Languages Made Easy with Technology?

November 27, 2013 by admin

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I have always been told that the best way to learn a language is by spending time in the country in question, or with native speakers of the language. Of course, it helps if you have some previous knowledge, which is why I have spent years hunched over grammar textbooks, desperately trying to understand the point of the subjunctive. However, these days, as with everything else, it seems there is an app for that. In the age of the smart phone, the iPad and all kinds of other hi-tech digital media, we now have more access than ever to technologies to help us learn a new language.


If you’re just looking to learn the basics, there is a clock that can teach you to tell the time and help you remember numbers; the Verbarius Clock will clearly pronounce the time in one of its preinstalled five languages. Or, if you’re already feeling more proficient in your reading skills, why not download a news app in a different language to your smartphone for extra practice! You could download the app for a paper that you already know and love, just in a different language, or why not branch out and swap The Telegraph for Le Monde? There are also thousands of other apps to download, to help you learn grammar or pronunciation, particularly from organisations that we all recognise, such as Rosetta Stone.


One of the more exciting pieces of technology I have come across is the Irispen Translator 6, a pen that will translate words as you read them. Scan the pen across the page and it will provide you with a translation that you can then modify yourself. This pen will recognise 128 languages in 11 different language combinations, and can even ‘speak’ the words aloud to help you with your pronunciation. You can plug it into your computer and download terms that you have read, enabling you to build a personal glossary with ease. This kind of technology is perfect for international students who must read hundreds of textbooks for their studies, often in a language that is not their mother tongue.


With all this technology available, I can’t help but wonder what the role of translators may be in the future. We have already seen traditional dictionaries and thesauruses give way to the likes of the Kindle and the iPad, so what happens if Google Translate improves vastly and takes over from human translators? Many people who do not study languages and translation do not always understand that translations produced by machines should not always be considered accurate: I am sure I am not alone in having read various professional documents that do not read well in English, due to poor machine translation. Perhaps in the future, there will be a machine translator capable of replacing human translators altogether? Although it is safe to say that we are a long way off from that, so for now let’s use all the technology available to encourage people to learn and appreciate other languages, and maybe, once in a while, to make translators’ lives a little easier!

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