A musical, emotive robot. OpenAI's new model GPT-4o will make digital conversations even more natural.

GPT-4o – OpenAI Creates A Perfect Fit For Language Learners

Just a couple of weeks after the excitement around Hume.ai, OpenAI has joined the emotive conversational bandwagon with a stunning new release of its GPT-4o model.

GPT-4o is a big deal for language learners because it is multimodal in much more powerful ways than previous models. It interacts with the world more naturally across text, audio and vision in ways that mimic our own interactions with language speakers. Demos have included the model reacting to the speaker’s appearance and expression, opening a path to more realistic digital conversation practice than ever.

As with Hume, its voice capabilities have been updated with natural-sounding emotion and intonation, along with a deeper understanding of the speaker’s tone. It even does a better job at sarcasm and irony, long the exclusive domain of human speakers. Heck, it can even sing now. Vocal, emotional nuance – at least simulated – does seem to be the latest big leap forward in AI, transforming the often rather staid conversations into something uncannily humanlike. And as with many of these developments, it almost feels like it was made with us linguists in mind.

Perhaps surprisingly, there’s no wait to try the new model this time, at least in text mode. OpenAI have rolled it out almost immediately, including to free users. That suggests a quite confidence in how impressed users will be with it.

As for the multimodal capabilities, we’ll have to wait a little longer, unfortunately – chat updates are being propagated more gradually, although you may already the next time you open chat mode, you may already get the message that big changes are coming. Definitely a case of watch this space – and I don’t know about you, but I’m already impatiently refreshing my ChatGPT app with increasing frequency!

Lots of Swedish flags!

Malmö Calling! Language Learning Meets Eurovision 2024

It’s been quite the experience, Sverige!

If you’ve kept up with my copious social postings, you’ll know that I’ve spent the last week in beautiful Malmö, following my Eurovision language dreams. Perhaps not the calmest of years to choose – the contest itself was mired in controversies that just seemed to be compounded by poor decision after poor decision. At times, the atmosphere felt incredibly on edge. Needless to say, the joy that was Switzerland’s Nemo winning was the tonic we all needed.

As for my language goals, though, it’s been a blast.

Since the moment Loreen snagged the prize in Liverpool, I’ve been seriously cramming Swedish. My chief strategy was to use my B2-ish Norwegian to leap-frog to its close cousin language, using my understanding as a scaffold to access more interesting, higher-level content, while focusing on similarities and differences between the two languages.

I put all that to the test this week. And I think I can finally say, without piquing my impostor syndrome to breaking point, that I speak Swedish. Ja, äntligen pratar jag svenska! Granted, coffee shop counters have been the main playground for my newfound skills, but with each interaction I’ve felt more and more confident using it.

Avoiding (Un)Helpful hands

One obstacle I was very wary of at first was the helpful English-speaker. You know the type if you’ve been to a country with really strong, widespread anglophone knowledge. You try out your target language, only to get English back at you by default. It’s often enough to scare you back into your shy language learner box and accept defeat.

In Malmö, however, it didn’t happen once. That’s perhaps more to do with my obsessive fascination with mimicry, rather than Malmoans’ inherent desire to help learners of Swedish. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Swedish podcasts and watching Swedish series to train my ear. Then, in my spare time, I’ve rehearsed speaking phrases out loud, laying it on thick with the accent and paying particular attention to the Swedish tones. I’d clown around with it, role-playing an authentic Swede. Melodifestivalen introductions were particularly fruitful ground for this – låt nummer ett : Carola! I’d pronounce in the shower, in my finest continuity announcer svenska.

It may all sound completely bonkers, but it worked a treat. I ended up sounding decent enough for Swedes to assume I had a better grip of the language than I probably (certainly) do, but it stopped the dreaded automatic-switch-to-English, and gave me more precious time practising with real people. Once my level became apparent and the deception was revealed, I could hop in with a jag lär mig svenska (I’m learning Swedish), which resulted in some nice compliments and occasionally, a new word or two explained by the other party. My favourite was vispgrädde, whipped cream, explained by a very patient and lovely Espresso House barista!

