How technology is making it easier to learn a language, while at the same time eliminating the need to do so.
I often wonder what life was like pre-technology. Images of men in robes studying in vast libraries by candlelight come to mind. Back then, access to knowledge was a much more coveted privilege than it is today. If you wanted to find out information on something, you had to put your boots on, walk through snowstorms (for dramatics), go to the library and finally find a book to do some research with. Now you can just press a button to get the answer.
There’s no denying that life is easier now thanks to this access of information. But has it managed to devalue information in some way? Is gold only valuable because it is hard to find?
The amount of websites dedicated to language learning is growing everyday. Free applications such as Duolingo make it more accessible to learning materials than ever before, while websites like italki make it relatively easy to find an online teacher that can deliver lessons to you in the comfort of your own home. Also, Google Translate seems to be becoming more intuitive by the day.
This is a good thing. Access to knowledge should be for everyone, rich or poor, in every part of the world. But there is a contradiction to the technological advancements that are making language learning so easy in 2015. Computers are becoming increasingly good at translating both speech and text. The new Skype translator, which is coming soon and powered by Microsoft, may just well be the first step in truly breaking down all language barriers between humans once and for all. Imagine meeting somebody that didn’t speak your language, and then using an application to translate everything you say to each other in real time. The thought of such technology seems all at once impossible, scary, futuristic, beneficial and detrimental.
Humans are already getting lazier. I include myself in that statement of course. We no longer have to pay close attention to our spelling, for example, as computers now tell us when we’ve made a mistake. We no longer need to use our brains to do maths, as computers are much faster and more accurate. We have no real need to retain new information, as we can just look it up again at the click of a button. Why would anybody spend countless hours learning a new language when a computer can do it for them?
I’m very sceptical. Not only has it been proven that learning new languages increases memory, creativity and expands the mind, but it is also said that learning a new language gives you a new soul, a full view into the traditions and aspects of another culture. Language learning could become a thing of the past, a lot faster than we might expect. With the rate of innovation steadily progressing in the field of technology, it would not be surprising that in five to ten years, people will be using technology not to learn a new language, but to speak a new language for them.
Jimmy Monaghan is an EFL teacher from Ireland who is currently working with the Elanguest English Language School in St. Julians, Malta (www.elanguest.com).