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Riding the Wave: AI Language Tutor Trend Soaring in 2023

In the past year, one trend has got more attention than any other in Language Learning – the AI Language Tutor. Between July 2022 to July 2023, there's been a 192% increase in Google search traffic for the term 'AI Language Tutor'. Language learning companies and students alike are becoming increasingly intrigued by the possibility of using AI and AI chatbots as part of their learning toolkit.

Amid the hype, startups emerge weekly, keen to exploit this paradigm shift with AI-aided language learning. Yet, it's not just newcomers who are capitalising from this; existing players like Duolingo are also increasing their focus on AI-based learning experiences.

In this article I’ll provide a summary of AI Language Tutors, exploring:

  • What an AI Language Tutors is and what they can offer
  • What the current 'language chatbot' market looks like
  • The different features offered by solutions
  • Where they succeed and where they fall down

Note: This blog is written by our guest; Jake Smyth - CEO and Co-Founder of papo an AI Language Learning Tutor focused on offering intermediate language learners conversational practice to improve their skills and confidence.

What is an AI Language Tutor?

For this article, we will define an ‘AI language tutor’ as any AI assisted experience that attempts to replicate the experience of a human language tutor, whether this be the conversational (chatbot) experience, the immediate feedback, or the exercises that a tutor may assign their student.

Most apps focus on a chat interface in which the learner converses with an AI agent in the language that they're learning. Many offer a range of simulated situations, allowing the user to practice existing knowledge or acquire new words or phrases through different roleplay scenarios, for example ordering a coffee in a cafe.

The AI becomes a metamorphic conversational partner.

What are the potential benefits of AI language tutors?

AI Language Tutors are reshaping the landscape of language learning with their diverse benefits. Their most notable advantage is providing learners with anywhere, anytime access to conversation practice - something previously only possible through private tutors or exchange websites.

Whilst platforms like Italki and Preply have simplified finding a language tutor, the associated costs can still be prohibitive for many learners. AI Language Tutors help to solve this by offering a similar tutoring experience at a fraction of the price, making language learning, and in particular conversation practice, more affordable.

Another important benefit of AI tutors is their ability to offer a non-intimidating learning environment. They enable learners to practice conversations in their target language without the stress or embarrassment they may feel when speaking in a new language. This benefit is particularly valuable for learners who are just beginning to converse in a new language.

What does the market look like?

So what does the market for AI Language Tutors look like? We can roughly break the market into:

  1. Existing language learning apps who are adding chatbots to their offering.
  2. New startups for whom the AI chatbot is the core of their product.

For brevity, we’ll focus on 2 existing learning apps, Duolingo and Memrise, and 2 new entrants, papo and Speak.

Let's start with a high-level comparison as of August 2023:

As you can see, these apps differ in the languages they offer and their monthly cost. However, by far, the largest difference is the in-app experience. I will next provide a review of each solution, exploring their conversation experience and where they excel or fall down. In doing so, revealing the points of differentiation we are beginning to see emerge.

Duolingo DuoMax

We’ll start by addressing the owl in the room, Duolingo. This hugely successful app released their GPT4 powered, AI chatbot DuoMax in February 2023. DuoMax is currently available for English speakers learning French or Spanish on IOS devices.

DuoMax's roleplay feature guides users through scripted scenarios involving familiar Duolingo characters. From shopping for an outfit to ordering food, the experience, accessible via a 'sidequest' or clicking the DuoMax character, is quintessentially Duolingo: game-like, humorous, and packed with quirky character interactions. The user interface encourages users to type or tap their way through dialogues, providing short phrases and vocabulary hints for assistance.



Tailored primarily for beginners, DuoMax employs predominantly linear, tightly-scripted narratives. This structure may irk intermediate users who crave a more fluid and flexible conversation.

Another area that is surprisingly inconsistent is Duolingo’s voice-to-text recognition, which seems to lag compared to other platforms. However, DuoMax excels in its post-conversation feedback, presenting comprehensive breakdowns of user errors and potential alternative phrases. The un-intrusive nature of their word translations and suggested phrases also adds value to the interactive experience.

In sum, DuoMax is an impressive offering, particularly for Duolingo’s beginner user base. As Duolingo continues to leverage its strong brand and distribution channels in the market and expand the chatbot to other languages, it sets a high bar for competitors aiming to provide AI chatbot experiences for beginners.

