The language trap

In an age of machine translation, it’s still well worth learning a language anyway.

So I’m in South Korea for work at the moment. Interesting country (so far), even though I don’t speak a word of Korean. Interesting sounding language too, although I am sometimes falling into the trap of hearing a few sounds and equating them with sounds I’m learning in Japanese. They’re not the same languages (and I’m pretty sure I’d be making an ugly word salad anyway, because my Japanese is very rudimentary and I should be putting more time into it).

Although I did have a fun moment at breakfast this morning. A chef at the buffet was greeting folks in Korean, English and Japanese repeatedly, and without even thinking about it, I responded with a cheery “Ohayu Gozaimasu”.

To say he looked perplexed would be an understatement.

Anyway, it also got me thinking about language learning.

Partly because I’m well behind on my language studies, but also because I know more than a few folks who figure there’s no reason to do it, given that services like Google Translate can perform machine translation on the fly.

Now, there’s a big and obvious problem here, because as it stands, Google Translate is nowhere near good enough for proper nuanced real-time translation.

Realistically, I suspect that’s a matter of algorithm improvement and computing power, both solvable problems in their own right.

So why am I, an avid technology enthusiast bothering with learning Japanese in the first place?

It’s because learning a language opens up the world to you in a way that relying on an app never will.

Sure, my Japanese sucks right now, but that’s largely because I need to put more effort into it (and find a time-suitable evening class again). Still, what I’ve got has given me insight not only into the language but also the character of the people who speak it. Same is true, I think, for any language.

Added bonus: At my age, it also keeps the ol’ grey matter swirling around, which has to be good for my overall health, not to mention my sanity.

Hey, I told you not to mention my sanity!

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