The Role of AI in Helping Young Language Learners

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is a frequently misunderstood technology. Many of us hear “AI” and picture Star Wars or other science fiction robots that mimic human behavior with superintelligence. Because of this, it is easy to think that AI is still far off in the future. The truth is, AI is all around us today in the form of machines that perform everyday tasks.

AI is based on the idea that human intelligence can be defined and that machines can imitate it. AI has been around since 1956, but it was in 2015 that the most recent real breakthroughs in big data, deep learning, and machine learning emerged. Now, algorithms are all around us, from self-driving cars and personalized ads to fraud detection at the bank. AI has in fact already become integrated seamlessly into much of our daily life.

One of the areas in which AI is being intensively developed and applied is education. While no algorithm or robot can replace the work of a human teacher, the process of learning and some aspects of teaching can be made easier and more personalized with the help of AI. Language learning is of particular interest as understanding and communicating in different languages unlocks opportunities for personal and professional success. Apps like Duolingo are widely known already, but there are many other ways in which AI can help language learners, particularly young language learners in the classroom, learn smarter.

Language Learning AI Helps Build a Foundation

Any foreign language learner knows that the first step to learning a new language is to get a solid grasp of the basics, including the alphabet or writing system, grammar, and vocabulary. But every learner—and learners with different native languages—will encounter different challenges in acquiring a second (or third!) language. For example, native speakers of Korean will struggle with some aspects of English more than native speakers of Russian.

AI language tools benefit learners by offering personalized feedback and learning what their strengths and weaknesses are. Because AI learns from interaction, now there are apps or AI tools that understand what words you don’t know and what words you do, and alter the type of lessons they give you. This way, young language learners can build a solid foundation for more advanced communication skills.

In addition, AI tools let students learn at their own pace. Students can choose what they want to practice and are not forced to move on before they are ready, nor are they stuck learning something they have already grasped. For language learning, AI tools open up a world of content and real-life applications. Now, thanks to technology and AI, you don’t have to travel to acquire foreign-language dramas, news, music, or even books. Tools like AI-enabled online dictionaries and machine translation can provide context and help students grasp foreign languages more easily than ever before.

AI Supports Teachers in The Classroom

AI tools can also provide instant feedback so you don’t need to wait days or weeks to know how you did on a test. While tools like AI testing or grading are still somewhat notorious for their flaws, they are developing at a rapid pace, along with algorithms that can perform more difficult tasks like essay grading. When used in the classroom, these tools also let teachers see what students are struggling with and adjust their curriculums accordingly.

Many fear that AI’s introduction into the workplace will remove the need for humans and displace labor. While in some areas that is true, in others, like education, AI simply allows teachers to spend less time on tedious tasks and more time on productive curriculum development.

With the help of grading tools and immediate, personalized feedback on student progress, teachers can tweak their curriculums and lessons to better meet the needs of their students. They can focus more on the mentoring aspect of teaching rather than the rote drilling and administrative side. AI can also offer students more resources outside the classroom such as AI tutoring technology, which can lessen the burden on teachers to do everything.

The Future of Language Learning with AI

Although many language learning AI tools already exist and are available to young learners, some say we are still in the infancy of what AI can truly accomplish. AI thrives on data, and as more tools are rolled out, more data becomes available. Already, the world of AI writing tools has advanced far beyond the early days of Clippy, the Microsoft Suite assistant. Now, there are AI tools like Trinka that can “read” your academic article and make suggestions for technical vocabulary as well as grammar, style, tone, and presentation.

Modern AI tools like Trinka can even review your paper and offer you tips for how to increase your chances of being published in a reputable academic journal. For non-native speakers of English, writing tools like these are a huge help.

Chatbots are another type of AI tool for language learners that are undergoing rapid advances. While chatbots are currently quite popular in resolving simple customer queries on commerce websites, they are beginning to see a greater uptake at universities. Chatbots can play a role in language learning by offering a way to practice talking to a machine that is programmed to speak whatever language you are studying.

Those who live in countries where in-home AI systems like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant are popular can even change the language settings on these devices so they are forced to practice speaking in their target language. Of course, such tools can be used on many smartphones as well. No doubt the day is not far off when chatbots evolve to have more complex and nuanced conversations.

Overall, AI has a lot to offer language learners of any age, but its current and potential applications in the classroom make it particularly potent as a tool for younger language learners. What are you waiting for? Start integrating AI tools into your language learning endeavor today.

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