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How do students learn Chinese from A.I.?

Ever since its launch, ChatGPT has brought a tidal wave to all of us!

There have been cool Chinese learning APPs that are replacing teachers to a certain extent. New learning APPs keep springing up and many have claimed that they incorporated with the latest AI technology. 

A few years ago, I saw a demonstration of a mini robot-like figure, which was supposed to be equipped with AI. Students could learn Chinese by asking questions, such as “how to say ‘hello’ in Chinese?” 

Back then I was not impressed and I didn’t think much about this demonstration. It is no difference from a online dictionary. 

But now, after ChatGPT has showed us what AI is capable of doing, APPs or physical objects like that are paled in comparison. 

The question is no longer whether or not AI can help students learn Chinese. It is a question of how.

Below are some of the immediate ways students can use AI to learn Chinese.

Questions and answers

Different from asking how to say “hello” in Chinese, students now can ask sophisticated questions and request examples.

For example, students can ask “What is the difference between and in Chinese? Please provide several examples.” And they get great answers immediately. (In case you don't know, read here: Difference between 二 (èr) and 两 (liǎng) in Chinese)

This is a game changer.

Students can ask all sorts of questions about Chinese characters, words, sentence patterns, Chinese philosophies, or anything else in their minds!

Because of AI’s super ability to recognise patterns, especially language patterns, it has more knowledge about Chinese than the majority of Chinese teachers. And because it is a computer, it has infinite patience to teach students.

Reading comprehension

Besides answering questions, AI can also rewrite texts. That is another game changer.

Reading is a very important skill in Chinese study. But for a very long time, there has been a lack of good and interesting reading materials that cater to students at different levels.

Although there are publications of graded readers, the majority of them are dry and artificial. Students are reading them only because they do not have other more interesting things to read.

Now, their reading field is opened up by AI. They can ask AI to rewrite the text in a simpler way and thus reduce the difficulty level of the original text. 

Another option is to ask AI to come up with new stories, dialogues, or even poems in Chinese. 

The result is that students can generate unlimited amount of level appropriate reading texts by themselves.

I can only say “wow” to this.

Have a conversation

The coolest function of A.I. learning is that students can chat with it, and the conversation can go on indefinitely.

ChatGPT is a chat bot. Having a conversation with a intelligent chat bot using Chinese is a great way to make progress.

Right now, ChatGPT is limited to text. I’m sure it’ll be able to recognise voice very soon.

When that happens, students can ask AI to check their pronunciations, provide feedbacks, and carry on verbal conversations on any topics at anytime.

Perhaps one day, AI will be really good that they can differentiate different Chinese accents, and understand them all! 

I believe AI powered technology will wipe out most of Chinese learning APPs or robot-like figures.

A.I. & Chinese teachers

AI has become such a great way to learn Chinese from, and also has the potential to replace many human Chinese teachers.

Chinese teachers who teach by translating words, by correcting pronunciations, or by showing Chinese character stroke orders, can be replaced very easily.

For people who are still interested in becoming Chinese teachers, they need to focus on areas that AI does not have. 

I can think of the following areas:

  • Humans feel for each other. 
  • Humans have imaginations. 
  • Humans invent stuff. 
  • Humans can love something madly and irrationally. 
  • Humans ask “why”. 
  • Humans have personal experiences.
  • Humans can share a laughter together.
  • Humans know what life is. 

All these characteristics are necessary components for teaching and learning Chinese, because students are humans, not machines. 

Perhaps that’s the only edge human Chinese teachers have over AI.