Obviously, talking with a “chatbot” using artificial intelligence is a poor substitute for conversation practice with a real human. In fact, at the level these bots function right now, I don’t think they’re particularly useful for anything than an occasional fun practice opportunity in the computer lab — except for one that I’m aware of, and I’ll share it at the end of this “The Best…” post.
As always, though, I’m happy to be shown a different perspective.
This list shares what I think are the best chatbots out there. I’m going to have my students try them all out later this month, and will report their assessments. The main difference that I can see is that, though most are text-only, the first two provide audio for the “bot side” of the conversation.
Here are my picks for The Best Online “Chatbots” For Practicing English (the first and the last ones are my favorites):
Why not try talking to EFL Classroom’s bot?
My Bot asks questions and answers them by showing text and providing audio through a computer-generated voice that isn’t that great.
During Christmas time, you can talk (text-only) to Santa Bot.
(By the way, I learned about these first two from Özge Karaoğlu, an EFL teacher in Turkey)
You can talk to a virtual Bear Bot
You can talk to a — I kid you not — “Socratic Zen Conversationalist.”
Pasadena City College has developed the ESL Robots Project. Students first listen and read dialogues related to shopping, getting an apartment, and dealing with a hotel clerk. Then, students use the information they learned to “chat” with virtual staff in each of the three settings. It’s quite an innovative exercise.
George is a “chatbot” recommended by Alicia Rey. One feature that I neglected to mention in that post is that you can email a record of your conversation with the “bot.” It doesn’t actually have its own url (you’d have to copy and paste it on a blog or online journal from the body of the email), but it could be a very useful asset for English Language Learners and their teacher.
Now for the site that I believe brings some added value –Virsona. It’s a relatively new tool that lets you re-create and interact with historical figures. I think it’s a brilliant idea. Users decide on a historical or fictional figure, and program a “talking bot” that visitors can chat with using text. The site is still in the experimental stage, and the bots that were available were very limited in their ability to communicate. However, if and when the site develops and more people participate, this part of the site would certainly be accessible to English Language Learners. Creating your own talking bot would take a student’s learning to an entirely different level. The process seems fairly complicated now, but if they simplify it a bit it seems to me that high-level Intermediate and Advanced English Language Learners would be able to do it.
David Deubelbeiss at EFL Classroom 2.0 has been working on some innovative ideas regarding chatbots and English language teaching. I’ll be writing a separate post about that in the future, and then be adding his resources to this list.
ESL Robot lets you practice your English with an avatar.
Suggestions and feedback, as always, are welcome.