Stimulating and sustaining language acquisition: Chatbots as a pedagogical possibility

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


BACKGROUND: This study introduces the English Language Centre’s Personal Learning Assistant, namely chatbot, an innovative language teaching and study tool for independent and effective language learning. This relatively new and under-researched area of study will, through the use of chatbots, open new and exciting teaching opportunities (Kessler, 2018). Chatbots necessitate communicative exchange, thus enhancing dialogue-based learning (Fryer et al., 2017; Thompson, Gallacher, & Howarth, 2018). In English language acquisition, teachers traditionally adopt a facilitator role. In contrast, chatbots, as conversational agents, provide students with a natural language interface. In many contexts, including English as a second language (ESL) and English as a foreign language (EFL), technology has been developed to assist language learners. However, there is still a need to practice the language with an on-demand ‘conversational partner’ (Kim, 2017), and chatbots can address this requirement (Shawar, 2017; Wang & Petrina, 2013). This study investigates how students perceive the Personal Learning Assistant as a supplement to direct teacher input in language learning.
METHODS: Participants consisted of students from a general English course at the largest public university in Hong Kong. The study adopted an exploratory qualitative approach, collecting two types of data in two phases. The first phase, a questionnaire (n=47), provided an overall picture of the research problem and informed the second phase of data collection, which comprised semi structured interviews (n=12) (Ivankova, Creswell, & Stick, 2006). Thematic analysis of the interviews allowed the researcher to interpret participants’ voices and gain a holistic understanding of their views.
RESULTS: The questionnaires and semi-structured interviews revealed that participants preferred the chatbot to traditional study methods such as visiting a library or asking a teacher. They benefited from unlimited opportunities to ask questions and repeat words, phrases, and sentence structures (Fryer & Carpenter, 2006). Several participants reported that using the chatbot was less time consuming and more convenient, as they were able to get immediate replies. As the chatbot provides language interaction and practice through questions and answers, participants perceived it as a ‘conversational partner’ (Kim, 2017). Overall, by facilitating conversation, it heightened participants’ language learning motivation.
CONCLUSIONS: The study investigated the potential of a chatbot (developed in-house) to act as a conversational interface to supplement direct teacher input. The data suggest the chatbot suits English learners’ individual needs. Its question-and-answer interaction is potentially a better aid to language learning than traditional methods. The introduction of this innovative tool improved students’ learning opportunities, helped them become self-regulated learners, and empowered them to improve their question-formulating skills, thus fostering positive attitudes towards language acquisition. Copyright © 2020 The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020
EventThe International Conference on Education and Artificial Intelligence 2020 (ICEAI 2020) - , Hong Kong
Duration: 09 Nov 202011 Nov 2020


ConferenceThe International Conference on Education and Artificial Intelligence 2020 (ICEAI 2020)
Abbreviated titleICEAI 2020
Country/TerritoryHong Kong
Internet address


Kohnke, L. (2020, November). Stimulating and sustaining language acquisition: Chatbots as a pedagogical possibility [Online]. Paper presented at The International Conference on Education and Artificial Intelligence 2020 (ICEAI 2020), Hong Kong, China.


  • Chatbot
  • English language learning
  • Self-regulated
  • Interaction


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