AI-based Communication Help in the Language Classroom
It’s no secret that artificial intelligence is booming. Within less than a year, Generative Pre-training Transformers (GPT) have evolved from a research subject relatively unknown by the wider public to household names in communities all over the world. This might partially be due to the fact that the capabilities of artificial intelligence and machine learning have increased exponentially since the advent of a new AI model called the transformer, and more so in 2017, when researchers introduced the notion of capturing relationships between words in an input sentence (known as “self-attention”). However, one potentially greater reason for AI’s popularity is that with the focus on natural language processing, AI tools have become extremely useful to almost anyone — not just researchers.
ChatGPT and other generative AI-powered chatbots are the harbingers of this “natural language processing revolution.” Their ability to parse and comprehend input text at such an efficient pace lends itself to almost every field and every corner of daily life. One application in particular is the use of generative AI in the classroom, specifically language classrooms. The main purpose of world language classes is to promote the ability to parse through texts of different languages, so it’s only natural that generative AI could help. At the same time, there are a multitude of other ways in which AI can aid in communication — some which are unique to language classrooms and others which can apply to any educational or interpersonal setting.
Helping communicate topics of study to students is one of the more general usages of AI. In fact, for any subject that includes complex concepts, communication aid can be vital on the part of the teacher. One good way of conveying these ideas is through analogies, since they can offer a visualization for something that’s otherwise hard to grapple with. Since generative AI gathers and learns from basically all the information on the internet, it has the capability to be highly customizable to the user’s needs, and as such, can act as an analogy generator. In fact, an example analogy generation prompt can be found here (note that if you use the prompt for foreign language concepts, you will need to specify the language in the “concept” field). Additionally, an example input and output can be seen below. This example was taken from ChatGPT since as of the time of this article, it is the leading generative AI tool. The prompt on Lowtech AI is easily migratable to ChatGPT (just click “Show Prompt” and replace the placeholder words in double curly brackets).
INPUT: Generate a simple-to-understand analogy for the subjunctive mood in french
OUTPUT: Understanding the subjunctive mood in French can be compared to a special seasoning that adds a particular flavor to a dish. Just as seasoning enhances the taste of a meal, the subjunctive mood adds a different nuance or attitude to a sentence in French.
Imagine you have a basic sentence in French, like "Je veux manger" (I want to eat). Now, if you want to express a desire or a hypothetical situation, you would sprinkle in the subjunctive mood like a seasoning. For example, "Je veux que tu manges" (I want you to eat). The subjunctive mood subtly alters the meaning, introducing a sense of desire or possibility.
Just as you wouldn't use the same seasoning for every dish, the subjunctive mood is not used in every sentence in French. It is reserved for specific situations, such as expressing doubt, necessity, obligation, emotions, or desires. So, think of the subjunctive mood as a flavorful spice that adds depth and complexity to your French sentences when the situation calls for it.
Although this tool can be useful for students who are struggling to understand a concept, it can additionally help teachers who want to find an easily-digestible way to introduce a topic. Also, if the user does not like the analogy generated by the chatbot, a new analogy can be regenerated both in Lowtech AI and ChatGPT.
But in order to truly take advantage of the customizable nature of these generative AI tools, users can engineer prompts specific to desired scenarios. For instance, if a student is struggling in class and an instructor would like to inform them on different ways to improve, the instructor could use generative AI to help compose an email. Doing so could ensure that the email is clear and concise, as generative AI models learn from strong pieces of writing found in sources all over the entire internet. Thus, they can recognize and generate patterns of effective, coherent, and tonally appropriate writing. It is also important to specify points the AI should include when generating the email. This enables the email to be customized in the first place. A streamlined version of this entire process can be found here. As in the case for the last example prompt, below is another set of ChatGPT inputs and outputs for this prompt:
INPUT: Generate an email to my student Bob about help with Spanish. Make sure to include the following points : remember conjugations, practice vocabulary, check in for office hours, try communicating with peers in Spanish.
OUTPUT: Subject: Assistance with Spanish: Let's Improve Together!
I hope this email finds you well. I wanted to reach out to offer my assistance and support in your Spanish studies. As your Spanish teacher, I'm here to help you succeed and make significant progress in your language skills. I have a few points I'd like to emphasize to ensure your success in the class:
- Remember Conjugations: Conjugating verbs is a fundamental aspect of Spanish grammar. It's essential to practice and master verb conjugations to build strong sentence structures. I encourage you to review verb conjugation charts and practice using different tenses regularly. Don't hesitate to ask me for clarification or assistance when needed.
- Practice Vocabulary: Building a robust vocabulary is crucial for effective communication in Spanish. Regularly practicing new words and phrases will enhance your language skills. Consider using flashcards, language apps, or online resources to expand your vocabulary. Additionally, I'll be providing vocabulary lists and exercises throughout the course, so make sure to complete them for additional practice.
- Check-in for Office Hours: I hold regular office hours to provide individual assistance and answer any questions or concerns you may have. Office hours are a valuable opportunity to address specific topics, clarify doubts, or receive guidance on assignments. I encourage you to take advantage of these sessions to further enhance your understanding of the course material.
