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AI Enhances Conversational Language Learning, Says Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn

Screenshot (2018)

AI Enhances Conversational Language Learning, Says Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn

As AI models like ChatGPT capture the world’s imagination, one important application is to enhance how we learn and practice new languages. That has Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn excited about the potential.

Founded in 2011, Duolingo gamifies the process of learning new vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and other language basics through interactive lessons and practice sessions. The company reports over 500 million total users across its mobile apps and website.

Von Ahn, who previously co-created CAPTCHAs and helped advance computer vision at his startup acquired by Google, sees AI as particularly powerful for improving conversational abilities.

“The main thing it helps with is just practicing it, and also getting you to not be so scared of it,” he said in a recent interview.

He explained the challenge further: “In the past, we have tried getting people to have conversation with another human, and the problem with that is that most people are just really scared of doing that, and then they stop. But having a conversation with something like an animated character on the other side, just gets you to practice.”

While some might assume AI language models could make dedicated learning apps obsolete, von Ahn disagrees.

“We’re just not seeing people being dissuaded by the fact that language translation is good,” he said. “Most people learning languages on Duolingo are doing so as a hobby or they want to learn a language like English or something.”

In fact, von Ahn sees opportunity for Duolingo to incorporate AI to enhance its product: “We’re very excited by all the advancements in AI, especially the ones of late. In particular, the thing that they really allow us to do is teach conversation better.”

He clarified that AI assistants are not replacements for structured learning: “The reality is, the technology to learn anything you want has been around for hundreds of years. It’s called a book. It’s just that it’s hard to get people motivated to do it.”

Duolingo’s goal is to combine the motivational aspects that keep users engaged with the latest AI capabilities. As von Ahn stated: “This is what we’re excited at Duolingo, because we’re good at motivation and getting you to come back every day, combining that with better [AI].”