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Will learning languages become obsolete?
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Languages are hard to learn. Even though most people around the world try to converse in a common language (English) but native languages are still prevalent around the world. There are more than 7000 languages in the world but only a few of them cover a large portion of the population. According to statista, below is the chart of how many people speak the most popular languages.
Why does one need to learn different languages? There are a few reasons:
You have to work with clients in different countries
You have to travel for work
Becoming a translator
For just sake of learning
When you are traveling to a location that predominately uses their native language either you try to learn that new language or use some translation app.
Learning a new language is a very hard job, due to differences in how language originated, how different syllables, alphabets, grammar, and speaking styles. Especially for adults, it’s a very hard task. Translation apps are good but they require the use of handheld devices which takes time for communication.
With the advent of AI and language models, there could be a lot of advancement in live translation. In terms of hardware, if we are able to put all these models into tiny earpieces, that would be a game changer. Imagine you are an English-only speaker and you traveled to some rural part of India where people barely speak English. Now as a tourist, if you can just get the native language translated into English, it solves the problem of you not needing to understand a new language. But this only solves one-way communication. Unless the other person also uses the same kind of earpiece you won’t be able to share your thoughts with them.
I recently re-tweeted about AirChat and asked if that would work for live translation and I learned about Google Earbuds and Timekettle. Google Earbuds doesn’t do live translation, you will have to put on your earbuds and then open the translate app on your phone, speak into the mic, and then it will translate on your app which you can show to another person. This requires a lot of steps and interaction with a handheld device which is not a great experience. Timekettle is rather interesting because it is a live translation app. This is what I was looking for. The way it works is, you can share your one earphone piece with another person and seamlessly talk in a different language and it will do a job of translating into the language you understand.
Recently Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella shared about an app called Jugalbandi which is used in India for language translation. In a country like India, it is hard to have all the information in all the languages. The video in the tweet showed how using this app which has speech translation capabilities, a farmer can speak in their native language and get answers in their native language itself. This removes a big barrier for a farmer to learn a new language for doing their work and still get all the information they need.
Even though live translation using Timekettle is still very costly but the app like Jugalbandi can be a game changer and I am quite sure hardware will get cheaper over time where you won’t even need a handheld device for live translation.
Fast forward 10-20 years, I can imagine a company like Neuralink can develop a chip that we can attach to our body (or maybe in our body) where a language translation module is fit inside the chip and then you won’t even need any external device.
So then a question arises - would people stop learning new languages? Would it be an obsolete skill to have? What would happen to companies like DuoLingo? Only time will tell this but I believe we are moving towards an era where learning different languages would not be as exciting and won’t be needed.