It is fairly well established that machine translation is not yet good enough to replace professional translators. However, could it be that computerized translation is causing young people to believe that language learning is less important than it used to be?
If we take a look at the UK, it certainly seems that languages are becoming less important to young people. According to the Joint Council for Qualification, post-16 year old learning of modern foreign languages has been falling for several years. At the same time, the number of students being accepted onto language degrees has dropped to the lowest level in 10 years.
It seems strange that in a world which is being made smaller by technology, students are choosing to avoid one of the most important tools for connecting with those from overseas – language. However, the situation may well be due to the use of English as a global lingua franca – the more the rest of the world is able to communicate in English, the less important it can seem to young people in England to learn to speak in other languages.
While youngsters in England may be turning away from language learning, paradoxically for pupils overseas, learning English, Spanish or Chinese is becoming ever more important. With such a large proportion of the world speaking one of these three languages, their relevance to those from countries with different first languages is growing, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected.
It seems then, when viewed from a global perspective, that languages are not becoming less important to young people, it’s just that the pattern of learning need is changing, so while some countries are experiencing a decline in language learning amongst their youth, others are balancing this out with an increase.
Should language learning be compulsory for young people? If so, which languages should they be made to learn? Share your thoughts in the comments.