Top 5 Tech Trends in Language Learning

By Jonty Yamisha

Technology and language-learning go hand-in-hand. We often overlook how an everyday tool like the internet has made it much easier to find and use language learning resources. While technology is no substitute for actively learning a new language, it can be an asset to help bring about language-learning awareness

Current advancements in technology around language-learning illustrate a growing global trend emphasizing the importance of language awareness and accessibility. It also highlights the truth about language learning: there’s never been a better time to learn a language. With so much happening around language and technology, here are 5 current technology trends in language learning you need to know. 

1. Bilingual Alexa

Amazon will launch a bilingual Alexia that can understand 3 languages, Spanish, French, and Hindi. The latest Alexia model will recognize both English and another language, depending on the region: The United States (Spanish-English), Canada (French-English), and India (Hindi-English). 

The goal is to provide more options and better service for customers, but it goes beyond that. It helps cultivate an appreciation of languages outside the lingua franca. People will be able to access these technologies in the language that’s most comfortable to them, the one they use at home.

2. Foreign Language Chatbots

Chatbots are one popular manifestation of AI that allows computers to guide users to solutions. They serve everything from recovery centers to helping insomniacs get through the night. Chatbots are an asset to many companies because they can provide 24/7 customer service. And now Ocelot, a technology company that focuses on Artificially Intelligent Conversational Chatbots, has created a bilingual chatbot for colleges and universities.

The chatbot runs off of IBM’s AI and helps Spanish speaking families and students find the answers they need when searching for universities. So far, it has helped some 50 universities by providing quality bilingual conversations that help users find the answers they need.

3. Google AI and Language Detection

Google AI now has the ability to pick up 9 different Asian languages: Hindi, Marathi, Urdu, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Gujarat. This is significant because it opens the doors for many more groups of people to access technological resources. At the same time, it also provides another channel for collecting data on more languages.

India is of particular interest because of its vastly diverse linguistic population. As a result, it’s common for people to use 2 or 3 languages during a single conversation. Developers can use this multilinguistic environment as a training ground for AI technologies. By listening and differentiating between multiple languages in a conversation, AI can provide better service to increasingly diverse populations.

4. The Internet Can Save Dying Languages

Nearly 2.5 billion people speak 1 of 8 languages, the rest of the global population speaks 1 of 7,000 different languages. These less common languages disappear at a rate of about 1 every 14 days. But the internet could be a safe-haven for endangered languages.  

App maker, Duolingo has recently added Hawaiian and Navajo to their platform. Its placement on the app help preserves the language while also spreading awareness about other dying languages. The accessibility of it also means that more people could have access to more rare and endangered languages in the future.

5. The Limitations of Technology

Google warns that its translation service cannot replace humans. And that’s true. Whether or not you speak another language, if you’ve put in a phrase into Google Translate, it can be quite comical to see what comes out. Google Translate is certainly an asset, especially if you’re in a language bind. But it’s no substitute for foreign language abilities

Despite that, the U.S. Government has been using Google Translate to sift through the social media posts of refugees attempting to migrate to the country as part of its screening process. The main issue with this is that Google Translate can’t pick up nuances in any given language (satire, humor, irony, etc.). Instead, it translates slang and other phrases literally. And this poses a huge problem when someone’s future rests on the program’s ability to decipher languages.

That’s why translators are necessary to bridge the gap and help convey truly accurate translations. You need context with whatever language you’re translating. 

Dangers of Technology: Fluency Matters

Whether you want to accurately translate a message or speak to your Alexia in your native language, there’s a growing understanding that different languages need to be recognized. We live in a globalized world where we’re used to technology filling in the gaps. And while it can certainly make things easier, it cannot replace people.

When we move past using technology as it’s intended purpose ( a tool) and instead rely on it as a crutch, bad things happen. Take the court case where an officer used Google translate to ask for a suspect for permission to search his car. The judge ruled the evidence from the search inadmissible due to the suspect not fully understanding what was being asked of him.

We have to be careful when using any language tool. They’re an asset in some instances, but at the end of the day, they’re no substitute for the real thing: foreign language fluency. 

How to Achieve Fluency in a Foreign Language

Technology can only go so far. It’s another awesome tool to have in your toolbox. But if you want to communicate effortlessly while avoiding misunderstandings, then you need to speak the language. And reaching fluency in a foreign language isn’t as difficult as you might think. Remember, you already speak one language. 

OptiLingo ditches the flashcards and avoids boring grammar lessons. Instead, it teaches you how to speak common phrases using Guided Immersion and Spaced Repetition Systems. The result is a fast and effective language learning program that gets you SPEAKING, not typing, in a foreign language fast.