So, I’ve come out of my Swedish adventure with a refreshed appreciation of accent-training as an indispensable part of any language learning regime. Podcast-shadowing, talking to yourself, singing in the shower – however daft it feels, it just works. Give it a go if you’re sceptical – I bet you’ll be surprised.

The only thing I have to do now is relearn how to speak Norwegian again without sounding Swedish…

A picture of a robot heart - conversation with emotion with Hume.ai

Conversation practice with emotion : Meet Hume.ai

If the socials are anything to go by, so many of us language learners are already using AI platforms for conversation practice – whether text-typed, or spoken with speech-enabled platforms like ChatGPT.

Conversational interaction is something that LLMs – large language models – were created for. In fact, language learning and teaching seem like an uncannily good fit for AI. It’s almost like it was made for us.

But there’s one thing that’s been missing up to now – emotional awareness. In everyday conversation with other humans, we use a range of cues to gauge our speaking partner’s attitude, intentions and general mood. AI – even when using speech recognition and text-to-speech – is flat by comparison. It can only simulate true conversational interplay.

A new LLM is set to change all that. Hume.ai has empathy built-in. It uses vocal cues to determine the probable mindset of the speaker for each utterance. For each input, it selects a set of human emotions, and weights them. For instance, it might decide that what you said was 60% curious, 40% anxious and 20% proud. Then, mirroring that, it replies with an appropriate intonation and flex.

The platform already supports over 50 languages. You can try out a demo in English here, and prepare to be impressed – its guesses can be mind-bogglingly spot-on. Although it’s chiefly for developer access right now, the potential usefulness to language learning is so clear that we should hopefully see the engine popping up in language platforms in the near future!

Lots of Swedish flags!

Swedish, Customised : My Malmö-In-A-Year Plan

If you didn’t already know, I’ve been spending a year Swedifying my Norwegian. The goal? Eurovision fun days in Malmö, of course. And as the final test of my newfound svenska draws close, it seems like a good time to take stock of what – and how – I’ve been learning.

I’m a big fan of finding content that speaks to you, be that books or television and film. Personally, I’m much more likely to keep coming back to learning content if I find it fun. With that in mind, and through much trial and error, I’ve found some things that I love in Swedish – things that have made my Swedish journey so much more effective.

Here are some of the biggies from my past twelve months!

Crime Fiction

It bears repeating: extensive reading is one of the most sure-fire ways to solidify your familiarity and ease with a foreign language. It’s the vastness of the input – as you soak up a story, things are bound to stick. And this particular genre was a bit of a no-brainer, as I also loved crime fiction in my original scandilang, Norwegian (check our Jørn Lier Horst – the author of the first novel I read completely in Norwegian, Blindgang).

Thanks to a nice little Swedish section at the London branch of Foyles, I found one I liked the look of – Benvittring by Johan Theorin – and have been tiptoeing through that for the last few moths. It has all the dark, moody suspense we’ve come to love with Scandi noir, and fits neatly into a series – the Ölandssviten books – if I want more when I come to the end (and I will – it’s great). Maybe it’s because the genre is so formulaic, but it all seems so familiar – Horst and Theorin could be writing cousins.

Although a few of Theorin’s works have been translated in English, unfortunately Benvittring hasn’t, yet. That does give me the sense that I’m one of the first outside Sweden to read it, which feels very special and exclusive. The downside, of course, is that I can’t recommend it to friends who don’t speak the language.

But if this one is anything to go by, it’s worth checking out his other books in translation!

Sveriges Radio P1

Now, I love some light listening in the morning when I’m going about my bits and pieces. Something chatty and informal, that you can have on in the background and selectively drop into, much like picking at a smörgåsbord (which, incidentally, means sandwich table in Swedish). Swedish Radio‘s first station, P1, fits the bill perfectly – lots of opinion-piece phone-ins, interesting documentaries, the odd overacted melodrama, and hourly bulletins to satisfy the news junkie in me.

Better still, Swedish Radio is available as a third-party skill on Alexa, and I do love to recruit my digital assistants as language learning buddies. So it’s as easy as putting my morning coffee on and exclaiming Alexa, play Swedish Radio to get some listening practice on. I let my attention dip in and out of it as I go about my other business, and I haven’t done any structured or focused listening with it. But it’s been fundamental in re-tuning my ear to the shape of Swedish – vital as someone hopping over from a very closely related language.

