Should you even learn a language if in 10 years, devices will be able to perfectly translate conversations in real-time? In our opinion, probably.
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Investing hundreds or thousands of hours to learn a skill, to have it become irrelevant just a few years later, is a real concern. And with major improvements to the capabilities of real-time translation tools, now aided by machine learning, it is more important than ever to take a long and hard look at this subject before investing any additional time into language learning.
Real-time translation has already succeeded in one domain of language learning: travel. It is now possible to translate menus and ask basic “survival” questions with a high degree of accuracy, so learning a language on the plane ride to a destination is no longer necessary (though we would argue there is still a huge benefit to demonstrating to locals that you are interested in their language).
In regard to replacing the need for everyday foreign language, experts seem to agree that we are a long ways off from having to worry. The biggest thing these devices will lack is contextual input. So when an English speaker says, “I’m going to change.” it will be difficult for a device to know whether they are speaking about clothing or their personality. Culture, volume, pitch and situation all define the context — and there is no clear path as to how devices will overcome this hurdle to the extent that learning a language would be irrelevant. Should the day come when devices can account for context, language learning will still hold the majority of its benefits, like effects on the brain from learning.
Another trend in languages is the shift towards having only one or two common languages (or world languages) used internationally. It is a bit bizarre to think about, but languages can die as new generations opt to learn a more widely spoken/beneficial language. It has already happened hundreds of times and is likely to continue! Fortunately, this is a long process and unlikely to affect most people reading this. This phenomenon probably affects native English language learners the most, because when they travel to a country and want to practice their foreign language- everyone wants to speak English with them!
Further globalization on the other hand is a huge benefit to language learners. The more the world becomes interconnected, the more opportunities there will be to use your language! In addition, open-source learning tools are being made and shared by language enthusiasts around the world- there has never been a better time to learn independently! As tools continue to improve, students will have access to more content and digital immersion experiences than ever before. Take Freak-Speak for example: in our virtual reality conversation, language learners can practice French right under the Eiffel Tower!
In conclusion, history has shown us that languages do occasionally die – but as long as you don’t choose one of those (which should be clear), you should reap the benefits of language learning for years to come! And even though everyone might speak English one day, Nelson Mandela isn’t worried:
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
Benefits, Independent, History