AI Image Generators Improve World Language Instruction

Delivering immediate, actionable input poses a challenge in language learning environments. This difficulty is particularly pronounced in learner-centric setups where multiple individuals are engaging in the target language concurrently. While this setting offers numerous benefits, one significant obstacle is the potential for linguistic errors to solidify in the absence of instant feedback. Studies consistently demonstrate that the absence of timely feedback diminishes learners’ motivation for enhancement. Hence, formative feedback plays a vital role in skill advancement.

Utilizing AI Image Generators for Feedback Enhancement

An approach I recently experimented with to combat this issue involved tasking my learners with utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) image generators to visually represent a new vocabulary set. Given the emphasis world language instructors place on diverse literacies, I opted to deploy this lesson focusing on a challenging vocabulary set for novice language learners: daily routines. Though seemingly straightforward and mundane, this vocabulary set poses difficulties for Romance language learners due to the introduction of reflexive pronouns.

Upon the introduction of words utilizing reflexive pronouns, learners often gravitate toward two common errors: either omitting the reflexive pronoun preceding the verb, altering the meaning, or overcorrecting by adding the pronoun to verbs where it’s unnecessary. Typically, overcoming this challenge demands consistent practice and intensive teacher guidance. I was intrigued to determine if AI could assist me in sustaining a learner-centered environment by offering feedback.

Initially, I provided my learners with three essential pieces of information: the theme for the new vocabulary (daily routines), a list of 12–14 basic first-person singular verbs, and a goal: employing Adobe Firefly to generate a series of images illustrating the meaning of each expression.

Furthermore, I enforced two stipulations. Firstly, they had to switch the Adobe interface to the target language, in our case, French. Since many learners were familiar with Adobe software, using it in French enhanced their immersion experience and acquainted them with a supplementary set of technical and design terminologies they wouldn’t encounter otherwise. As an additional condition for this task, external resources like dictionaries or translation services were prohibited.

Prompt Crafting as a Mechanism for Language Expansion

With these constraints in place, learners were given freedom to create and learn. This marked the commencement of a transformative process. Initially, learners were enthusiastic as the assignment had an element of rebellion; several students had previously encountered resistance from other teachers regarding AI usage, so employing it in an educational setting sparked excitement. They exhibited heightened interest in daily routine vocabulary compared to previous instances. Shortly, they realized that my basic prompts, exclusively presented in the first-person singular, lacked the specificity required to elicit an image.

Consequently, within approximately five minutes, they started collaborating with each other and me on how to construct the third person. This natural progression saw them transcending the initial prompt of “Je me brosse les dents” (“I brush my teeth”) to “Elle se brosse les dents” (“She brushes her teeth”) or “Il se brosse les dents” (“He brushes his teeth”). For certain learners, this development extended to inquiries about applying the third-person plural, thus broadening their vocabulary spectrum further.

Instigating Cognitive Dissonance to Foster Language Acquisition

However, the universal prompt “Il se brosse les dents” presented a unique challenge as without exception, Adobe generated an image depicting a toothbrush upright in a valley with mountains surrounding it. This unexpected element injected playfulness into the task. Instantly grasping the sentence’s meaning, learners were prompted to refine their prompts to procure an accurate image of tooth brushing.

Consequently, they collaborated to formulate a phrase in the target language, “Il se brosse les dents dans la salle de bains” (“He brushes his teeth in the bathroom”), resulting in an appropriate image representation.

Similarly, a student endeavored to swap the mountains for a yard using the prompt “dans le cour.” The grammatical error of misgendering “cour,” necessitating the feminine article “la,” led to hearts being incorporated in the mountain valley. Initially dismissing it as an AI quirk, the student eventually concluded that AI likely interpreted “cour” as a misspelling of “coeur” (“heart”) while disregarding the gender misuse.

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AI-generated image created with Adobe Firefly
Why did the app produce a heart and mountains with the expected toothbrush? Students need to work on their prompts to get a correct image.

AI-generated images of toothbrushing

AI-generated image created with Adobe Firefly

Why did the app produce a heart and mountains with the expected toothbrush? Students need to work on their prompts to get a correct image.

AI-generated images offered a distinctive avenue to underscore to learners the necessity of employing reflexive pronouns. When students instructed Firefly to generate an image of a man shaving (“Il se rase“) without including the reflexive pronoun, they were presented with an image of men at a construction site amidst rubble. This immediate feedback prompted questions, spelling cross-checks, and precise prompt modifications.

These instances underscore the significance of enabling students to reconcile their existing knowledge with areas for improvement. Within the context of “daily routine” vocabulary, the depiction of a toothbrush in a mountain valley created enough dissonance for learners to identify the incorrect image while also discerning the corrective path forward; they posed pertinent queries that aided in building new knowledge concerning locations: How do we designate the places where we perform our morning routine? Similarly, omitting the reflexive pronoun induced a comparable dissonance and reinforced the concept of reflexive pronouns in French.

Integrating AI image generators requires careful consideration by educators. Yet, with thoughtful integration, these tools, capable of accommodating various languages, present potent opportunities for students to engage with the target language and enhance proficiency.

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