Young Royals

Now I know I’m not alone here, and I’m in much larger company than other Swedish learners. The Netflix coming-of-age drama Young Royals depicts the blossoming romance between Crown Prince Wilhelm and classmate Simon, and has been a bit of a breakout sensation. There’s even an official Spotify playlist, which has introduced me to new music much more with it than I can admit to being. Think The Crown, but cooler (and probably no less made up).

The show’s popularity has led many to the language, too. There are whole Reddits about Young Royals sparking a Duolingo obsession. Despite that, the next-best thing – after it being in Swedish, of course – is that there’s a dubbed English version too, so I can recommend it to non-linguaphile friends and family.

What’s more, once you watch, and rate, a Swedish-language show on Netflix, you’ll have more recommended to you. Thanks to my Young Royals binge, I’ve discovered a whole lot more Swedish content on the platform since.

Drag Race Sweden

Staying with the queer theme, here, I credit the fabulous Drag Race Sweden with one very useful power-up: colloquialisms. Not the odd idiom here and there, but the whole gamut of real, everyday, lived Swedish spoken between friends. The language used between the competing queens is so informal that it’s an antidote to the staid dialogues of standard text books. It’s thanks to that – along with the accompanying Swedish subtitles – that I’ve learnt vocab like taggad (psyched) and peppad (stoked) and so much other emotive language that is totally transferrable to the Eurovision context. Yes, in Malmö I’ll be sharing my colloquialised opinions left, right and centre, and it’s all thanks to Robert Fux. That’s not to mention the catchphrases… Må besta quinna vinna! A sentiment that fits Eurovision like a glove.

Getting into a foreign language TV show opens up a web of connected socials, too, and Drag Race Sweden has provided some very entertaining accounts. In particular, if you’re interested in the accents of Skåne – the Swedish region where Malmö is situated – then competing queen Elecktra’s TikTok is worth a follow. There’s even another Eurovision link-up there, as she was one of the contestants at this year’s Melodifestivalen. And of course it was in Skåne dialect, which she had form for after performing the hilarious Unna daj (Treat Yourself) in her season. Banna maj was every bit as wonderfully camp. #ElecktraWasRobbed, indeed.

By the way, for learners of Swedish and other languages, Wow Presents, which hosts most of the worldwide Drag Race content, is well worth the £4-ish a month it costs to subscribe. Fabulous, binge-worthy fun that’ll have you laughing and learning.

Courses and Traditional Content

Of course, I also invested my time and dosh in a couple of courses at the beginning of this journey. How could I not, being the book fiend that I am. As a Norwegian speaker, though, not many courses are geared up to the false – or rather, transferring – beginners, and I found it a slog to get past those early chapters where it seemed as though I was treading the same ground all over again. My Swedish side-step, piggybacking on media content created for the Swedish market was, by comparison, much more dynamic, interest-holding and effective as a strategy.

That’s not to say that some traditional course books haven’t been useful. Teach Yourself Swedish Tutor, for example, is a great dip-in-and-out book with short, snappy chapters, each with a tight grammar focus. Alongside that, old stalwart Duolingo has been predictably very handy for new vocab (and giving it the Swedish treatment has also fostered a much healthier use of the app).

And second-hand, preloved books have to get a look-in, too. My love for aged language manuals led me back to R.J.McClean’s classic TY Swedish book, which is both perpetually informative, and a gem of a social history document. On the one hand, it has the most accessible, clear explanation of the Swedish tones I’ve ever read. On the other, it also taught me how to express ‘listening to the wireless without a licence’ in Swedish. Magical.

The Proof is in the Pudding (or SPETTEKAKA?)

So, armed with my newfound Swedish, off to Malmö I go. Through the fun stuff I used along the way to learning Swedish, I feel I know Sweden itself a lot better, too. And on top of that, it’s been an ace low-stakes, low-pressure, high-entertainment-value way to learn. As such, it’s been one of the most enjoyable, guilt-free dabblings that I’ve had with a foreign language.

