What's the best AI for language learning?

Assuming you haven't been unplugged from the internet for the last year, you'll likely have heard of ChatGPT, the world's most advanced artificial intelligence (AI) tool.

Perhaps you've also seen YouTubers sharing ways of practicing your target language with ChatGPT. The reality is that ChatGPT isn't specifically designed for learning languages. Because of this, it isn't the ideal tool.

In this 5-minute article, I'll share the best AI apps for language learning, as well as quickly cover the limitations of ChatGPT for this use case (if you want to skip straight to the best language learning AI, click here).

What are the limitations of ChatGPT for language learning?

During 2023, I tested ChatGPT's capabilities for language practice extensively. Whilst the technology is incredible, for many reasons, it isn't the best platform for learning a language. Here's why:

  • When you start conversing, ChatGPT will typically suggest a generic topic like music or food. Whilst these are fine, after a while you'll need more inspiration and ideas.
  • When you make mistakes, ChatGPT won't correct you, unless you ask it to. In my experience, the tool would often forget to correct me, and I had to keep reminding it to do so.
  • When replying, it often won't ask you a question to keep the conversation flowing. Or it will ask three questions at once - too many for someone learning a language! This can be improved with careful instructions, but these instructions are often forgotten after a certain number of messages.
  • Most learners want to practice speaking and listening. Whilst the voice technology is far better than Alexa and other older tools, the accents in most languages have an American twang - they don't often sound native.
  • When learning a language, the ability to read what you've just heard is extremely helpful. But if you turn on speaking mode, you cannot see the text. Nor can you click on words or sentences to see translations.
  • The tool stops recording you when you’re mid-sentence because it switches off after just a second of silence.

Which is the best AI for language learning?

Given the limitations highlighted above, if you're serious about learning a foreign language, it makes sense to use a tool that's specifically designed for this task. Below are 3 options:

Langua

Released in late 2023, Langua is possibly the most powerful and intuitive AI tool for learning a foreign language.

Pros

  • Fantastic options for conversation practice. Before you start chatting, you'll see lots of good topics to choose from. Talk about a specific interest, your ongoing day, or pick a role play that their team has designed to prepare you for real-life situations.
  • Langua leverages the world's most advanced voice technology. You'll hear voices that sound almost human, with native accents. Other apps tend to sound more robotic.
  • You can see corrections instantly, or if you prefer, you can reveal them in one click. And you can click on words/sentences to see translations.
  • You can speak in your language when you're stuck - Langua's technology will usually be able to understand.
  • Unlike competitors, Langua isn’t just an AI chat tool - it's also powerful for learning languages through listening and reading. You'll see podcasts and videos selected by teachers for your level. As you listen, you can read an AI transcript that highlights each word as it's spoken. This makes content more understandable. Then you can translate words and sentences in one click, and learn them via flashcards. You can even generate AI stories that incorporate your saved words. Mind-blowing stuff.

Cons

  • There isn't an app (yet). But it works like one, just from your browser. It's easy to use on mobile.
  • Occasionally, the AI might miss a correction. This is a problem with all AI at present, as the technology isn't perfect.
  • Conversation practice is currently only available in 8 languages (more are being added every month, so this may have changed by the time you read this). As of January 2024, the available languages are Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish and Romanian. English and Japanese are coming in February.

Pricing

There's a free plan, which allows you to view interactive transcripts, use flashcard packs, and quickly try the AI chat. The Pro plan is available as a monthly or annual subscription. You'll need an account to see pricing in your currency. It's far cheaper than courses and tutoring, typically costing less than $0.50 per day. There's a 30-day guarantee, so if you sign up for Pro, you can try it and if it's not for you, get your money back easily.

You can create a free Langua account and explore it here.

Duolingo

Whilst Duolingo isn't specialised in AI language learning, it recently introduced a premium plan ('Duolingo Max'), which gives you access to two AI features. Duolingo doesn't provide much info on these features, so you'd have to sign up for Max ($30/month) to try them. These are role plays (Duolingo lists "practice ordering a coffee" and "planning a trip" as being amongst the options), and 'Explain My Answer'. This uses AI to explain why your answer was correct or incorrect.

Pros

  • Duolingo is a trusted brand, used by millions of learners around the world.

Cons

  • Duolingo isn't focused on conversation practice.
  • Similarly, the AI features are limited as artificial intelligence is not the main focus on Duolingo.
  • It's hard to test without committing to a paid plan.

Pricing

Duolingo Max costs $30/month at the time of writing.

TalkPal

Whilst not as powerful or comprehensive as Langua, TalkPal is another option if you're looking for a conversational AI for language learning.

Pros

  • It offers lots of smart options for chatting. In the paid version, you can choose a role play, have a debate about a particular topic, or describe images shown to you.

Cons

  • The voices are somewhat robotic compared to the voices you'll hear on Langua.
  • There are no features other than conversation practice. Some would argue it's just ChatGPT with a different interface and custom chats. The best tools offer a lot more than that.
  • The questions are not the best. For example, below is the first question I received when starting a conversation (with my level set to basic). I'm asked what I'd consider to have been the most significant moment in human history, and why. I'd need to think a lot to answer this. It's really not a good question for language learning!

Pricing

$9.99/month. No free trial. There is a basic plan, but it has a 10-minute limit and doesn't give you access to many of the features.

How can AI be used for language learning?

Most AI language learning apps focus on conversation practice. They aim to simulate real-life conversations, whilst providing feedback, corrections and translations when needed. The best apps also include voice recognition technology in order to understand what you're saying. Certain tools, such as Langua, also use AI to transcribe podcasts and videos, allowing you to read and listen simultaneously. Other possibilities include the creation of simple stories that focus on your target vocabulary or favourite topics.

Can I use ChatGPT to learn a language?

Yes, you can use ChatGPT for language learning, however as mentioned in this article, it has limitations and you may want to explore AI tools that are specially designed for language learning. Nevertheless, ChatGPT is a good option for conversation practice, and can also give you corrections on your use of vocabulary and grammar. Note that it's knowledge of languages varies depending on its training data. Accuracy is not perfect for languages that are not amongst the most popular globally. generally decreasing based on the popularity of the language.

What's the best free AI for language learning?

It depends what you're looking for. If you're only looking for basic conversation practice, ChatGPT is going to be the best tool for you. If you're interested in getting AI transcripts to follow whilst listening to podcasts and videos, Langua is worth checking out (it also provides more powerful conversation practice, but this feature is not free). Keep in mind, the effectiveness of any AI language tool also depends on the user's commitment and regular practice.

What are the limitations of AI in language learning?

Conversational AI for language learning, while advanced, may not fully replicate the nuances and complexities of natural human speech. The AI may not always correct grammar errors or offer the depth of feedback a human tutor could provide. AI also cannot compete with the feeling of human connection you get when speaking with natives. Lastly, you should avoid sharing sensitive information to protect your privacy, and check the companies' privacy policies.

Curious to explore what AI can do for your ability to speak your target language? I encourage you to check out Langua here and create a free account.