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LINGUIST List 22.3946

Mon Oct 10 2011

Media: Language Learning versus Language (Translation) Technology

Editor for this issue: Brent Woo <bwoolinguistlist.org>


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        1.     Brent Woo , Language Learning versus Language (Translation) Technology


Message 1: Language Learning versus Language (Translation) Technology
Date: 06-Oct-2011
From: Brent Woo <bwoolinguistlist.org>
Subject: Language Learning versus Language (Translation) Technology
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Among calls for multilingualism, support for bilingual education, and education in foreign language, there is also the rising trend of advancing language technology. It is debatable whether society is moving toward a state more dependent on technology, but these multiple dynamics call into question the value of learning a language for the sake of communication.

Just a sample of the many calls for prioritizing language learning:

Fox News reports that NASA is now requiring astronauts to have a certain level of proficiency in Russian.
<http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/10/05/why-is-nasa-teaching-us-astronauts-russian/?test=faces>

Dr. Anthony Seldon warns that Great Britain is losing global relevance because of its aversion to language learning. The article on BBC cites falling trends in foreign language study.
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-15189033>

There is a movement to prioritize language study in the Republic of Ireland, which 'has the highest proportion of citizens in the EU who say they do not know any other language apart from their native tongue.' Perhaps most scary
is the ambivalent responses of people 'on the street' given at the bottom of the Irish Times article.
<http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2011/1006/1224305331086.html>

And finally, Forbes Insights published the results of their study, which shows that overwhelmingly businesses and companies rely on ad hoc translation to overcome language barriers.
<http://www.marketwatch.com/story/forbes-insights-study-outlines-the-importance-of-multilingualism-in-business-2011-10-06>

On the other side:

Facebook announces today a new inline translator that sources Microsoft Bing to automatically translate content of the site into a specific language.
<http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-20116697-93/facebook-launches-its-own-universal-translator/>

I don't wish to present a false dichotomy, but with the improvement of Internet language technology, you cannot deny that some would now question the need to study a language, if the Internet is able to translate (decently) with much less human effort. With the Facebook example, it is no longer necessary (although of course the option exists) to know any foreign languages at all to understand friends' multilingual posts. Even long academic treatises and articles can be translated. On the other hand, there are still many domains in which the Internet is not readily available, such as spontaneous conversation or places without Internet access.


Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Computational Linguistics

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