Technology has advanced a lot and can do some truly remarkable things. We are on our way to being able to have our words translated into other languages as we speak them. However, will this make it so that learning new languages is a waste of time?
Learning languages will not become obsolete. Translations are rarely exact and do not reflect the important cultural nuances within languages. Learning a new language can also help develop the brain, and there are social benefits to speaking with someone in their native language.
There are many benefits that learning a new language will always have over using technology to translate. Learning a new language will never become obsolete because of the following benefits.
Translation vs Understanding the Language
One of the main points used to argue that learning a language will become obsolete is that technology will be able to translate conversations in real time. There are already developments in this technology that uses artificial intelligence to translate what someone is saying while they are saying it. This technology is not perfect and may not work for every language, but it is constantly improving and will likely get to the point where it can be used in all situations.
However, while the technology may get to the point of working flawlessly, translations are not the same as really speaking a language. You have likely heard about mishaps with translations, especially when something is translated into multiple languages. Translating is not as simple as figuring out what each word means in the other language and reading it out exactly as it is. Different languages have different grammar, syntax, and sentence structure.
Most translators won’t work until a full sentence has been said because the translator needs all the information possible to be able to translate, then convey it to the other person. Even as the technology adapts, this will not be able to be sped up unless the translations become less accurate, which isn’t helpful.
Translations also become problems when you use common phrases or sayings because the literal translations won’t make sense most of the time.
For example, if you say you are trying to “break the ice” with someone, this can be translated into other languages. However, the other person may not recognize that as a saying. English speakers know that “break the ice” means to get to know someone, as we grew up learning that saying. People speaking other languages in other cultures may not have learned that saying and will be confused by the literal translation. There are sayings in other languages that English speakers would not recognize. To be able to properly use a translator, you would need to cut out all sayings and idioms that other people may not understand.
Language is also always evolving. Slang terms are a legitimate and important part of language, and slang words go in and out of fashion quickly. It will be difficult for those maintaining technological translators to keep up with the quick and constant changes in every single language in the entire world, so it is unlikely that translators will be able to stay up to date for very long, meaning that it will be difficult for younger generations that regularly use terms that translators won’t recognize to communicate with people who speak other languages.
Translations through technology are not going to be as effective as actually speaking with someone in their language, so learning another language is the best way to ensure that there are no miscommunications and that conversations are smooth and seamless.
Technological translations are not able to translate sayings and idioms properly into other languages, but that is not the only aspect of culture that is lost when you don’t speak with someone in their language.
Language is directly influenced by culture. Language impacts how we think and reflects our priorities. People will often learn a new language in order to connect with and learn about a culture. A language, as well as how certain people use it, gives a window into what is important to people.
If you don’t understand someone’s language but are instead communicating with them by translation, you aren’t going to fully understand what you are saying to them and what they are saying to you. You may end up saying something that is unintentionally offensive or just something that means one thing to you and something else to the other person. Speaking the same language is a good way to learn the cultural nuances that you will need to know when you are communicating with other people.
Another argument that is made for why learning other languages will become obsolete is that there may be a universal language established that everyone will learn and be able to communicate with one another. There have been attempts at creating languages like this. The most successful of these is Esperanto, which was developed in the 19th century. It is in use by about 100,000 people today. Obviously, the experiment failed because 100,000 is significantly less than the current population.
Different languages based on country and region will never be replaced because of the cultural implications that go along with them. People want to pass on their culture and remember their ancestors and heritage, and part of this is maintaining the languages that have been passed down.
There are already many opportunities that have been established for people who speak more than one language. Knowing more than one language can help people get jobs not only as translators or interpreters, but also in other careers that involve interacting with people who speak other languages, including social work, customer service, healthcare, and many others. There are even places where multiple languages are spoken in the area, and it is difficult to get a job in these areas if you don’t speak those languages.
Though technology being able to translate will open up certain jobs to people who don’t speak a language, it is a much simpler process to communicate with someone without a translator, so companies will probably prefer to hire bilingual workers if they are going to regularly need to talk with people in multiple languages.
