Since ChatGPT became publicly available last November it has allegedly grown in popularity at a faster rate than any other online app or service in the history of the internet. The breadth of its appeal is not hard to understand. It can write crisp copy, research topics of interest, suggest birthday party ideas and, if some alarming reports are to be believed, may cause you to lose your job in the not too distant future.
More and more people are also turning to ChatGPT to help them learn a language. Whilst far from perfect (or ready to replace a good language tutor any time soon) the website does have a number of useful applications which all Mandarin learners can benefit from. In this blog I discuss four ways you can use ChatGPT to enhance your Chinese learning, including some caveats and pitfalls to watch out for.
If you type your question in Chinese, ChatGPT will respond in Chinese. Just as when using it in English, you can ask it to generate stories, explain complex topics or engage in banal conversation. When generating content in Chinese, Chat GPT tends to stick to a fairly limited range of characters, and avoids internet slang making it easier to comprehend, especially for intermediate learners.
Something to watch out for is that ChatGPT’s use of Chinese is not always entirely natural and this is especially the case when you ask it to generate conversational text. It isn’t a million miles off from how native Chinese speakers talk but may occasionally seem too formal or just plain odd. So while conversing with it in Chinese is fun and certainly better than not conversing at all, it’s still preferable to read texts written by real native speakers.
ChatGPT is good at providing explanations in English for certain types of questions about the Chinese language. These explanations can range from grammar points to questions about phonetics. An important caveat: the AI website is known to make things up or, as one researcher put it: “hallucinate facts.” While some grammar explanations are correct, others are entirely fabricated yet dressed up in an authoritative language that sounds convincing.
Where I’ve found it to be most reliable is in describing the nuanced differences between two words with similar meanings. For example, I asked it to describe the difference between the words 制造 and 创造. The response (see below) was useful and comprehensive. Although all native speakers know the difference between these two words intuitively, most will not have a detailed and accurate explanation ready to hand.
Popular polyglot and guest on the I’m Learning Mandarin podcast Benny Lewis recently shared a creative way he uses ChatGPT to memorise new vocabulary. Benny is a fan of memory devices called mnemonics, which use stories, songs or poems to help learners retain information. In a recent tweet Benny said he asks ChatGPT to generate mnemonics for learning new vocabulary.
I tested this out for myself. I’ve never used mnemonics before but I can see how they could be useful. You can make up your own mind whether you think the example below would help you remember the word for toilet in Chinese or not. If you’re not satisfied you can always ask it to generate a new one.
Another novel way of using ChatGPT to help you learn Chinese comes courtesy of Slow Chinese founder, Andrew Methven. Andrew recently tweeted about three ways he uses the website to learn advanced phrases. Number three on his list involves generating the original stories behind Chinese idioms (成语) to help deepen his knowledge of them.
I tried this out and found it worked pretty well!
How about you? Have you used ChatGPT to enhance your Chinese learning? What strategies have you used to get the most out of it? Let me know in the comments below!
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