And I have a feeling I might have sparked a lifelong love of yet another one. Just don’t tell my Norwegian – it’ll only get jealous!

Have you had a similar ‘pop culture journey’ with a foreign language? Let us know in the comments!

Malmö Arena, venue for the Eurovision Song Contest 2024. Werner Nystrand/imagebank.sweden.se

Eurovision of Languages – 2024 Edition!

It feels like we only just said goodbye to the last one, and another Eurovision Song Content has rolled around again. Once a veritable garden of languages, all competing broadcasters were re-granted a free choice of song language in 1999. Sadly (for linguaphiles) that’s meant English lyrics for the most part.

But linguistic diversity has found a way, too, and not just thanks to those hardy regulars like France, Italy, Portugal and Spain that almost never disappoint with home-language lyrics. The 2023 edition saw the welcome return of tongues long-missed on the Eurovision stage, like Finnish and Russian.

So how does 2024 measure up against that pretty high bar?

The Eurovision Language Contest 2024

Big Firsts

Notably, we have two language debuts at this year’s contest. Azerbaijan, entering since 2008 without a word of Azeri, finally treats us to a few words of this beautiful Turkic language in the entry Özünlə apar (take me with you). And from Australia, a competing member of the family since 2015, we have the uplifting song One Milkali (One Blood) featuring lyrics in Yankunytjatjara, a Pama-Nyungan language from Western Australia. Azeri and Yankunytjatjara may not feature as their full entry texts, but it is a beautiful thing to celebrate new languages on the Eurovision stage!

As an aside, as one commenting fan dubbed it, it’s that moment when Yankunytjatjara makes it to Eurovision before Scottish Gaelic and Welsh. We UK fans live in hope…

There’s a first for Armenian, too. While we’ve heard the language in previous entries, 2024 is the first time it will be the sole language of an Armenian entry. Jako has a world music fusion vibe, and a simple message of be yourself, which is a noble sentiment in any language.

Many Happy Returns

The it’s been TOO long! prize must go to Norway this year. Norway has sent a song with Swahili lyrics (2010) more recently than it has one på norsk (2006). The latter, Christine Guldbrandsen’s Alvedansen, didn’t even do particularly badly, so heaven knows what put them off.

This year, though, Norwegian folk metallists Gåte were the surprise vanquishers of fan favourites Keiino, pipping them to the Norwegian ticket with the song Ulveham and breaking the Norwegian drought. Its beautifully haunting arrangement builds on traditional Kulning calls from the mountain herds of Norway, featuring lyrics drawn from Telemark dialect.

While the return of Finnish was last year’s joy, its loss this year is tempered by the return of its close cousin, Estonian. The collaboration between 5miinust and Puuluup will present (Nendest) narkootikumidest ei tea me (küll) midagi (the crazily-titled We (sure) know nothing about (these) drugs), the first time Estonia has presented its national language since back-to-back eesti keel in 2012 and 2013. Incidentally, it wasn’t all English for Estonia in the interim – they achieved a solid top ten in 2018 with a song in Italian, of all tongues.

Going Dutch, Again

Dutch had fared similarly poorly in the anglophone takeover too – until recently. After one of many mid-noughties semifinal failures, the Netherlands ditched its national language following the 2010 contest. It took until 2022 for Dutch to pop up again, with considerable success – De diepte ended up of the left side of the scoreboard in the Torino contest. Two years later, Dutch is back again, this time with Joost Klein and Europapa.

Lithuania has also shied away from using its home tongue on the Eurovision stage. It took 21 years for the language to be heard again after a mediocre result in English and Lithuanian in 2001. But that return made the 2022 final, with Monika Liu scoring a solid result just outside the top ten. This year, Silvester Belt is aiming to do even better with the catchy Luktelk (Wait).

Greece will be looking to mirror that national language return to success, too. Greece’s last two attempts with full or partial Greek lyrics ended in very rare semifinal failure for the country, in 2016 and 2018. Marina Satti aims to be the first Greek-singing finalist since 2013, with a self-ironising, catchy, ethnopop banger.