Knowing another language will also open up career opportunities for you and distinguish you from other applicants. Companies will recognize the value of having someone who actually speaks the languages that they need and be more willing to hire you.
The way that you say something is often just as important as what you actually say. Emotion and emphasis are conveyed through the way that you say something. You have likely seen the example of a sentence that takes on a completely different meaning depending on which word is emphasized. Putting the right emphasis on the right words is important to making sure that the sentence has the correct meaning.
This means that figuring out which word has an emphasis on it, recognizing how to translate the sentence with the emphasis, then putting the right emphasis on the word is all up to the computer to figure out. Even if an AI has this ability, it opens the translation up to more mistakes, which are already a major concern.
The emotion that is attached to a sentence can also change its meaning. It’s often important for someone to know if you are happy, sad, angry, etc. about something. For example, apologizing to someone is only effective if you say it with emotion; deadpan or reluctant apologies are not going to comfort the other person.
You have probably noticed that when a computer reads out words, they usually don’t sound quite how they should. They sound robotic, deadpan, and emotionless. It is possible to communicate with others this way, but it makes proper conversation difficult and meaningful conversations impossible. Technology cannot translate tone and emphasis right now, and the complexity of the issue means that this issue will not be solved for many years, if ever.
Translators, whether technological or human, create a barrier between people. The delays that they cause, the translation inaccuracies, and the ever-present need to fumble with the technology will ultimately cause rifts to form between people that are communicating with one another. Even when the technology is perfected, communication may be perfectly accurate, but people won’t be able to have real conversations with one another.
Being able to speak with someone in their language is the best way to ensure that you connect with them properly and ensure that you both can understand each other fully. You will be able to talk more easily and freely with people if you understand what you are ultimately saying to them. With a translator, you never know if the message has gone awry. Real, proper connection with a person with as little miscommunication as possible needs to happen directly and without intermediaries.
While technology makes it easier to speak with someone who speaks another language, speaking with someone in their native language will likely always be seen as a sign of respect and good etiquette. Even though we are able to speak with people on the phone or via video chat, people will still visit others, hold interviews face-to-face, or meet with people for other reasons even though it is often less convenient.
This is because it is polite to do so. If you are frequently going to be speaking with someone or multiple people in a certain language, it may be a good idea to learn that language. Going out of your way to be polite and communicate with people in the way they prefer will show that you are invested in the relationship or purpose of the conversation.
There will also likely be a persistent stigma toward those that do not learn a language but rely on translators to communicate. Not being willing to talk to someone in their own language may undermine your attempts to build a relationship with, help, or make a deal with them. It could be seen as inconsiderate or narrow-minded. Even if they can’t blame you for not learning an entire language before your meeting, if you have frequent dealings with someone, it is going to seem to them like you don’t care enough about your relationship or work with them to learn how to communicate properly if you don’t at least try to learn their language.
Speaking with someone in their native language is going to make things much easier for you and will improve your relationship with them.
Learning a language doesn’t just have to do with being able to communicate with other people. Learning new things and gaining new skills are good ways to develop and strengthen your mind. In fact, learning a new language has great effects on your brain.
According to a study published in 2014, learning multiple languages has many positive impacts on the brain. Subjects who were bilingual had higher reading and verbal fluency, as well as memory, reasoning, and processing speed. Knowing another language was also shown to protect against age-related cognitive decline. No negative effects of learning another language were discovered in this study.
Learning another language is hard work and can take a long time, but that is precisely why it is so good for your mind. Even if you don’t find that you need to use the additional language all that much, learning it and practicing it will help you understand people and writing better, improve your memory, and help your reasoning and brain processing. The effects that learning a new language has on the brain are another reason why learning a new language will never become obsolete, and it is always a skill that will be helpful to you.
There will always be reasons to learn a second language, even as communicating without knowing a language becomes easier. Don’t worry that learning another language will be a waste of time. There are so many benefits to being bilingual, and these benefits are always going to be there even years from now when translation technology is perfected.