Conversational agents in language learning

Xiao, F.,, Zhao, P., Sha, H., Yang, D. and Warschauer, M. (2023) Conversational agents in language learning Journal of China Computer-Assisted Language Learning, 2023. 1-26.

This article provides a description and the findings of a scoping review of the use of conversational agents. The review includes some familiar commercial ones such as  Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant and others which are programmable such as Google’s Dialogflow and Amazon Lex. The authors define a scoping review as “a method of systematically identifying, mapping and summarising the available literature on a specific research topic” (p.3 ). It focuses on their use and potential use in language teaching and  learning, along with suggestions for future research to examine their potential to support language teaching and learning.

The scoping review indicated that such conversational agents are currently being used in language learning in three broad areas. The first is for general communication practice in which language learners interact directly with the conversational agent. The second is task-based language learning in which learners are required to interact with the conversational agent in the context of specific tasks. The third is structured pre-programmed dialogue whereby  conversational agents are designed and programmed by researchers and instructors to conduct dialogues with learners on specific topics.

Findings  from the literature identified in the scoping review show that conversational agents provide opportunities for learners to engage in conversation in the target language, thus providing useful learning opportunities both in and outside the traditional language learning classroom . The literature also indicates that generally language learners find this engagement useful in supporting and improving their language learning.  Some of the studies reviewed suggest that conversational agents can be useful as  diagnostic tools.  The review identified a significant gap in the research literature in relation to the educator perspective on the use of conversational agents and the authors suggest that  a focus on the educator perspective will be crucial in ongoing development and implementation of such agents.

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