Doubling Up

French and Spanish fans have an extra bite at the language cherry this year, and from perhaps surprising sources. Thanks to the return of Luxembourg to the contest – after an incredible 31 years away – we have a song with mixed French and English lyrics in the tally. As for Spanish, we can thank the Sammarinese win of Spanish rockers Megara for the fact that this year’s entry from the microstate will be in Spanish, not Italian or English.

Mixed Bag from the Balkans

We can always count on the Balkans for some non-anglophone fun at Eurovision. This year, we have, interestingly, two proper-name songs in Serbian Ramonda and Slovene Veronika. Only Albanian and Croatian lose out to English entries (although Croatia is doing very well for that as a pre-contest bookies’ favourite!).

The Hardy Annuals

And of course, we have our stalwarts, our indefatigable linguistic champions – France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. They’ve kept the national language flags flying almost without fail throughout the modern free-language era, and we should celebrate each of them for that. Italy in particular is a veritable feast of lyrics, with the hugely talented Angelina Mango firing them out in a fast-paced three minutes. Little wonder that she is also one of this year’s hot favourites for the top.

We might almost add Ukraine to this list, having not only sent, but won in Ukrainian in recent years. Ukraine opts for a cool mix this year with the duo Alyona Alyona and Jerry Heil.

And for the Germanists…

No consolation for the Germanists, this year – again. 2012 was the last time German – or at least a dialect of it – formed part of a Eurovision song lyric. That honour goes to Austria’s Woki mit dem Popo (pretty much shake your bumbum in Upper Austrian dialect), which failed to make the final that year.

Can you believe it’s been that long? Me neither. But there’s small consolation in the fact that Germany had a stonker of a song in their national final this year. Galant’s Katze (cat) may have fallen at the final hurdle, but it has all the makings of a cult classic.

Which are your favourite non-English entries this year? And which language do you yearn to hear again on the Eurovision stage? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

A neon style image of a robot with a speech bubble to illustrate the idea of Swedish proverbs as language learning material

Proverbs and Language Learning : From Folk Wisdom to Classroom

I’ve been crash-learning Swedish (well, side-stepping into it from Norwegian) more and more intensively of late. And one of the most pleasant linguistic detours I’ve made has been through the lush valleys of Swedish proverbs.

Proverbs and sayings have always been a favourite way in of mine when working on a language, and for several good reasons. Firstly, they’re short, and usually easier to remember by design so people could easily memorise and recite them. Secondly, they’re very often built around high-frequency structures (think X is like Y, better X than Y) that serve as effective language models.

Birds in a forest, a favourite trope of proverbs!

Bättre en fågel i handen än tio i skogen (Better one bird in the hand than ten in the forest)

But there’s another big pay-off to learning through proverbs that is more than the sum of their words. They pack a lot of meaning into a short space – drop them in and you’re calling to the conversation all the nuance they carry. Think of the grass is always greener… You don’t even need to mention the second, missing part of that English proverb, and it already calls to mind countless shared parables of misplaced dissatisfaction. And since they’re based on those parables and folk histories that ‘grew up’ alongside your target language, proverbs can grant us some fascinating cultural insights, too.

In short, master proverbs and you’ll sound like you really know what you’re talking about in the target language.

Finding Proverbs

For many target languages, you’ll likely be able to source some kind of proverbs compendium in a good bookshop, as they’re as much of interest to native speakers as they are to learners. When you do find a good one, compilations of sayings are the epitome of the dip-in-and-out book. I’ve picked up lots of Gaelic constructions and vocab leafing idly through Alexander Nicolson’s Gaelic Proverbs in my spare moments. It was definitely time for me to try the same with some Swedish.

Without a good Swedish bookshop to hand, though, I turned to the Internet in the meantime. A good place to start is to find out what “[your language] proverbs” is in your target language (it’s svenska ordspråk in Swedish), and see what a good search engine throws up.

Tala är silver, tiga är guld.

