Many of those who translate for a living these days probably learnt the languages they speak from their parents and/or in a classroom setting. However, classroom-based language learning is declining in many countries. In the US, less than a quarter of students study a foreign language. In the UK, the number of pupils learning a language other than English dropped from over 75% in 2002 to just 47% in 2018.
While classroom learning may be declining, new ways of language learning are popping up. My four-year-old surprised me earlier this week by singing Baby Shark in Spanish. After a bit of Googling, I discovered the Baby Shark song in different languages online. Already familiar with the tune and actions, it seems that children are quick to absorb the lyrics in another tongue.
The English version of Baby Shark on YouTube, at the time of writing, has been viewed an incredible 2.4 billion times. Interestingly, many of the comments under the video are in Portuguese, with many Brazilians seemingly using the catchy/irritating (delete as appropriate) tune to bolster their English language skills. Interestingly, various Portuguese language versions have only racked up a few hundred thousand views at best – the English version is far more popular than the Portuguese translation.
Baby Shark has certainly had a global impact, though viewing figures vary wildly from language to language. The Arabic version has been viewed 179,000 times on YouTube; the Chinese version 3 million times. The Spanish version is well past the 16.5 million views mark. Popular Jewish acapella band The Maccabeats, meanwhile, have enjoyed hundreds of thousands of views of their ‘It’s Shabbat!’ Baby Shark parody.
While learning languages through song is nothing new, the widespread availability of foreign language songs on the internet means that language-learning in a family setting is easier than ever.
The Netflix streaming service has also created new opportunities when it comes to language learning. According to recent reports, the Language Learning with Netflix (LLN) tool has been downloaded well in excess of 30,000 times since its launch in December 2018.
Netflix is already known for delivering high quality shows in a wide variety of languages. This year, the company is planning to produce 100 non-English language series. At present, it delivers shows in 26 languages, covering 190 countries.
The LLN Chrome browser extension allows viewers with an interest in languages to use Netflix’s quality content to their advantage. It facilitates language learning as part of the viewing experience by delivering dual language subtitles and pausing the show in question automatically to allow the viewer to absorb what they are hearing and reading.
The internet is also home to a wide range of other language learning resources. From simple flashcard programmes and games, to full language courses, it enables at-home language learning like never before.
However, while this supports individuals to progress their language learning goals – and to encourage and support their children to learn – it cannot be expected to replace a lack of state-supported foreign language acquisition. In the US, learning a second language is not nationally mandated. In the UK, the requirement to study a second language up to the age of 16 was dropped in 2004, leading to a freefall in the number of pupils studying and gaining qualifications in foreign languages. The internet is a fantastic resource, but classroom-based learning is the only way to ensure that a country is truly committed to raising multilingual citizens.
Do you use the internet to progress your language learning goals or those of your children? What are your favourite online resources? Leave a comment to share your views with your fellow translators.
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