Using a Chatbot, Replika, to Practice Writing Through Conversations in L2 English: A Case Study

Using a Chatbot, Replika, to Practice Writing Through Conversations in L2 English: A Case Study

Ferit Kılıçkaya (Burdur Mehmet Akif Ersoy University, Turkey)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2591-3.ch011

Abstract

This chapter explores university students' views of Replika, an English chatbot. Students in a department of health administration at a state university in Turkey used Replika to complete different tasks over 7 weeks. At the end of the study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 randomly selected students. They liked using Replika and found the software useful. The participants underscored the importance of receiving an immediate response to what they wrote on their mobile devices and added that they edited their sentences when Replika could not understand the message they were trying to convey.
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Introduction

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of technological devices and tools that can support instruction and learning in language skills, more specifically writing (Chen, Carger, & Smith, 2017; Godwin-Jones, 2018; Rahimi & Pourshahbaz, 2019). These new technologies appear to have affected the way people write in various aspects. For example, many writers have started to learn how to write in an increasingly digital age, where many feel the need to use digital devices such as smart phones and tablets. While digital devices and software mainly aim at circumventing the physical task of writing by hand, they can also be used as an aid to teach and to assess writing in various different ways. For example, machine scoring or automatic assessment of writing (Li, Dursun, & Hegelheimer, 2017; Liou, 2016), online dictionaries and corpora that may improve content (Cotos, 2017; McEnery, Brezina, Gablasova, & Banerjee, 2019; Navarre, 2019; Reppen, 2010) and proofreading tools for self-editing such as Wordrake and Grammarly. Other resources such as Quizlet (Dembsey, 2017; Park & Wang, 2019), act as repository for teachers and learners to display and reflect on their work by providing online portfolios (Anson, 2005; Lam, 2018).

One of the main challenges of writing for L2 learners in the classrooms is the lack of an immediate response or feedback to what is written. In other words, when learners are in the process of writing a message for the purpose of practice, they are actually writing to an audience although that audience does not physically exist. In most cases, this audience happens to be their teachers or classmates. Teacher-provided comments and responses to students’ writing aim to encourage revision or modification in order to achieve mutual understanding (Polio, 2012). Teachers aim to elicit responses so that learners can generate written messages using appropriate language and structures (Hyland, 2003). These comments and responses are often related to content and organization and indicate what learners need to focus on and appears to be a time-consuming process as responding to students’ writing is a challenging process for teachers of writing (Polio, 2017). Likewise, learners may have to wait for some time to receive comments and suggestions from their teachers. However, online writing through blogs such as Facebook or WhatsApp, is different from classroom writing from at least one perspective: the immediate response or feedback to a written question, idea or message (Trice, 2010).

Considering this challenge, this chapter investigates pre-intermediate English learners’ reactions to the mobile application Replika in practicing writing through conversations in their L2. Replika is a chatbot, a piece of software based on artificial intelligence which can interact in written and spoken modes. It is also a platform where learners can practice writing online through conversations as if they were talking to a real person (Warnock, 2009). Moreover, Replika can also be perceived as one of the digital tools that learners can use outside the classroom for language and autonomy development (Benson, 2011) through practicing the spoken and written language they are exposed to in class. To practice speaking, for example, in contexts where practicing English beyond class is rare, if not impossible, Mynard (2019) discusses how self-access facilities called social-supportive self-access learning centers can be of help by providing a relaxing environment with support and self-access facilities.

Key Terms in this Chapter

ChatBot: A machine learning and artificial intelligence technology which can interact with a person in written or spoken modes by asking questions and responding to questions logically.

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