Tala är silver, tiga är guld (Talking is silver, silence is gold)

Local cultural institutions in particular can be rich sources of articles on folk wisdom like proverbs. There are some lovely sites and articles that introduce the wise words of svenska in digestible chunks. My handful of Swedish favourites below are each written for a native speaker audience. They all give potted backgrounds on the proverbs in Swedish, making for some great extra reading practice.

INSTITUTET FÖR SPRÅK OCH FOLKMINNEN

This folk-minded article is a wonderful introduction to Swedish proverbs, offering not only examples, but also exploring the characteristics of proverbs and what makes them ‘stick’. There’s a special section on sayings from the Gothenburg area too, which adds a nice local flavour.

TIDNINGEN LAND

This article from the Land publication offers 19 common Swedish proverbs in handy list format. Even more handily, it paraphrases each in order to explain their meaning. Great for working out what some of the more archaic words mean without reaching for the Swedish-English dictionary!

NORDISKA MUSEET

Nordiska Museet offers another well-curated list, with not only paraphrasing, but etymological information on the more difficult or outdated words.

The Proverbial AI

You can also tap the vast training banks of AI platforms for proverbial nuggets. Granted, the knowledge of LLMs like ChatGPT and Claude may not be complete – training data is only a subset of material available online – but AI does offer the advantage of activity creation with the material.

Try this prompt for starters:

Create a Swedish proverbs activity to help me practise my Swedish.
Choose five well-known proverbs, and replace a key word in each with a gap. I must choose the correct word for the gap from four alternatives in each case. Make some of the alternatives humorous! Add an answer key at the end of this quiz along with brief explanations of each proverb.

I managed to get some really fun quizzes out of this. Well worth playing around with for self-learning mini-worksheets!

A Swedish proverbs activity created by ChatGPT

A Swedish proverbs activity created by ChatGPT-4

AI platforms can also play a role as ‘proverb visualisers’, which is how I generated the images in this article. Proverbs can often employ some quite unusual imagery; letting picture generators loose on those can be a fantastic way to make them more memorable!

However you come across target language sayings and proverbs, you can learn a lot from these little chunks of wisdom. Do you have a favourite saying in any of the languages you’re studying? Let us know in the comments!

ChatGPT French travel poster

A Second Shot at Perfect Posters – ChatGPT’s Image Tweaker

The big ChatGPT news in recent weeks is about images, rather than words. The AI frontrunner has added a facility to selectively re-prompt for parts of an image, allowing us to tweak sections that don’t live up to prompt expectations.

In essence, this new facility gives us a second shot at saving otherwise perfect output from minor issues. And for language learning content, like posters and flashcards, the biggest ‘minor’ issue – the poor spellings that crop up in AI image generation – makes the difference between useful and useless material.

Rescuing ChatGPT Posters

Take this example. It’s a simple brief – a stylish, 1950s style travel poster for France. Here’s the prompt I used to generate it:

Create a vibrant, stylish 1950s style travel poster featuring Paris and the slogan “La France”.

I wanted the text “La France” at the top, but, as you can see, we’ve got a rogue M in there instead of an N.

ChatGPT generated image of a French travel poster

To target that, I tap the image in the ChatGPT app. It calls up the image in edit mode, where I can highlight the areas that need attention:

ChatGPT image editing window

Then, I press Next, and can re-prompt for that part of the image. I simply restate the slogan instructions:

The slogan should read “La France”.

The result – a correct spelling, this time!

ChatGPT French travel poster

It can take a few goes. Dodgy spelling hasn’t been fixed; we’ve just been given a way to try again without scrapping the entire image. Certain details also won’t be retained between versions, such as the font, in this example. Others may be added, like the highly stylised merging of the L and F in the slogan (a feature, rather than a bug, I think!).

But the overall result is good enough that our lovely 1950s style poster wasn’t a total write-off.

Another case of AI being highly imperfect on its own, but a great tool when enhanced by us human users. It still won’t replace us – just yet!

Image tweaking is currently only available in the ChatGPT app (iOS / Android).

Neon robots racing. Can Claude 3 win the AI race with its brand new set of models?

Claude 3 – the New AI Models Putting Anthropic Back in the Game

You’d be forgiven for not knowing Claude. This chirpily-named AI assistant from Anthropic has been around for a while, like its celebrity cousin ChatGPT. But while ChatGPT hit the big time, Claude hasn’t quite progressed beyond the Other Platforms heading in most AI presentations – until now.

