In this blog post I am going to discuss the role that technology plays in language learning/translation and why translators/language teachers are still needed.

I will be the first to admit that I do use an app when talking to my husband’s Romanian family on occasions. I am learning Romanian but still speak it at a basic level and need a helping hand when it comes to speaking. However, I always take such apps with a pinch of salt as I am aware that translations from them can be incorrect/stilted or just completely inaccurate. However, for simple words and phrases it can be ok. I do get frustrated when people substitute completely quality translations/language lessons for apps or internet-based programs where there is no human teaching/translation element as it is such a shame! You can’t ask an app questions about a language point that you’re struggling with or to explain a bit of vocabulary in a simpler way. You also miss nuances in language and can fail to communicate a text in an idiomatic way that flows well and reads naturally.

Obviously, technology is very useful when used correctly in language learning/translation. For example, CAT (Computer Aided Translation) can speed up the translation process immensely by remembering words that are repeatedly used/have already been translated. In terms of linguistics, corpora or large collections of written/spoken material can be used for linguistic analysis and research. However, I would argue that such technology needs to be used in conjunction with human expertise and knowledge to gain the full benefit. Computer generated translation can be useful but needs scrutiny by a fresh pair of eyes to make sure that the text communicates the tone/message which it was intended to.

I am not a technophobe by any means. I am so pleased that we have applications such as Skype that allow us to teach online and reach people that might not otherwise be able to access a teacher. I’ve had some fascinating conversations with students including someone up the top of a mountain in China! It’s also great to have access to online dictionaries and thesauruses and language forums can be very useful when translating that tricky line of text that is particularly technical etc.

However, I think we must watch that such technology doesn’t make us lazy. Using an app may give me a word for something in another language but that doesn’t mean that I will learn/retain and produce it by myself. It is like relying on a spell checker when writing an essay or important document. I’ve found that in my Romanian learning that I learnt more from having a physical person teach me the grammar etc and I’ve unequivocally retained more that way. It will be sad if language teachers/translators lose work because people think that an app will tell them all that they need to know.

So yes, I think that technology should be embraced in the classroom and in translation but not at the expense of the teacher/translator who can bring all the human warmth, flexibility, subtlety and humanity to a text/language lesson. Such people have learnt their craft for years and have tons of life and academic experience to share. I also have to say that I think the crucial cultural awareness/knowledge element is missing when you learn/translate using technology alone. So, before you reach for the app/website consider what you might be missing out on by not hiring a teacher/translator. Yes, you may pay more and yes it might be more time consuming but in my humble opinion the end result is always worth it.

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Picture: Yura Fresh, Unsplash