Technology & language learning

If we about the evolution of technology and how it changed our daily life, in the last 10 years, it is easy to think about a future where technology is involved in all our actions.

But does this access to infinite knowledge discourages us from learning, or is it an opportunity to learn in a more efficient way?

Let’s take a simple example that most of us encountered at one point: trying to learn a new language. When I first started learning English, I had a dictionary, a grammar book, and maybe, if lucky, some DVDs with movies in English. Whereas, nowadays Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are tools that can be used to facilitate language learning. For instance, Google’s headphones offer real-time translation from Google Translate.

There is no doubt that technology can facilitate language learning by offering innovative solutions and tools. However, many are still doubtful about automated translation or interpretation for one simple reason: human and cultural elements of language are characterized by such small nuances that AI cannot grasp them. In his book “Head in the Cloud”, W. Poundstone argues that even though we live in a time where we have more information than ever, we are actually narrowing our knowledge bases and we are often misinformed (2016).

Language is not like mathematics: it is constantly evolving along with culture and society. After all, language is not only based on vocabulary items or grammar systems, but it also characterized by situational awareness, cultural knowledge, social context, and human interactions.

Technology can and should provide innovative tools and means to enhance language learning and translation, but it should not try to replace the real-life experience of learning a language. Furthermore, technology can help translators and enhance their work by providing smart solutions and tools for translators while keeping a human-centric approach.

Is technology making our lives easier? The answer is YES. But does “easier” mean “better”? Not always. The point is, technology can facilitate and enhance our actions, but we should not drift away from a human-centered worldview and we should keep in mind that a machine won’t ever be able to replace the emotional nature, cultural knowledge and sensitivity of a human being.

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