What changed everything this month was Anthropic’s release of all-new Claude 3 models – models that not only caught up with ChatGPT-4 benchmarks, but surpassed them. It’s wise to take benchmarks with a pinch of salt, not least because they’re often internal, proprietary measures. But the buzz around this latest release echoed through the newsletters, podcasts and socials, suggesting that this really was big news.

Tiers of a Claude

Claude 3 comes in three flavours. The most powerful, Opus, is the feistiest ChatGPT-beater by far. It’s also, understandably, the most processor-intensive, so available only as a premium option. That cost is on a level with competitors’ premium offerings, at just under £20 a month.

But just a notch beneath Opus, we have Sonnet. That’s Claude 3’s mid-range model, and the one you’ll chat with for free at https://claude.ai/chats. Anthropic reports that Sonnet still pips ChatGPT-4 on several reasoning benchmarks, with users praising how naturally conversational it seems.

Finally, we have a third tier, Haiku. This is the most streamlined of the three in terms of computing power. But it still manages to trounce ChatGPT-3.5 while coming impressively close to most of those ChatGPT-4 benchmarks. And the real clincher?

It’s cheap.

Haiku costs a fraction of the price per token of competing models to developers. That means it’s a lot cheaper to build it into language learning apps, opening up a route for many to incorporate AI into their software. That lower power usage too is a huge win against a backdrop of serious concerns around AI energy demands.

Claude and Content Creation

So how does it measure up in terms of language learning content? I set Claude’s Sonnet model loose on the sample prompt from my recent Gemini Advanced vs. ChatGPT-4 battle. And the verdict?

It more than holds its own.

Here’s the prompt (feel free to adapt and use this for your own worksheets – it creates some lovely materials!):

Create an original, self-contained French worksheet for students of the language who are around level A2 on the CEFR scale. The topic of the worksheet is “Reality TV in France“.

The worksheet format is as follows:

– An engaging introductory text (400 words) using clear and idiomatic language
– Glossary of 10 key words / phrases from the text (ignore obvious cognates with English) in table format
– Reading comprehension quiz on the text (5 questions)
– Gap-fill exercise recycling the same vocabulary and phrases in a different order (10 questions)
– ‘Talking about it’ section with useful phrases for expressing opinions on the topic
– A model dialogue (10-12 lines) between two people discussing the topic
– A set of thoughtful questions to spark further dialogue on the topic
– An answer key covering all the questions

Ensure the language is native-speaker quality and error-free.

Sonnet does an admirable job. If I’m nitpicking, the text is perhaps slightly less fun and engaging than Gemini Advanced. But then, that’s the sort of thing you could sort out by tweaking the prompt.

Otherwise, it’s factual and relevant, with some nice authentic cultural links. The questions make sense and the activities are useful. Claude also followed instructions closely, particularly with the inclusion of an answer key (so often missing in lesser models).

There’s little to quibble over here.

A language learning worksheet created with Claude 3 Sonnet.

A Claude 3 French worksheet. Click here to download the PDF!

Another Tool For the Toolbox

The claims around Claude 3 are certainly exciting. And they have substance – even the free Sonnet model available at https://claude.ai/chats produces content on a par with the big hitters. Although our focus here is worksheet creation, its conversational slant makes it a great option for experimenting with live AI language games, too.

So if you haven’t had a chance yet, go and get acquainted with Claude. Its all-new model set, including a fabulous free option, makes it one more essential tool in the teacher’s AI toolbox.

Masses of digital text. AIs with a large context window can process much more of it!

Gemini’s Long Context Window – a True Spec Cruncher

Maybe you’ve noticed that Google’s Gemini has been making gains on ChatGPT lately. Of all its recent impressive improvements, one of the lesser-sung features – at least in AI for Ed circles – is its much enhanced context window.

The context window is essentially how much text the AI can ‘remember’, and work with.  Google’s next model boasts one million characters of this memory, leaving other models – which count their own in the hundreds of thousands – in the dust. It blows open the possibilities for a particular kind of AI task: working with long texts.

