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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Sprechen sie ... Don't bother, AI will parlez vous for you


In a famous Star Trek Next Generation episode, the Enterprise visits a planet whose inhabitants communicate in metaphor and folk tales, baffling the Universal Translator.

Learning a foreign language may soon be as  obsolete as learning how to churn butter, writes Louise Matsakis in The Atlantic.


Total enrollment in foreign language courses at U.S. universities decreased 29.3 percent from 2009 to 2021, she writes. Foreign-language learning is down in Australia, South Korea and New Zealand.


Artificial intelligence will accelerate the trend, she predicts. "Within a few years, AI translation may become so commonplace and frictionless that billions of people take for granted the fact that the emails they receive, videos they watch, and albums they listen to were originally produced in a language other than their native one."


AI translation will be a boon to migrants -- and their teachers. But it has limitations.


"Learning a different way to speak, read, and write helps people discover new ways to see the world — experts I spoke with likened it to discovering a new way to think," Matsakis writes. But it's hard and time consuming.


It's simpler to let AI do it, even if it the nuances are lost.


Of course, most students won't learn a new language well enough to understand the nuances, she concedes. "If professors accept that automated technology will far outpace the technical skills of the average Russian or Arabic major, their focus would ideally shift from grammar drills to developing cultural competency, or understanding the beliefs and practices of people from different backgrounds."


Some universities are closing foreign language departments as interest declines, reports Jennifer A. Kingson on Axios. "German declined by 172 programs, French by 164, Chinese by 105 and Arabic by 80," the Modern Languages Association reported. Korean, American Sign Language and Biblical Hebrew gained in popularity.

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7 commentaires


Suzanne Nussbaum
Suzanne Nussbaum
08 avr.

You can definitely learn to read a language in high school or college. Formerly, lots of people used to want to be able to read books in another language. Yes, this is different from landing in a country and being able to speak and understand a language; very different, but possibly also valuable and enjoyable.

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superdestroyer
06 avr.

As Dr John McWhorter whose day job is as an associate professor of linguistics at Columbia University writes and states: There is only two ways to really learn a language: live there or marry someone who is a native speaker. That is why people like Mormon missionaries are good at learning one language since they live in the country for two years.


The idea that one can really learn a language by studying it in high school or college is laughable.

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Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
06 avr.

The assumptions here are that (1) all we want is good, usable translations into English, and (2) languages are to be learned at university; whereas better points of view are that (1) we learn languages to better understand the world, by learning ways of seeing it other than with the prejudices built into the English language (a perfect current example is the English use of "antisemitic", which was completely incomprehensible to an Arabic speaker like Saeb Erekat: how can a Palestinian be antisemitic, when he thinks in the world's largest Semitic language?), and (2) languages are best learned during childhood, from kindergarten onward.

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m_t_anderson
06 avr.
En réponse à

Learning a language in university is like learning to ski through lectures. My wife learned more French in a single week's stay in Montreal than she ever learned in college. Me, I just read the weekly Spanish-language grocery ads here in South Texas.

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m_t_anderson
06 avr.

Using language translation software will have the same corrosive effect as portable music players--lots more sloppy thinkers wasting whatever talents they're too lazy to develop. Smartphones make for stupid people.

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bkwormtoo
06 avr.

Ummmm, no! I occasionally use Google Translate for Mandarin-English, and when it's good it's usable, usually. Usable is not really very good, though. So while AI may be better, it's not likely to be very good, and will likely do poorly with idiomatic words/phrases, regionalisms, street slang, and such.

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m_t_anderson
06 avr.
En réponse à

Como "sepa la gata."

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