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Will Instant Translators Make Foreign Language Teaching Obsolete?

By Autumn at Accredited Language
Posted on Monday, May 9, 2016
Category: Education, Learning Languages, Technology, Technology, Translation, Translation

With the continued growth and progression of machine translation tools such as Google Translate, many people are beginning to wonder: Will foreign language teaching disappear in the coming years?

The simple answer is that no, we’ll still need people to teach foreign languages to those interested in learning. Machines cannot completely replace humans when it comes to foreign language teaching, and here’s why.

Instant Translators Aren’t Always Accurate

You’ve probably seen this firsthand, so it should come as no surprise. Though machine translation can let you know how to say a word or phrase in another language without much problem, it’s hard to translate a full sentence without a few errors.

If you haven’t experienced this for yourself, go ahead and try it on Google Translate or a similar program. Try typing in a phrase or a few sentences in English and then translate that to another language on the Google Translate list. Next, translate that phrase back into English. You’ll probably notice a discrepancy or two.

And even when you do get the correct translation, it will be hard for you to trust it unless you can double-check it, which can be hard on the go.

By contrast, foreign language teaching gives you the tools you need to speak another language any time. And as long as you practice the language you learn, you can be reasonably sure of your accuracy.

Instant Translation Ignores Context

Another way in which machine translation is generally inferior to foreign language teaching is that it doesn’t deal well with context. This is not surprising, since humans are always going to be better at context than computers.

Ignoring context can throw off your entire translation. For example, you might mean for a sarcastic remark to come across as a joke, and when you translate it yourself or possibly get a professional translation service to do it, you get the result you want.

But when you put that sarcastic remark through an instant translator, the sentence you end up with might come across as serious or even offensive, distorting your meaning.

Similarly, instant translation does not know all of the idioms and slang of most languages. So if you try looking for a “cool” or “chill” restaurant to check out, you might end up at an eatery that blasts its air conditioner a little too much instead of one that everyone wants to go to.

Machine Translation Is Inconvenient

It might sound easy to simply type some words on your computer or phone and get a quick translation. But what happens when you lose the Internet connection? Suddenly you’re stuck without any way to translate, unless you took advantage of foreign language teaching, of course.

And how are you going to keep a conversation going when you have to stop and type every sentence or question into an instant translator? You won’t get the same flow and speed as you would if you had taken the time to really learn the language in the first place.

So if you’re wondering if foreign language teaching still has a place in our society, despite the availability of so many instant translation options, the answer is yes.

That’s because machine translation still hasn’t (and never completely will) mastered context, accuracy, or convenience, all of which foreign language teaching can offer.

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