Importance of language learning nowadays
No one can deny that knowing foreign languages in today’s ever growing world is crucial to professional and personal success. But how to go about language learning that would be both efficient and would not require us to sacrifice many hours on studying linguistic intricacies?
Modern technology, especially innovations and advancements in the field of Artificial Intelligence might come with literally life saving aids.
Imagine the world in which the perspective of learning a language of your choice would be just a matter of picking up your personal language assistant from the vast offer on the market. Such an assistant would be able to choose topics and materials specifically tailored to your needs and expectations, vary them according to your learning style to keep you interested and motivated throughout the entire process, and seamlessly deliver language instruction along the lines.
The current state of the art might not yet be the full realization of this vision, however, we might observe some promising trends.
What is there for you?
Traditional approaches to language learning are typically associated with choosing ‘the right textbook’ presenting standardized topics, learning huge amounts of vocabulary, and getting through complex and often non-intuitive sets of grammar rules. While acquiring some basic words, knowledge of speech and of sentence patterns might be indispensable at the beginning of your journey, it is very unlikely that stepping along this route all way through will get you the results you might envisage for yourself at the start. Therefore, some companies have taken the task of making the process easier and more accessible for a busy individual of today by delivering platforms and applications that could help them be more focused, engaged, and ultimately more satisfied with the outcome.
Get fluent, the rest will come later
One example of a non-traditional approach to language learning is Glossika. The philosophy behind it, according to Glossika’s CEO Michael Campbell, is to help learners achieve some level of fluency as a starting point from which they can further expand their vocabulary and deepen their skills in handling language structures. Glossika is a platform based on machine learning algorithmization that offers currently around 50 language courses. The AI driven system takes into account learner’s choices within a particular course and pace at which the learner can handle various aspects of the presented material. Each lesson takes about 20 minutes a day, so in comparison to traditional methods, which may require you to spend long hours on dispassionate drilling and repeating, it makes a huge difference. All you’ve got to do is to go to their website and enjoy the process.
Say hello to your virtual language learning buddy
As a language teacher I often observe that coming up with the very first sentences in a target language in an attempt to communicate can be an intimidating step to take for many learners.
I remember one student of mine who had vast knowledge of target language vocabulary and had relatively well developed reading skills, but she perceived communicating in the language as a barrier that she wasn’t able to cross because of the potential embarrassment due to being inaccurate. And I could really give many similar examples.
So what if we could start communicating without worrying about social implications of our ‘clumsy’ endeavours? The answer might come in different facets from various proponents on the market. From relatively simple chat bots designed to fulfill predefined scenarios, as those implemented, for example, in Duolingo learning platform to more sophisticated pedagogical systems which might even utilize virtual reality sets like those in Mondly VR. Those solutions offer digital environments in which learners can feel more independent and more confident in the process of learning.
There are of course pros and cons to those platforms, and I asked some of their users about their opinions. Kasia Olszewska, from the Facebook group ‘Polyglots’ states, for instance:
“1. Some apps are inflexible and don’t allow you to choose the vocab you’re interested in, and force you to follow some odd order of things. 2. It’s good that you can do it say 5 or 15 mins per day, and it easily cuts up the learning in such short snippets. The mobility of doing it from your phone anywhere is good too. 3. I don’t think so, partially less, but there is something to be said about simply hammering some essential verbs or grammar rules in many languages, such as French.“
Shukriya Wish from ‘Language Exchange (culture and humanity)’ group (also on Facebook) says the following about Duolingo:
“I love Duolingo and I hate it too. Duolingo may not make you fluent, but it’s a great place to get started. As fluency is acquired by language exposure which I think is the most important part to learn a language. I love it so much that its flaws feel like betrayals to me and I learn to translate a language but hate it as it does nothing to prepare me for conversations.”
The key factor here is ‘immersion’, that means the extent to which a given system is able to capture its users attention and make them believe that they participate in a situation that is meaningful from a communicative standpoint.
Are we there yet?
So today’s technological pool shows us a vast scope of ambitious projects employing digital systems that can learn from ‘experience’ and give an impression of being sentient. At this point, however, it’s hard to perceive them as a substitute for human language teachers since they still cannot account for spontaneity and unpredictability of human interaction, as explained here. Someone might argue that no system can actually ever be a replacement for a real person able to explain doubts and give directions based on real-life experience. That might be true, but it’s not that hard to imagine that the traditional role of language teachers will shift along the technological changes and the growing impact that technology has on our lives.
Potential is huge
As the technology enters nearly every aspect of our daily realities, stretching them to their boundaries, so change the contexts of communication, although seemingly not that rapidly. It’s highly likely that in the future we would need an ‘experienced’ digital assistant to help us navigate through the vast ocean of communication in which machine interlocutors will play a crucial part. For now, however, we can take advantage of systems that can greatly aid our learning experience by providing simulated spaces where we can ‘safely’ prepare ourselves for various tasks in this augmented reality in which we live.
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Language teacher and aspiring copywriter. I write about applications of AI in the field of language learning.