Written by: Laura Jones
Learning Languages: Human or AI? Insights from a Recent Survey
Published on: Sept 27th, 2023
The world of education is rapidly evolving with the integration of Artificial Intelligence. However, language learners still crave interactions with human beings. That’s according to a recent survey Lingoda carried out on over 2,000 adults in the United States.
85% of respondents said that they believe human interaction is very or somewhat important in new language learning experiences.
The survey also focused on preferences among different genders and age groups. Younger learners were most likely to want a human tutor, with very few saying they would opt for an AI-only model of learning. Male and female respondents had similar views on the importance of human interaction. Read the full report below.
Key survey insights
|85% of respondents think that human interaction in new language learning experiences is very important or somewhat important.|
|39% of respondents would prefer guidance from an equal combination of a human tutor and an AI tutor.|
Human tutors are irreplaceable
39% of adults surveyed preferred a combination of AI and human interaction when learning a language.
Just 8% of survey respondents said they thought human interaction in language learning was not very or not at all important. Human tutors remain a key component of the language learning process.
A preference for human interaction across age groups
We reviewed the results by age of the respondents and found that more people aged 18–24 preferred a human tutor only (35%) over AI only (14%). However, a combination of AI and human interaction is the most preferred method among almost all age groups; the 45–54 age group particularly lean towards an equal combination (49%).
When it comes to human interaction, the age groups were closer in their responses. 88% of the 18–24 and 45–54 age groups think that human interaction is very important or somewhat important in language learning. This figure rises to 95% among the over-65 age group and is above 80% across all ages.
Males and females have similar preferences
Female and male survey takers aligned fairly closely in their responses. Both genders expressed a preference for learning a language via a combination of human and AI tutoring, though males had a stronger preference (46% to females’ 36%). Only 28% of males and 30% of females wanted to learn only via AI.
Males also felt that human interaction when learning a language was slightly more important than females. 88% of males said it was very or somewhat important, against 82% of females’ responses.
Human teaching in combination with AI
39% of survey respondents would like to learn a language with an equal combination of both human and AI tutoring.
First, let’s look at the benefits of having a human tutor. Human tutors have certain qualities that AI cannot replicate:
The skills of improvisation and adaptability
Sometimes, a lesson just isn’t working. And as much as a student can tell a chatbot that they don’t understand, there are only so many ways AI can explain the same thing. Human tutors are adaptable in ways that AI is not. They can explain and demonstrate points in different ways according to their learners’ preferences on a certain day. They can use eye contact and body language and, in online and physical classrooms, use a multitude of tools to help learners progress.
An understanding of nuance and cultural context
In many languages, words have several meanings. Some words are appropriate in a certain context, and some are absolutely not. You don’t use the same language with your French partner’s grandma as with your friends at the local bar. Chatbots don’t fully grasp the nuances of language while human tutors do because they live with it every day.
AI also lacks a knowledge of cultural nuance. Human tutors will be able to give language learners an insight into the culture of a place. For example, your German tutor will be able to explain that German communication styles are usually quite direct, especially compared with English. This can help prepare you for operating in a German-speaking environment without getting offended every ten minutes. If you find the right human tutor, they can not only be a guide to a language but to a culture as well.
AI can wait while you think about your response to a question. You can wander off and get a cup of coffee, watch a video on YouTube and use a translation app to check what you’re going to say. Ten minutes later, you’re back with an answer. However, you’re not really immersed in learning. With a human tutor, you need to stay in the learning zone and respond appropriately. Humans don’t wait in real life. We’re just not as patient as AI.
Real-life communication skills
In addition to giving learners a fully immersive experience, teachers can also help students to develop real-life communication skills. Conversations with AI are not spontaneous and tend to be quite predictable. And, let’s be honest, you can be a little rude to AI and it doesn’t particularly care. Human tutors can help you develop real-life communication skills; they will lead the conversation in unpredictable directions, help you learn how to redirect a conversation away from awkward topics, or politely lead people back to the subject matter.
The ability to understand students’ emotions
Human tutors can connect with students in ways that AI can’t. They can put themselves in their students’ shoes and understand the frustrations of learning a language. A lot of language tutors have been through the learning process (AI definitely hasn’t) and can sympathise with learners struggles.
Not many of us want to behave like a chatbot or AI (though the ability to work without sleep would sometimes come in handy). On the other hand, human teachers can be a role model for students and can inspire students to grow in their language learning. If you learn as part of a group, other students can also provide inspiration, too.
A report by the BBC also raised important issues around the reliability of AI (it should come as no surprise to anyone that AI makes mistakes) and about what kind of biases are built into chatbots.
There are several reasons why AI might be integrated into the language learning process in the future. One of the main advantages for learners is that access to AI tutors is easy and convenient. However, online schools also offer learners lessons around the clock and allow for flexible scheduling. AI can also help learners make a personalized learning plan. However, teachers can do this too, and teachers are able to follow up on and tweak the plan as the learner progresses. Learners also recognize that chatbots can give instant feedback and personalize the lessons. However, human tutors can also give students immediate corrections and, in one-on-one lessons, tailor classes to their student’s needs.
Some learners also say that they feel more confident talking to a chatbot in a foreign language. However, the reason people learn languages is to talk to others. If students are so used to speaking to AI rather than humans that they may freeze up when they need to order a pain au chocolat in Paris or a Bier in Munich, all of that language learning was for nothing.
Human tutors remain in demand
In an era where technology is increasingly embedded into our daily lives, it's tempting to assume that AI could potentially dominate all facets of learning. However, as the survey illustrates, the human touch in language education is irreplaceable.
An overwhelming 85% of survey respondents recognized that human interaction is key. Human tutors’ ability to empathise with students, to recognize when they are struggling and switch up how they are teaching is invaluable. Only human tutors can give students a full immersion in the language and prepare them for real-world interactions.
It's important to note that the ideal language learning experience often combines the strengths of both human teachers and AI technologies. While AI can provide valuable support and enhance language learning, human teachers bring empathy, cultural insights, and interpersonal connections that are difficult for AI to replicate fully. A blended approach, where AI complements the efforts of human teachers, can offer a well-rounded and effective language learning experience.
OnePoll collected quantitative data for this study on behalf of Lingoda. Between August 22 and August 29, 2023, 2,000 US adults aged 21 and older answered questions regarding their preferences in language learning: We asked them what type of guidance they prefer (AI or human tutors) and how important they think human interaction is while learning a new language.