Language Learning Is an Opportunity for Chat App Developers

October 11, 2016 - 2 minutes read

Duolingo recently launched a new “chatbot” feature that’s been garnering a lot of interest in the language learning scene. The company’s iPhone app developers already hold a place of esteem thanks to their innovative language practice app. Now they’ve created a chatbot for iOS that allows users to practice their casual conversation skills in real time — perhaps one of the most practical applications of the chatbot trend this past year.

San Francisco app developers have sought to “solve” the language learning problem many times, and thousands of mobile app products exist in the Apple App Store and Google Play for every language under the sun. However, most of these solutions resemble traditional flashcards and memorization drills more than anything truly innovative. Ultimately, language learning comes down to real, human practice. Needless to say, that’s where recent advances in artificial intelligence are about to open up a whole new realm of language learning possibilities. Duolingo’s chatbot is unique, but app developers can bet that it’s just the tip of the iceberg so far as possibilities for chat-based language learning solutions.

Like Google’s new Allo app, Duolingo’s chatbot uses suggested replies and other interactive “in-bubble” features to guide users along and help with tricky words. Each persona available for chat covers a somewhat specific topic area, so the chats are limited — no philosophical discussions about your favorite TV show — but in the context of beginner-level language learning, it makes sense. This isn’t the first rodeo for Duolingo’s app development team, and they’ve stuck to the existing minimalist brand identity to the letter.

Probably the oddest part of this specific chatbot product is the use of sticker-like images throughout, both to explain words and simply to exude friendliness. If you don’t mind Duolingo’s cheery, flat-color icons, this won’t bother you. If like me, you find them a little grating, it might kill the magic a little.

Duolingo’s chatbots are currently available for iOS in French, German, and Spanish.

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