Purdue Spanish program embraces AI to enhance language learning

As soon as the Spanish 100 and 200 program director arrived back at Purdue, Barranco-Cortes began rewriting the curriculum she was teaching to include AI.

pictured: students sit in a row at a long table, each working on their computers

“I believed students were still missing something, especially for writing activities,” Barranco-Cortes says. “We spend a lot of time underlining their mistakes, but we never knew if they understood what they did wrong.”

Barranco-Cortes explains that with her large classes, it’s impossible to provide every student with the individual feedback they need. However, with programs like ChatGPT and Copilot, students can receive the help they need at any time and ask as many clarifying questions as they want.

To familiarize students who may not feel comfortable using artificial intelligence, Barranco-Cortes provides prompts she has tested out herself to help students receive the best possible response. 

“I keep using ChatGPT,” she says. “I keep playing and switching the words and asking for more detail, and sometimes, if I just add one more word, the response makes more sense.”

Lori Czerwionka, the Spanish and Portuguese department head, says this addition to the Spanish 100 and 200-level classes is part of the department’s goal to utilize new technology and ensure students learn languages with the best possible resources. 

“Technology has boomed in the last few decades, and it now offers language learners many useful resources,” Czerwionka explains. “Students can go and listen to one of the millions of people on YouTube and expand their knowledge about languages and cultures.”

Czerwionka and Barranco-Cortes say they view AI as a tool to help language instructors engage students in taking an active role in their learning.

“Ideally, because I’m teaching them how to use it and making them write reflections on what they learned, they won’t need to use it to cheat on assignments,” Barranco-Cortes says. 

Czerwionka explains that the feedback they have received from students has been immensely positive. She has noticed that students who use ChatGPT for assignments become curious about the different possible ways to express an idea and have fun eliciting more options. These new tools for learners give them additional input in Spanish, which is a fundamental part of learning a language. 

“Before, with Google Translate, you could write whatever you wanted in English and get a Spanish version, but you weren’t necessarily learning,” Barranco-Cortes explains. “Now, if you’re confused or curious, you can receive feedback, learn from your mistakes in real-time, and explore the Spanish language in new ways.”

Last updated: April 30, 2024

Author: Malini Nair, Communication Assistant for Teaching and Learning, nair112@purdue.edu