Using ChatGPT to Learn French

Posted by Josh on 24th Feb 2023 in the blog in the category

- Can you speak French?

Oui, je peux parler français.

This is how ChatGPT — a chatbot developed by OpenAI which uses data from books, articles and other sources on the Internet to answer questions and prompts — responds to that question. Anyone who’s taken a few French classes should be able to say 'Je peux parler français'. But can ChatGPT prove it?

ChatGPT is trained on a vast dataset — 570 GB worth of textual data, to be exact, or the equivalent of 45 million books. This includes data in a number of different languages. Indeed, when asked about its language capabilities, the AI claims to be able to ‘work with dozens of languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Arabic, and many others’, although ‘the exact number depends on the specific languages and the degree of proficiency required.’

While English makes up 25.9% of the Internet, only 3.3% is in French. Still, the A.I. proved very sophisticated when we asked it to formulate answers in French, as you can see in the video.

But just how useful is it as a tool for learning French?

Using ChatGPT to do your homework

ChatGPT has come under fire from teachers as it enables students to circumvent homework assignments by asking the A.I. to do it for them. Oftentimes the work generated by ChatGPT is indistinguishable from that which might be submitted by a student, and even when it isn't, the program is able to offer a template that can be passed as a convincing submission with just a few tweaks and checks.

The Sciences Po school in Paris, one of France's top universities, has banned students from using ChatGPT, making it punishable in some cases by expulsion. Other schools and universities are taking similar measures — but how can they tell whether a student has cheated by using ChatGPT?

Sometimes it's obvious whether an A.I. program has been used. ChatGPT's writing style is characteristically concise and information-rich — a far cry from the style of many students — and the answers it provides to students' prompts may include irrelevant details or inaccuracies that a human would be unlikely to make. A plagiarism tool has also been developed with the purpose of detecting text that has been written by the A.I.

Consequences such as disqualification and potential expulsion aside, to use ChatGPT to cheat on assignments is to ignore the purpose of those assignments in the first place. Putting your French skills into practice is essential if you want to improve, and that's something that an A.I. simply can't do for you.

However, it can be used to assist you with learning French, to facilitate your understanding of the language and answer questions you may have about it.

How can ChatGPT help you learn French?

ChatGPT can translate text for you if prompted to do so. However, as a translation tool it doesn't really have any advantages over Google Translate. While it is able to translate more text at a time, the actual process of translation is slower than Google Translate's, which is usually instantaneous.

However, it can still be a very useful resource for a number of reasons.

For instance, as a learner you're bound to have questions, many of which won't be answered in textbooks or lesson material. If you have a teacher, you can always ask them. But ChatGPT is in the unique position of being able to pull its answers from a huge array of sources — and you don't need to wait for your next lesson to ask it something.

We asked it the following question

- What is the hardest part of learning French?

and received this answer

The hardest part of learning French can vary from person to person, but some common difficulties include:

  1. Pronunciation: French has many sounds and intonations that may be difficult for English speakers to master.
  2. Grammar: French grammar can be complex and different from English grammar, which can be challenging for learners to understand and apply.
  3. Vocabulary: French has a large vocabulary, including many words borrowed from other languages, which can be difficult for English speakers to memorize.
  4. Gender: French nouns are assigned a gender (masculine or feminine) and this can be difficult for English speakers to remember and apply in speech and writing.
  5. Verb conjugation: French verbs have many different forms depending on the subject and tense, which can be challenging for English speakers to master.

It's important to keep in mind that despite these challenges, with practice and perseverance, anyone can learn to speak French fluently.

While this answer isn't especially detailed, it gives you a good overview. The A.I. can also prove useful for solving grammar conundrums.

- Conjugate avoir for me

Sure! Here is the conjugation of the French verb "avoir" in the present tense:

Je (I) - ai

Tu (you, informal) - as

Il/Elle/On (he/she/one) - a

Nous (we) - avons

Vous (you, formal or plural) - avez

Ils/Elles (they) - ont

For example, "Je suis fatigué." (I am tired.) "Avoir" is used in this sentence as an auxiliary verb to form the compound tense "être fatigué."

What's important to notice here however is that the information is partially wrong. 'Avoir' is not used in the example sentence 'Je suis fatigué', despite what the A.I. tells us. It looks as though ChatGPT has confused 'avoir' and 'être' in their capacity as auxiliary verbs, and used a statement using 'être' in a circumstance in which 'avoir' would not make sense. Notice also how it neglected to use a contraction for 'Je ai'. The first person singular for 'avoir' should really look like 'J'ai'.

It's therefore important to check the answers that ChatGPT gives you. But if ChatGPT isn't entirely trustworthy, and its answers need to be verified, it probably isn't a good idea to put too much faith in its function as a quick problem-solver in the first place.

Ultimately, ChatGPT can only provide you with information it has found elsewhere on the web. Its main advantage over other media is its ability to compile this information into a suitable answer to any question you may have, but this customisability also means it is much more likely to be misleading — so be careful when using it.

And don't let it write your homework for you!

Check out some of our other blog posts!

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