorfvillage
Bergemountains
Waldforest
spazieren gehento go for a walk
Naturnature
tieferdeeper
Flussriver
kristallklarcrystal clear
einladendinviting
Füße kühlento cool one’s feet
Schlammmud
Zettelnote
darinin it

Pretty impressive!

In next steps you could now ask ChatGPT to continue writing the story (just write “continue”), translate the whole text to English or other things. I’ve even experimented with having it come up with simple text comprehension questions for these stories and it worked surprisingly well.

5. Come Up With Personalized Study Plans

Many times students ask me how many words they should learn per day and how to space study session over time intervals to maximize their efforts. Recently, I read about someone having ChatGPT coming up with a nutrition and exercise plan, so let’s see if it can do something similar for a language study plan:

I want to learn 5000 new words in German over a period of one month. Can you come up with a study schedule for me?

Sure, here is a possible study schedule for learning 5000 new words in German over the course of a month:

  • Week 1:
    • Day 1: Start by learning the most common 500-1000 words in German. This will give you a strong foundation to build upon.
    • Day 2: Continue learning more words, focusing on words that are related to your interests or hobbies.
    • Day 3: Review the words you have learned so far. Quiz yourself or try using the words in sentences to test your understanding.
    • Day 4: Learn more words, focusing on words that are commonly used in everyday conversation.
    • Day 5: Review the words from the previous days, and try to use them in conversation with someone who speaks German.
    • Day 6: Take a break and relax.
    • Day 7: Review all the words you have learned so far, and continue learning new words.
  • Week 2:
    • Day 8: Continue learning new words, focusing on words that are related to your work or profession.
    • Day 9: Review the words you have learned so far, and try to use them in different contexts.
    • Day 10: Learn more words, focusing on words that are commonly used in written German, such as in books or newspapers.
    • Day 11: Review the words from the previous days, and try to use them in writing.
    • Day 12: Take a break and relax.
    • Day 13: Review all the words you have learned so far, and continue learning new words.
  • Week 3:
    • Day 14: Continue learning new words, focusing on words that are related to travel or geography.
    • Day 15: Review the words you have learned so far, and try to use them in conversation with someone who speaks German.
    • Day 16: Learn more words, focusing on words that are commonly used in specific situations, such as at a restaurant or in a store.
    • Day 17: Review the words from the previous days, and try to use them in these specific situations.
    • Day 18: Take a break and relax.
    • Day 19: Review all the words you have learned so far, and continue learning new words.
  • Week 4:
    • Day 20: Continue learning new words, focusing on words that are related to your personal interests or hobbies.
    • Day 21: Review the words you have learned so far, and try to use them in conversation with someone who speaks German.
    • Day 22: Learn more words, focusing on words that are commonly used in a specific region or dialect of German.
    • Day 23: Review the words from the previous days, and try to use them in conversation with someone who speaks that dialect.
    • Day 24: Take a break and relax.
    • Day 25: Review all the words you have learned so far, and continue learning new words.
    • Day 26: Continue learning new words, focusing on words that are related to your personal interests or hobbies.
    • Day 27: Review the words you have learned so far, and try to use them in conversation with someone who speaks German.
    • Day 28: Learn more words, focusing on words that are commonly used in a specific region or dialect of German.
    • Day 29: Review the words from the previous days, and try to use them in conversation with someone who speaks that dialect.
    • Day 30: Take a break and relax.
    • Day 31: Review all the words you have learned so far, and celebrate your accomplishment of learning 5000 new words in German!

Remember to be consistent with your studying and to practice using the words in real-life situations as much as possible. This will help you to retain the words and improve your overall understanding and fluency in German. It’s also important to take breaks and give yourself time to rest and relax, as this will help you to stay motivated and focused on your goal. Good luck with your studies!

Well, okay. While the general instructions aren’t bad (albeit very basic), ChatGPT apparently doesn’t seem to understand how many days there should be in a month. Bad robot!

Conclusion

While ChatGPT in its current form (December 2022) is pretty impressive, I think it’s obvious from the above examples that it has its strengths and weaknesses. As it stands I think it can be a great tool to have basic conversations in your target language, let it correct your spelling and grammar, and produce little stories or text for practice sessions. When it comes to explaining more complex topics, there’s definitely some potential here, and if you can’t afford textbooks or tutors it may be an okayish alternative, but please keep in mind to always (!) look at results with a critical eye.

What do you think? Have you experimented yet with ChatGPT in language learning? Let me know in the comments!