Introducing Professor Idiom: IBM Service Corps chatbot engages students in new ways

By | 2 minute read | June 7, 2021

IBM Service Corps partnered with the Abheda Foundation in India to design and build an AI-based chatbot to teach English to underprivileged students in a fun, interactive way.


Many societies across the globe suffer from inequalities in education. These disparities often limit the accessibility to and the quality of education as well as the students’ long-term outlook for opportunities and income.

The Abheda Foundation is a non-profit organization that seeks to impart quality education to underprivileged children in India through the use of technology and guided and self-paced learning. Simply put, they are working to “enable social inclusion through digital inclusion.”

The Foundation also believes that it is important for children in India to learn English; their motto is “English for every Indian.” Their flagship application, Abheda English, teaches reading and writing English through gamification. They also offer free software that students can use to improve their English-language reading and speaking skills.

English is one of the most complex languages to learn, due to many variances in grammar, spelling, and pronunciation, as well as tricky slang, colloquialisms, and idioms. The Abheda Foundation wanted to make it easier – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic – for their students to learn the language.  They were looking to apply technology to teaching English – and do it in a fun way.

The IBM Service Corps project

 IBM partnered with the Abheda Foundation through an IBM Service Corps project, which are six-week assignments given to IBMers of diverse skillsets who are deployed to support a non-profit organization in their business or technology goals. The team was comprised of IBMers from across India with skills in project management, software architecture, data science, business intelligence and communications. Their goal was to create a chatbot application, which is a software application that simulates conversation with human users, especially over the Internet. The chatbot would be used by students aged 10-16 and should ensure language learning outcomes through the process of action, measurement, inference, and improvement.

From October through November 2020, the IBM Service Corps team worked virtually to design and build the chatbot, called “Professor Idiom.” This application utilizes story-based scenarios to help students understand the meaning of an idiom like “after all.” It also helps them learn the meanings of words related to the idiom, and make sense of the implied meaning.

How it works

Screen shot of Professor Idiom appEach idiom is presented to the student in the form of a story and corresponding imagery depicting its meaning. Professor Idiom initiates a chat with the student who follows a learning path suited for him/her. Professor Idiom uses data science and natural language processing (NLP) to customize the learning path, to assess the student’s progress and inform additional learning if appropriate.

Professor Idiom is currently available for both Android and iOS as a pilot to 200 students via the Abheda Foundation. In addition to making it available to a larger population, the Abheda Foundation plans to add more idioms to the application, and they are also exploring the use of the chatbot technology for teaching other subjects, such as Math.

We are excited to see how Professor Idiom continues to expand and help students in India, and look forward to contributing to his journey.


IBM Service Corps is an innovative social impact program that develops IBM leaders, while contributing IBM talent and technology to local communities and non-profit organizations looking to tackle challenging problems.