Nikhil Kapse, CS + Linguistics student, on new language learning model "Speakeasy"

5/2/2024 Mackenzie Wranovics

Written by Mackenzie Wranovics

Nikhil Kapse
Nikhil Kapse

Nearly half of the world knows more than one language. Traditional language learning models have aided many people in their journey of becoming familiar with a new language. With the popularization of AI, a new learning prototype has surfaced, changing the way that people will learn languages in the future.

Nikhil Kapse, a third year CS + Linguistics student at the University of Illinois has immersed himself in this new way of language learning by creating an app called “Speakeasy” that utilizes AI technology to assist users in their language learning journey. 

The app functions as a chat-bot that users converse with in the language that they are trying to learn. Users have the option to converse with the bot via text, audio messages, and phone call with the new feature that Kapse recently developed. The chat-bot can converse like a human and functions as a learning tool and companion.

“As you speak in that language, based on your level, you’ll make varying degrees of errors — it catches those errors and tells you what they are, that way you can improve while conversing naturally,” Kapse said. 

Kapse has gone through the process of having to learn secondary languages in the past — Hindi and Marathi — and is continuing to do so now. Currently studying abroad in the French speaking part of Switzerland, Kapse has had to learn French in order to communicate with locals. 

“This is modeled after the way that I prefer to learn languages,” Kapse said. “The fastest way I’ve been learning is by talking to one of my Swiss-French friends who is also learning English, so the conversations work very well.”

Screenshot of Nikhil Kapse's app Speakeasy

Going through the language learning process on his own motivated Kapse to create a system that could help other people do the same thing. “It was very much a situation of what I needed personally in my language learning journey to improve and so I just made those things into a product,” Kapse said. 

Kapse has seen the impact that Speakeasy has on the world around him. Most of the users on Speakeasy are from Latin America and India, using the app to learn English. “These communities typically have the most desire to learn English because they have the most to gain from it — almost everyone is learning English on Speakeasy even though there are quite a few other languages,” Kapse said.

“Language can be a conduit to a better lifestyle,” Kapse said. Learning English can open up a world of opportunities for people in the developing world. English has been considered the “language of business” and can provide more job opportunities for those in developing communities. 

Kapse has not only seen the impact of Speakeasy but also computer science and artificial intelligence in general. “AI is an opportunity, on an individual level, to encourage a student’s curiosity,” Kapse says as he explains the benefits of AI in the context of education. There are no limits to AI and when it comes to curiosity, AI is a great resource for students to use to broaden their curiosities. 

Having developed a new language learning model, Kapse is excited for the future of education and language learning with AI. “This is a point in history where language learning is completely shifting to a new paradigm,” Kapse said. “I’m most excited about the accessibility and seeing how the standards of our education quality will increase.”

Share this story

This story was published May 2, 2024.