Technology – taking the learning out of language

57008980With technology evolving faster than us humble humans are are we risking the lessons learnt by developing a second language? My smartphone is never more than a meter away form me, sad i know but its true. Its not shock that the little handheld device is clever than me but should it be that clever that I no longer have to study?!

I believe that having a second or even third language to a conversational proficiency is fantastic. I wish I had. English is my mother tongue, I studied French for 7 years, German for 2 and Dutch on and off for 18 months. The fact is, learning languages is bloody hard. There I said it. Its time consuming, mindboggling, energy zapping and more often than not nobody appreciates your efforts – if there was an easier way would I take it? Hell yes! But with technology advancing in the translation world you’ve got to look beyond the time it takes and the endless repetitions of verb conjugations to actually understand the process and value of learning a new language including the joy of it.

There is a certain thrill in language learning when it all clicks into place. When you just get it and a new found confidence develops in using a new knowledge not to mention the fun of trying out a different a funny accent or jolly demeanor. What will happen to Modern Foreign Languages in school if we no longer need to be taught in class? Learning a language develops other skills and uses different parts of the brain learning foreign languages at a young age builds up synapses and helps the mind grow and we do risk loosing unique ability.

Not needing to learn another language would make traveling easier, backpackers need never worry about ordering something horrific off the menu, misunderstandings can be more easily avoided. Although accents don’t always translate and machines don’t understand humor or colloquialisms, an app can’t tailor what you are trying to say to a particular audience. Dutch for example has its ‘more polite’ version of address to be used to an older/senior audience how would a smartphone know? A big part of learning a langue effectively is learning the culture that comes with it. Technology that instantly translates doesn’t explain why or how or teach you for future events it gives you an answer to a question. If anything it makes us lazy and in many ways disrespectful. I shouldn’t imagine for one moment that a digital translator would totally replace human interaction or the drive to learn but I fear that the lazier we become the easier these things get left behind, you’ve only got to look at behaviors such a etiquette and using correct cutlery for particular foods to see where laziness gets you.

Lets face it you can’t, ignore technological advances. We welcome advances in medicine, why not technology. Apps and downloads make large documents portable and learning faster, deeper and more mobile.

Undeniably jobs are changing, translators are increasingly becoming content editors, these software updates make their jobs easier and even more productive. But accents can be misinterpreted, live transmission and understanding would change the way we expect our understanding leading to more mistakes. article-0-08D1DB09000005DC-550_468x363Swansea’s councilors for example are very aware of the dangers of technology in translation. When a translator’s email reply landed in their inbox in 2008, the Welsh sentences were duly printed on a road sign reading “I am not in the office at the moment.”

The sentimental side of me thinks about those who I cannot talk to but wish of an easier way in which to communicate. With this sort of technology you would never need to miss a single moment with family members or friends from over seas. Caring for elderly people with a language difficulties in providing care would be easier and more gentle.

I think its clear that I am torn on this topic, for all the good things I wish language was easier and this could open so many doors but for all of the bad reasons and the amount things we could loose I don’t want it to be the future of life as we know it and our understanding and tolerance of other cultures.

Does learning a language matter to you?


3 thoughts on “Technology – taking the learning out of language

  1. Learning a language definitely matters to me! I have been fascinated by languages since I was a child and my dream at that time was to be able to speak all the languages in the world! As I grew older I understood that it would be an impossible task,,,
    French is my mother tongue but I also can speak English quite fluently. As I’ve been living in the Netherlands for something like 8 years now, my Dutch isn’t too bad either, My German used to be nearly as good as my English but it has gone down a few levels since I started learning Dutch. The same thing happened to my Spanish and my Italian, as they’re quite similar. My Spanish was erased when I started learning Italian… Other languages I’ve tried to learn? Portuguese, Russian, Greek, Serbocroatian – this last one was a 12 weeks course at university, in order to understand how it feels to learn a language that you’ve never heard before. Most of these languages I have tried to learn on my own, with books and CD’s, and I must say that it worked quite well for Italian and Dutch!
    Which of those languages do I speak most? French, English and Dutch on a daily basis; the others sporadically only, so I am absolutely not fluent in the other languages of my list.
    I totally agree with you that technology is a great tool to make contact with people whose language you can’t speak but it shouldn’t make people lazy about learning foreign languages!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the compliment 😉 but as I said, I can “only” hold a real conversation in French, English and Dutch. My German and my Italian are a bit rusty, so talking in those languages needs more effort and time… As to the other languages, I can say a few words or sentences but I forgot most of the rest…
        That’s the issue with languages: you lose a lot of ability when you stop practising them!
        Also the trouble when you speak many languages is that you sometimes mix up syntax and spelling… Anyway I can only encourage you going on practising your Dutch 😉 !


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