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Learning foreign languages – will digital technology make MFL obsolete?

Posted on : July 11, 2016

With schools competing to get ever-better results, and modern foreign languages (MFL) seen as a “hard” subject, the learning of foreign languages in schools is under pressure at the moment. To make matters worse there has been criticism of marking of language A-levels, with Independent schools complaining that the brightest students are being penalised for imaginative answers rather than the stock replies favoured by examiners.

Now there is another threat to language learning in schools – whether advances in digital technologies will make MFL obsolete altogether. Google, Amazon and other large beasts of the Internet jungle are developing machine translation systems that are getting closer and closer to decent translations. Some services like Skype even offer simultaneous interpretation. Once we all get wearable technology and can have any language translated onto the lenses in front of us immediately it hits our ears – what will be the point of learning MFL at all?

Learning a language has always had a wider significance than just being able to communicate in that language. Learning languages develops our power to think and our understanding; it builds confidence in having learned a skill which is not easy. These skills are valuable in their own right, and should not be lightly discarded – we just don’t feel that MFL is obsolete.

In addition, the automatic or machine translations may be able one day to translate some of the everyday conversations we’d like to have, but will may never be able to facilitate real conversations of any depth.

Hopefully the introduction to a language with these systems will foster a wish to learn more and encourage users to o a bit deeper. Otherwise the lack of effort will get its just reward – lack or anything meaningful to say…

If you’d like to have more meaningful conversations, talk to la Academia – it’s what we do!

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