Useful tools for your classroom or personal use

Large Language Models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT or other “AI” Chatbots can produce coherent and grammatical text, but does this make them good proxy conversational partners for students in language courses? I recently led a roundtable discussion on some of the problems and possibilities my elementary French students and I experienced when using ChatGPT to practice written conversational French. Below are some (anonymized and paraphrased) chat logs from the chatbot conversations, as well as student commentary.

My elementary French students had the option to complete certain “partner chat” activities using ChatGPT. They prompted ChatGPT to “write like a first-year French student”. Hilarity ensued:

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Hey all! It’s been a while since my last post, but that’s been largely due to my latest projects which have just launched: an open online course called The Senate and the Roman Peoples: On Diversity in the Ancient Mediterranean and its companion podcast, Ancient Problems, Modern Solutions.

The Senate and the Roman Peoples: On Diversity in the Ancient Mediterranean

This 5-week, 50-hour course is for classics instructors, classics students, or newcomers to the ancient world who are looking for a more rounded picture of the peoples of ancient Rome. Learners will engage with both primary and scholarly sources which emphasize both the social diversity and inequity of Roman society, with an emphasis on questions such as:

  • What were the ethnic, racial, and class distinctions made by the Romans? Where did these distinctions come from, and how were they cemented in law/custom?
  • Who called themselves Romans? Who was allowed to call themselves Roman?
  • When Rome expanded its territory through conquest, whom did the Romans assimilate? Whom did they enslave?
  • Why is it important to teach about the social diversity of the ancient world and the ancients’ methods for social classifications?
  • What are the ramifications of uncritically teaching about inequity in the ancient world?

You can enroll in the course for free via Carnegie Mellon’s public-facing Canvas LMS.

Ancient Problems, Modern Solutions podcast

I developed the SPQR course alongside a limited-series podcast called Ancient Problems, Modern Solutions, which you can listen to wherever you get your podcasts. I spoke with some guest experts about a few different topics. The first three episodes, which were subsidized by Carnegie Mellon University, include:

  1. Teaching Latin inclusively
  2. Queerness and Relationships in the ancient world
  3. Ancient ethnonationalism and its modern legacy

Check out the first three episodes and see if you like the content! I’d love to keep working on the podcast, and if you’d like to hear more, you can support it on Patreon to help fund future episodes and get access to an exclusive subscriber Discord server.

If your work is relevant and you’d like to be a guest on the podcast, reach out to me via email and we’ll see if we can make an episode work!

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When he first announced Duolingo, co-founder Luis Von Ahn’s stated goal was to crowd source the translation of the internet. As the site (and subsequent application) have undergone extremely transformative development, this original goal has been tossed by the wayside. No longer do Duolingo users translate web articles for algorithms to decide which inputs are the most accurate. Instead, we have a free-to-use language learning application which overly focuses on vocabulary and rote exercises, developed mostly by computer scientists rather than trained language educators, and monetized through ads (or a paid version without ads) and high-rolling investors.

Don’t get me wrong–I’ve used Duolingo on and off since the Beta release, and I assign weekly homework through Duolingo to my middle school French students. I love the “Stories” function, and I love the community interaction. That said, Duolingo is not without its flaws and lack of essential functionality for serious language enthusiasts: almost no support for grammar, no way for a Duolingo Classroom to force audio exercises, complete decontextualization of input (outside of the “Stories”), and essentially no creativity or higher-order critical thinking for responses (again, “Stories” is a good start with some of its follow-up questions). These flaws are not enough to make me stop assigning Duolingo as a supplemental activity for middle schoolers, but the recent investment from Google parent company, Alphabet, is enough for me to take a step back and question the security of my students’ (and my own) data.

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Élise Gravel, a québecoise children’s book author and illustrator, has some wonderful posters to teach children about inclusivity and social awareness. Many of these are available for free to download and print from her blog, available in both French and English. Some topics include:

  • Identifying and stopping bullies
  • What is Autism?
  • How to minimize our impact on the environment
  • Making mistakes is human
  • Boys and girls can like whatever they want to like

You can hang these in your classroom for passive impact, or you can incorporate them into your lessons by having students analyze them and share their opinions.

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French news sites

Below are some French-language news sites that I give to my students for current events presentations.

General, simplified

Print news sources

Non-print news sources


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IPA Characters

Interactive IPA chart

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Typing different languages on Windows can be a pain. In undergrad, I memorized all of the relevant alt-codes for French characters. When I started studying Sanskrit, my professor shared this US International keyboard from Carleton College. It has covered almost all of my accent mark typing needs (outside of IPA characters), and is very intuitive to use for someone who grew up with a standard QWERTY US keyboard.

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