Microsoft Research's latest app uses AI to teach you Chinese

Microsoft's research arm is going all-in on AI as a language learning tool with its latest app.

Called simply Microsoft Learn Chinese, the iOS app is intended to give learners a way to practice conversation without a partner, Microsoft says. Interestingly, the app also relies on the same machine-learning framework that powers Xiaoying, a chatbot Microsoft launched on WeChat in 2016 to help Chinese speakers learn English.

While apps like Duolingo and Babbel already make it fairly simple to start learning a new language from your phone, Microsoft is looking to close the communication gap that may rear its head with a lack of conversational practice. "You think you know Chinese, but if you meet a Chinese person and you want to speak Chinese, there is no way you can do it if you have not practiced," explained Yan Xia, senior develop lead at Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing. "Our application addresses this issue by leveraging our speech and natural language processing technology."

Leveraging the tech established by Xiaoying, Microsoft Learn Chinese uses deep neural networks to recognize what learners are trying to say and evaluate their pronunciation. The app will then give you feedback with scores, highlighted words that need improvement, and audio to hear the correct pronunciation. "The app will work with you as a language learning partner," said Xia. "It will chat with you and give you feedback based on what you are saying."

Microsoft Learn Chinese is available now for iOS devices on the App Store.