Due to ever-growing globalization, improved traveling conditions, migration, and the Internet, foreign languages surround us everywhere. We are often exposed to foreign languages at work and school and have opportunities to interact with people from around the globe. Hence, being able to speak at least one foreign language is crucial to effectively communicating with your peers and colleagues.
However, with the rapid development of technology, many have started asking questions like “Why do we need to learn foreign languages, if everything can be translated by AI?” In this article, we address these questions, look at language learning from a tech perspective, and explain how AI can and can’t change communication in a foreign language.
AI in Translation
Artificial intelligence is a powerful tool when it comes to language processing and translation. Many social media platforms, for example, Instagram, implement automated tools to translate posts and stories into various languages. Also, Meta claims that its new AI model, NLLB-200, can translate nearly 200 languages and improves the accuracy of translations across all of the company’s products and technologies.
A branch of AI called NLP, short for Natural Language Processing, directly addresses the problem of machines understanding human languages. This branch aims to create tools that will be able to complete tasks like spell check, topic classification, and translation automatically and without difficulty. With the development of this technology, the accuracy of translation will also improve. It will correspondingly facilitate people’s lives in terms of international communication.
Pros and Cons of AI Translation
As with any tech advancement, AI translation has some strengths and weaknesses. Some of the advantages machine translation (MT) can provide include:
- Understanding content online (almost all web pages have integrated AI translation algorithms)
- A wide range of languages for translation – more than one will ever be able to learn
- Fast and accurate results
- Improved traveling experience due to facilitated interactions with natives
However, there are still several disadvantages associated with the utilization of this technology. For instance, despite the rapid development of language processing technologies, MT still requires supervision from human translators. Data privacy is another concern that arises when using free AI-powered translation services.
Additionally, one downside to the utilization of MT is its inability to understand the context, local jokes, memes, etc. AI-powered translation tools train on large amounts of data. Therefore, before AI starts recognizing specific abbreviations, exclamations, or slang, time will pass and make some words irrelevant. In the case of context, it is hard to say if AI will be able to understand it. Some local jokes, situations only friends know about, or the context they create cannot be recognized by a machine, which makes an absolutely accurate translation nearly impossible.
For more on slang recognition, read this AITJ article: Can AI Recognize and Use Slang?
Is It Worth Learning Languages?
Nowadays, knowing multiple languages still brings many benefits, such as an increase in salary, broader working opportunities, and facilitated communication with foreigners, colleagues, tourists, etc. For instance, being able to communicate with your business partners without any tech mediators not only gives a good impression of you but also creates a friendlier and more trustworthy environment for negotiations.
Moreover, many companies prefer hiring people who speak at least one foreign language. According to an article by The Sun, employers in Great Britain hunt for people with a particular skill set, and the ability to speak a foreign language is one of the most desired skills. Furthermore, research conducted by Drops, a free language learning company, reported that nearly 57% of companies are in search of people who can speak at least one foreign language.
Being able to speak different languages is a great skill not only because it facilitates communication but also, by learning a language, you get to know the culture of the countries where this language is spoken. It allows you to understand other people’s mindsets, traditions, religious beliefs, and values. Furthermore, companies value employees who can maintain a respectful, understanding, and friendly working environment and share their knowledge and experience with others.
In a nutshell, I believe that, despite the technological advancements, learning languages is still crucial for your career, traveling, and sometimes even personal life. However, one gets to choose for themselves if learning languages is worth giving a try or not.