Language learners make use of all kinds of texts, of course. But one particularly unwieldy (although hugely useful) type where this new feature could help is the exam spec.

Exam Spec Crunching with AI

Language exam specs are roadmaps to qualifications, listing the knowledge and skills students need to demonstrate linguistic competency. But they have a lot of fine detail that can bog us down.

As a content creator, one thing that challenges me is teasing out this detail into some kind of meaningful arrangement for student activities. There is a mass of vocab data in there. And as systematic as it is, abstract lists of connectives, temporal adverbs and helper verbs don’t make for very student-friendly lesson material.

With a massive text cruncher like Gemini, they are a lot easier to process. Just drag in your spec PDF (I’ve been playing around with the new AQA GCSE German doc), and tease out the material in a more useful format for planning:

Take this German exam spec, and create an outline plan of three terms of twelve lessons that will cover all of the thematic material.

Additionally, it can help in creating resources that cover all bases:

Create a short reading text to introduce students to the exam topic “Celebrity Culture”. It should be appropriate for students aiming for the top tier mark in the spec. In the text, make sure to include all of the prepositions from the prescribed word list.

With a long textual memory, it’s even possible to interrogate the spec after you’ve uploaded it. That’s literally just asking questions of the document itself – and, with that bigger window, getting answers that don’t overlook half the content:

If students have one year to learn ALL of the prescribed vocabulary in the spec, how many words should they be learning a week? Organise them into weekly lists that follow a broadly thematic pattern.

Supersized Context Window – Playing Soon at an AI Near You!

For sure, you can use these techniques on existing platforms straight away. However, due to the smaller context window, results might not always be 100% reliable (although it’s always fun trying!). For the new Google magic, we’ll have to wait just a little longer. 

But from the initial signs, it definitely looks worth the wait!

Gemini’s new supersized context window is available only in a limited released currently, and only via its AI Studio playground. Expect to see it coming to Gemini Advanced very soon!

Lots of owls - not quite the Duolingo one, but they're looking strict nonetheless!

Going Cold Owl (Once More, With Feeling)

Well, friends – I finally did it. I beat my Duolingo Leagues addiction.

Yes, it’s been months in the making. It was back in May last year that I wrote about that tipping point where Duolingo’s gamification switches from incentivising learning, to subverting it. After more than two years in Diamond, my main Duo activity had become all about chasing points, rather than finishing courses.

I’d even sussed out a ‘good’ trick – an easy lesson on Hindi alphabet characters – that I could mindlessly run through to amass points in my idle moments. Then I’d justify it with the two or three daily lessons I’d do that were relevant to my language goals.

Only it wasn’t good at all, in the grand scheme of things. What is was, was a great way to de-direct my learning time on what is otherwise a nice little supplementary app for my language plan.

Surely my idle moments were worthy of something more.

Letting Yourself Fall (and Trusting in a Soft Landing)

Gamified apps like Duolingo are adept at creating a sense of worth out of otherwise valueless tokens. A league title here, an achievement there – it feels good to notch these accolades up. But the real value of a language learning app is never the dressing, it’s the language-y filling in the centre. When it stops being about that, it’s time to stop.

So, in a final moment of take-the-plunge bravery, I stopped chasing the demotion cut-off last week. I let myself fall. And I won’t pretend I didn’t have several fleeting moments of panic when I thought – it’s not too late, I can still catch up!

But nope – I was resolute. And when, on Monday morning, I woke up to – gasp – Obsidian and not Diamond, do you know what? It felt liberating.

I’d broken the cycle.

didn’t feel like I’d left an exclusive club. I didn’t feel like I’d lost anything valuable. I just felt relieved.

Duolingo – Done Right (aka all things in moderation)

Since then, I’ve kept up my lengthy Duolingo streak. But not through mindless tap-tap-tap lessons – instead, through a couple of Swedish and Gaelic lessons to progress through the courses. Just as it should be.

If you’re in this autopilot pattern yourself, ask yourself: what do I gain? Reframing any kind of daily screen-addictive behaviour in this way is the first step in changing it.

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