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It seems like every time there’s an advancement in technology, it isn’t long before we figure out a way to apply it to language learning. It’s almost as if we have a universal understanding of the challenges in finding time for a language program.
As technology continues to develop rapidly, it opens up more opportunities for us to figure out how to study Italian or any other foreign language easily. But it’s not all beneficial. While technology will change how people learn languages, users need to be careful, or it can cause problems in developing the ability to speak a foreign language fluently.
To understand how technology benefits language learning, it helps to take a step back and remember how it was in the past. Before the internet and computers, if you wanted to find a word or translate something, you had to do everything by hand. This took work.
You needed thick language dictionaries, and you needed some general understanding of the language to put words together correctly and make coherent sentences. This meant that if you were trying to learn Italian, for instance, you would need to keep an Italian grammar book on hand to help you put the sentences together properly.
A lack of technology limited the speed and efficiency of translations, but it also limited your resources for learning them. If you wanted to listen and practice a language, classes were your best option with accompanying CDs, tapes, and books. And you needed to carry all these things around with you to practice your target language. It was a pain. And thanks to technology, it has rapidly improved to the point where we expect language learning software at our fingertips.
When it comes to learning a foreign language, there are many resources you have to help make achieving fluency fast and effective. In fact, there are so many resources that they’re overtaking college and night class. People prefer technology.
The short answer is yes. Technology does help make language learning more accessible, and it will continue to do so. The ease at which people have access to resources means that anyone anywhere can simply pull out their phone, iPad, or computer, and work towards fluency.
Companies are also becoming smarter about language learning. Built on practices that work, companies are creating programs that are specifically designed to help users gain certain levels of fluency within a certain time. Applications now go beyond basic drilling to promote memorization by incorporating spaced repetition systems into their platforms. This brain-based method of learning helps users remember previous lessons as they move on to new ones. They’re also gamifying learning to help make it more stimulating for users, driving them to return to the platform over and over again.
The most crucial aspect to language learning is consistent work towards fluency. Technology makes it easier to accomplish this. Having your phone or computer right there with you means that you can easily pull out your device and quickly get to work learning your target language.
However, there is a problem. When it comes to the “getting to work” aspect of learning a foreign language, technology may do more harm than good.
As much of a benefit as technology is, it’s not an alternative to learning a foreign language. Many people see these apps and innovations for rapid, real-time translations as a mistaken belief that the need to learn a foreign language is a thing of the past. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
There is a human component to language that technology cannot mimic. Figurative language, for instance, doesn’t translate well through these types of technology devices. There is another element of non-verbal communication and body language that adds to a complete understanding of another language that computers fail to address as well. And various dialects can create problems because the technology will want to adjust the language to the standardized form.
The other issue with technology is the tendency for people to lean on it as a crutch. If you’re trying to become fluent in a foreign language, it’s easy to switch into a passive learning mode instead of an active one. The ease of technology promotes a rush to the answer without going through the process and learning how to arrive the conclusion on your own. Think about the last thing you looked up online, how long did you remember it?
The truth is that technology is incredibly supportive of learning a foreign language. With something as simple as an iPhone, you can immerse yourself in a different language and take the necessary steps to achieve fluency. With all the resources available to you, it makes it hard not to become fluent.
However, problems arise when we let technology remove the most important component of learning a language, the human component. We use language as a tool used to express cultures and ideas unique to a specific group of people. And learning a foreign language can bridge the gaps between people from different cultures. It brings the world closer together.
While it may be helpful to use technology, it’s always best to remember that it is a tool to help you learn and speak a foreign language, not a replacement.
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