- Communicate with Peers in Spanish: Engaging in conversations with classmates in Spanish is an effective way to practice and reinforce your language skills. Try to find study partners or form study groups where you can converse and practice speaking Spanish together. This interaction will improve your speaking and listening abilities and create a supportive learning environment.
Remember, learning a new language requires consistent effort and practice. By incorporating these strategies into your study routine, you'll undoubtedly make significant progress in your Spanish proficiency.
If you have any questions or need further assistance, don't hesitate to reach out to me. I'm here to help you succeed and achieve your language learning goals. Together, we can make your Spanish journey a rewarding and enjoyable experience!
[Your Name] [Your Contact Information]
Note, the output prompt can serve as an outline or template which the user can further customize or improve upon. The user can moreover request a shorter or longer email by appending an additional prompt such as “generate a longer/shorter email” afterwards. It is important to note that this email prompt is quite general; it can be used by teachers when emailing students, parents, other faculty members, and more. It also isn’t limited to teachers — as students can also benefit from using the tool when asking teachers questions — nor is it limited to the education field. The prompt is overall useful whenever one needs to formally communicate in a clear and concise way.
When it comes to education, the main point of communication is to convey a concept or idea to the student. Repeatedly communicating an idea is an especially important facet for language classrooms due to the example-reliant nature of language learning. For instance, it’s one thing to explain that the passive voice is when the grammatical subject of a sentence is the entity to which the main action is done. However, it can be more effective to visualize the idea of a passive voice through many examples: the more students are exposed to examples of linguistics constructs of a language, the more familiar they will be with them, which in turn increases the likelihood that they correctly incorporate them into their own writing. It might be simple to find a couple examples of the passive tense, but it can be difficult to come up with longer pieces of text. That’s where AI can help.
For instance, if an instructor assigned an essay and wanted to provide an example of what’s expected, an AI could be used to create such an example. Providing an example essay would both illuminate the expectations of the assignment as well as further expose the student to real-world uses of the language. Here is a prompt that streamlines the process of generating these example essays. Below is another ChatGPT input and output.
INPUT: Generate a full essay in Latin about the fall of Rome. The essay should include a thesis, topic sentences, and a conclusion.
OUTPUT: Certainly! Here's a full essay in Latin about the fall of Rome, including a thesis, topic sentences, and a conclusion:
Title: De Ruina Romae
Thesis: Ruina Romae, quae accidit in saeculo V, magnam infelicitatem et mutationem in historia occidentalis attulit. Multae causae, inter quas includuntur invasiones barbarorum, decadentia interna, et divisiones politicae, ad declinationem Romae adduxerunt.
Introduction: Roma, aeterna urbs, quae per multos saecula imperium vastum sustinuit, tandem in saeculo V ruinae subiecta est. Hoc tempore magnum eventum, ruinae Romae, consideramus. In hoc tractatu, causas ruinae Romae investigabimus et effectus saeculi V in historiam occidentalem demonstrabimus.
Paragraph 1: Causae externae Prima causa ruinae Romae sunt invasiones barbarorum. Gothi, Vandalii, et alii populi barbari Romam invaserunt et vastaverunt. Tempore imperatoris Honorii, Gothi Urbem Aeternam occupaverunt et Romanos afflixerunt. Hoc modo, invasiones barbarorum ad debilitatem et ruinam Romae valde contribuerunt.
Paragraph 2: Decadentia interna Non solum externae vires, sed etiam decadentia interna Romam infirmavit. Corruptio politica, crescens inaequalitas socialis, et degeneratio moralis Romae iam per longum tempus creverunt. Quaestiones internae, inter quas includuntur conflictus inter senatorum et imperatorum potentias, affligebant civitatem. Haec omnia ad debilitationem et finaliter ruinationem Romae ducebant.
Paragraph 3: Divisiones politicae In additione ad invasiones barbarorum et decadentiam internam, divisiones politicae Romae ruinam acceleraverunt. Imperium Romanum, quod olim totum orbem terrarum continuit, diu diuque in duo imperia divisa est: Imperium Occidentale et Imperium Orientale. Haec divisio politica afflixit potestatem et res Romae, et Romani erant minus capaces adversus barbaros resistere.
Conclusion: Ita, per combinationem invasiones barbarorum, decadentiae internae, et divisiones politicae, Roma, quae olim orbis terrarum domina fuit, in saeculo V ruinae subiecta est. Declinatio Romae magnam mutationem in historiam occidentalem attulit. Tamen, Roma semper memoria nostra vivet, tanquam testis magnificae potentiae et fragilitatis humanae.
Students can even use the tool themselves. Example essays can clarify what the language is supposed to look like in formal communication and may even provide inspiration for their own writing styles.
As shown above, generative AI can offer much-needed help when it comes to communication in the language classroom — for both teachers and students. Nonetheless, it’s important to not rely on AI too heavily. When it comes to instructors, a main part of teaching is forming an in-depth understanding of students’ strengths and weaknesses, something which can only be achieved through observation and interaction and cannot be done with an AI. When it comes to students, AI can definitely aid in providing examples and templates, but in order to truly learn, students need to complete the work by themselves (especially since other AI-powered tools are now being used by teachers to detect AI-generated work turned in by students). Despite these caveats, AI should still be used when applicable and can help make the traditionally laborious task of learning a new language much more straightforward and exciting.