The English language is currently the world’s most common language, but language expert Gaston Dorren believes its reign may come to an end.
But it isn’t because another common language, like Mandarin, is primed to take its place. Rather, Dorren believes that innovations in translating software and technology may dispel the need for learning multiple languages altogether.
The hope is that translation software will inevitably translate a person’s language in real time. Known as the “Babel Chip,” named after the translating Babel fish from popular sci-fi novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, this device would not only shirk the need for learning another language, but it would abandon the need for translators as a whole.
And we’ve already come close to various iterations of this idea. Google recently unveiled its new “Interpreter Mode” for the Google Assistant app which can translate more than 27 languages in real time.
“[Learning languages] will still be valuable for all sorts of cultural and psychological reasons, but the majority won’t bother”,” claims Dorren in an interview with news.com.au.
This could benefit a wide range of industries, particularly travel and customer service. Though children naturally have a host of language skills before the age of eight, children between eight and 12 begin to lose the ability to reproduce foreign languages. Though foreign language acquisition is still achievable after this age, it becomes much more difficult.
This could also be beneficial for languages at-risk of dying out. The Wikitongues project hopes to record and document every language in the world to prevent this kind of event from occurring.
“Every language in the world considered, when we have the opportunity to document a critically endangered or under-documented language, we make that a priority,” says Daniel Bogre, one of the founders for Wikitongues.
“If we had more resources, I would want to prioritize under-documented languages whose last remaining speakers are elderly, so that we could guarantee their descendants have the tools they need to revive these languages in the future if they so choose. ”
Unfortunately, the Babel chip likely won’t be ready anytime soon. On top of that, worldwide adoption would likely take even longer once the chip is developed. Though this tool could be used to connect literally billions of people across the globe, there are countless reasons to learn a language in the meantime.
After all, it’s thanks to this cultural diffusion and intermingling that cultures have grown and developed. Tex-Mex became commonplace in America through the cultural diffusion of Mexican food and American cooking styles. Cajun food developed as a result of Acadian immigration to the United States from Canada in the 18th century.
And learning a second language is good for the brains of children. It helps create neural pathways that improve cognitive function, including memory, reasoning, learning, and multitasking. It also aids them with communication skills and gives them a leg-up in their future workplaces. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that only one in five Americans can speak a language other than English.
Language has been used as a way to connect cultures and bridge divides between people for centuries. Whether you love to travel, learn, or just hope to connect with different cultures around you, learning a second language is still essential in the time of technological advancement.
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