Google adds AI conversation practice for English language learners – The Verge

By Emilia David, a reporter who covers AI. Prior to joining The Verge, she covered the intersection between technology, finance, and the economy.

Google is testing its AI listening skills with a feature that lets people speak into their phones and practice English with a conversational AI bot. Google first rolled out the speaking practice experience in October 2023. Originally, the feature only provided feedback on spoken sentences. Now, users can practice having ongoing conversations in the language they’re learning.

TechCrunch reports that the feature is currently available for Search Labs users in Argentina, Colombia, India, Mexico, Venezuela, and Indonesia. Search Labs is Google’s sandbox for potential new Search features; however, the feature may also pop up based on translating to or from English with Google on an Android device.

For now, the feedback and conversation practice features are only available in English. Google said in its 2023 blog that Search is a “valuable tool for language learners” because they can get translations and definitions and search for vocabulary.

Google doesn’t have a curriculum or a system that levels up students like Duolingo, Babbel, Pimsleur, or other language learning apps. When it launched speaking practice, the company said it helps learners not just practice but also figure out the best words or conjugations to use within the context of a conversation. While Google has had a translation feature for years, the company has also been growing the number of languages its AI models understand.

AI-assisted language learning is not new. Duolingo, arguably the most popular language learning app, added an AI chatbot in 2016 and integrated GPT-4 in 2023. Another online language learning platform, Memrise, launched a GPT-3-based chatbot on Discord that lets people learn languages while chatting. Other language learning platforms also offer conversation practice. For example, Pimsleur asks users to roleplay a conversation with the app, prompting people to respond to questions in their target language.

As an avid Duolingo user (947-day Spanish streak), it is crucial for me to get feedback and practice speaking the languages I’m learning in actual conversations. Google hasn’t said what its plans for language learning are or if the speaking practice feature will be expanded to more countries, but Duo, the owl mascot of Duolingo, could be shaking in his boots.

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