How AI can benefit language teachers and learners?

Illustration image of AI and how it could be used in language teaching and learning

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a concept that has now transcended the original boundaries of computer science and programming and has established itself as a key element in the evolution of numerous sectors, from commerce to financial technology to the world of education. Those who will be approaching a foreign language study today will probably be doing so with the assistance of artificial intelligence. But what are the benefits of using artificial intelligence systems in language study?


What is AI?

The idea of artificial intelligence is not recent, as one of its first formulations dates back to 1955. We can identify three key concepts to define AI, namely:

  1. AI as a capability
  2. AI as a domain
  3. AI as a discipline

IBM’s definition summarizes the concept of AI as a capability of machines and computers. In this sense, AI is what “enables computers and machines to mimic the perception, learning, problem-solving, and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.” 

Second, AI is a domain that includes within it several subsets, such as deep learning and machine learning.

Finally, AI as a discipline refers to that area of research that studies how computers can reproduce complex mental processes. 


AI and education 

AI applications are numerous and range across very different sectors and industries. The areas of intelligent robotics, logistics, mechanics, and electronics are just a few areas where AI has long found systematic application. 

Education is not traditionally associated with artificial intelligence applications, yet education professionals increasingly analyze the opportunities and challenges of introducing AI within educational systems. 

On the other hand, several educational institutions have started experimenting with AI within their operations and activities. Especially within higher education, there is a tendency to use AI to improve recruiting, admission, and curriculum planning processes. 


The application of artificial intelligence to language teaching

Language education provides one of the most exciting areas to study the potential of applying artificial intelligence to language teaching activities. 

AI provides twofold support in language education. First of all, AI-powered tools are helpful to understand the mechanisms underlying language learning better. As it has been noted, “using AI and NLP (natural language processing) help create more detailed descriptions of natural languages, leads to better-processed corpora, as well as to a better understanding of mental processes occurring in human brains while verbally communicating, etc.”

Second, AI is used to develop, based on the knowledge gained, applications to support the student’s individual language acquisition path and the teachers’ classroom management process. 

Example of AI-powered tools used to optimize language learning and teaching processes can be found in:

Adaptive educational systems (AES): scholars Magnisalis, Demetriadis, and Karakostas have defined AES as systems that “operate differently for different learners, taking into account information accumulated in the individual or group learner models.”

In other words, these tools develop learning and monitoring strategies by analyzing data about the performance of individual learners. The perspective of these tools is student-centered, and the use of AI aims at personalizing the language learning path. 

Intelligent educational systems (IES): these are tools that support the teacher in certain activities, such as test evaluation and the automatic identification of errors. These tools perform a function of educational support, help the student carry out the exercises, and allow teachers to maximize the time devoted to more challenging and less repetitive activities.


The benefit of an AI-assisted language learning process

From a practical point of view, how can students benefit from language learning that exploits the potential of AI?

Firstly, AI puts data analysis at the service of devising learning experiences built around the characteristics and needs of each student. Consequently, if adequately integrated within a course of study with clear learning objectives, AI can increase student engagement. Activities will no longer be based on the principle of one-size-fits-all but will be tailored to the individual learner.

Secondly, AI-supported approaches to language study can work as an effective multiplier of learning opportunities. In fact, AI powers applications and software that learners can use in various situations not necessarily confined to school time. 

To sum up, AI-based language learning solutions enable students to learn at their own pace and inclination and enhance the personalization and the immersion of the language learning experience. 

However, to make these benefits concrete, there must be a clear pedagogical objective set by experienced language teachers. 

As the English teacher Raquel Ribeiro pointed out

“Teacher guidance and creativity, allied with AI technology tools are a powerful means to encourage students’ development in their language learning journey”. 

This is an important principle, which we suggest anyone trying to implement digital learning paths for pupils and teachers should bear in mind.


If you are interested to learn more, we highly recommend you take a look at our two-part blog series on how ChatGPT influences language education and how teachers can use AI tools to create language lesson plans.


This blog post was last updated 3 July, 2023.