Our Local Education

In this piece that I picked up from Brutus’ blog, and which appeared here originally, the author says you don’t need to learn a new language because there are new technologies that will translate for you.

It is pretty clear that in a few years, the need for conversational foreign language as course of study will no longer be needed. No more conjugating Spanish verbs. No longer trying to understand where the umlaut goes in German. There will be no need, except for those that wish to pursue a college career in languages. But even there, the question I would ask is “why?” Duolingo and Rosetta Stone better rethink their business model.

Losing foreign languages as a course in school may or may not be a good thing, as foreign languages also teach about cultures as well. On the other hand, the vast majority of people on the planet will be able to carry on meaningful conversations with each other without having to actually learn the language of the person they are conversing with, and in the process will learn about those cultures as part of the conversation.

Likewise, I suppose, you don’t need to learn to write, because there are apps that translate voice to text. It’s not much of an extension to suppose that you don’t need to learn math, because computers.

Learning a foreign language is about more than understanding another culture. Thinking in a foreign language can change who you are. As illustrated by this piece from Scientific American.

Several recent studies have focused on how people think about ethics in a non-native language—as might take place, for example, among a group of delegates at the United Nations using a lingua franca to hash out a resolution. The findings suggest that when people are confronted with moral dilemmas, they do indeed respond differently when considering them in a foreign language than when using their native tongue.

I guess if ordering a beer or asking for the bathroom are you only considerations, then Google translate is enough. But is that the goal of education?

If we were to follow the author’s proscriptions to their logical extreme, soon we’d be living in paradise, waiting, like the Eloi, for the Morlocks to come harvest us at night. I can’t wait.

That’s education in El Paso. In other places, it’s like this:

One comment

  1. Thank you for referencing my original article.
    Of course, my original article has nothing to do with the current state of any educational program in El Paso in any district. To say that “this is the state of education” is both misleading and disingenuous. The article was an opinion piece about upcoming technological advances.
    I was merely pointing out that in a few years the need to learn a single conversational language will probalby be supplanted by technology that wil be able to do that for you. Why learn German for instance, when you will have the ability to converse with people in multiple languages at a time? You will be able to hold a meeting in El Paso, while conversing with your partners in real time, that only speak German, or Chinese, or yes, Spanish. That technology is avaiable right this minute as I pointed out in the article.

    Most people take a foreign language at the conversational level. To converse with neighbors and coworkers, or to make it through that long planned for trip to Italy. The tech now is avaiable where you can converse, conversationally, with people in multiple languages.

    Since I wrote that article, Google has developed a Chinese language translator that can translate spoken Chinese in real time with the exact same accuaracy as a human translator. That kind of accuracy was not expected to happen until the mid 2020’s.

    As for ordering beer or using the bathroom, please do not tell the US Military. They are using this type of technology right now, in real time, to communicate with locals in places like Iraq.

    Again, thanks for reading my article. I hope you drop by my website often.

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