Memrise Membot

Stepping up to the AI language learning challenge is Memrise, with their conversational chatbot, Membot, which launched in November 2022. As early adopters of chatbot technology, Memrise leverages ChatGPT3 to offer users a large number of roleplay scenarios, most under a generous free-usage policy. It's also worth noting the significant performance differences between GPT-3 and GPT-4. 

Memrise cleverly integrates Membot as a core part of its user experience, dedicating a tab for it. Here, users have two options: embark on missions or dive into open-ended chats.

Missions guide users towards a goal, like ordering a coffee, while chats offer free rein, providing a more flexible organic conversation akin to speaking with a friend or family member. This versatility makes it an appealing tool for intermediate learners.                                         


The chat experience is minimalistic yet effective, offering sentence translations and helpful hints. However, word-level translations are notably absent. The pacing of the conversations is on point — lively and engaging — although it does require users to take the lead without specific prompts.

One setback with Membot lies in the lack of a clear progression path between the roleplay scenarios. Whilst the huge amount of options adds flexibility, it leaves users without a distinct roadmap for their learning journey.

In conclusion, Membot offers a fluid and flexible AI chat experience, although more structure could enhance the user journey over time.


Speak is an American startup founded in 2016 that focuses on English learning in Korea and Japan. In March 2023, Speak raised a $27 Million Series-B round led by OpenAI and has seen remarkable success in Korea. With glowing reviews for their AI chatbot experience and a waitlist for other languages, Speak’s imminent global expansion is highly anticipated.

Speak focuses on a mix of bite-sized video content and their AI chatbot. Their chatbot offers roleplay scenarios divided into levels of increasing difficulty. The conversation experience encourages users to complete mini-objectives and optimises for spoken conversation with a minimalistic but effective interface. Speak claims to have optimised its speech-to-text technology specifically for Korean pronunciation of English, and seemed to perform well under testing.


Speak currently only offers English for Korean and Japanese native speakers but has stated plans to roll out to other languages and geographies soon. However, one key question that Speak faces, is how quickly and easily they can roll out a content-heavy application into other Geographies. Aside from their chatbot, their content is primarily made up of short TikTok style videos of native speakers alongside other longer-form video. Given the manually crafted content, it feels likely that they will start by focusing on other major European languages such as Spanish and French.

In any case, Speak offers an insight into how AI powered solutions are already taking on giants like Duolingo; laying out a path for others to follow.


Finally, we have papo. At papo we are focused on offering the best AI-powered conversational experience for intermediate learners of European languages.

Our core objective is to optimise conversations so that they are both interesting and engaging for learners whilst continually giving them a sense of structure and achievement. We allow learners to follow a clear learning path made of a variety of realistic roleplays, each with a clear set of objectives that the user must complete.

We offer soft-scripted roleplay scenarios which allow users to steer conversations in unique directions while meeting set objectives. We've found that with our initial users, some guidelines to the conversation help to make the experience more engaging and fun for the user. papo also offers users the ability to save words and phrases, our first step in taking an AI Language Tutor from pure practice to a fully-fledged language acquisition solution.


papo is currently available for free during our beta testing phase whilst we test with our users to produce more engaging content and a product experience which is efficient at improving user confidence and pronunciation. You can try papo for free here -

AI Language Tutors | Where is this all heading?

We believe that this is an incredibly exciting period for self-learning technology, with a rate of change not seen since the advent of the previous wave of apps such as Duolingo, Babbel, and Busuu. Aided by technological advancements and paradigm shifts in behavioural patterns, a novel 'conversation-first' approach to machine-instructed language acquisition is emerging.

Based on this year’s trend, we expect that many of the major language learning apps will introduce some form of chatbot interactions within the next year or so. This creates an important question: In such a dynamic and competitive landscape, how can individual apps distinguish themselves? And is there potential for any new entrant to dethrone market leaders?

We argue that the key to answering these questions lies in improving the quality of chatbot engagements – both in terms of individual responses and the overall conversational structure. Current AI-driven interactions currently offered to language learners are functional and beneficial. However, there remains a significant opportunity to enrich and enhance the quality of these exchanges.

Specifically, we predict a future where the responses delivered by these chatbots are much more attuned to the user's proficiency level and motivations for learning the language. This tailored learning approach will not only aid comprehension but will also provide users with a more authentic language experience, echoing the nuances of the language as used in real-world conversations.

However, an intriguing question lingers: Who will win?

The incumbents who can add AI language tutors as a feature to their existing products or the startups who can offer focused and tailored AI language tutoring solutions?


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