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Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Sat Oct 27 10:09:58 EDT 2018

Do We Need To Learn Other Languages When Tech Can Do The Work For Us?

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Antoinette Lattouf <https://tendaily.com.au/authors/antoinette-lattouf>

Senior Journalist.

Fri 26 Oct 2018 12.36 AM


As technologists get closer to a product that can translate conversations
in real-time, ten daily examines just how much could be lost in translation.

For a country that prides itself on shortening its own name to *Straya*,
and with abbreviations rife in our vernacular (think *footy, biccy* and
*cuppa*), is it really surprising that we’re pretty lazy when it comes to
learning foreign languages?

The percentage of students studying a foreign language in Year 12 has
decreased from 40 percent in 1960 to around 10 percent in 2016 -- and this
includes native speakers.

In the 2016 Census, 72 percent of residents reported speaking only English
at home, down from nearly 77 percent in 2011.

And despite Labor renewing its policy pledge to boost Asian languages on
Thursday, one leading linguistic is pessimistic about its impact.

“It’s easy to be complacent because so many people around the globe speak
English,” Australian Linguistic Society President Ilana Mushin said.

She recalled having meetings recently Germany and China, where everyone
defaulted to English speaking.

"It is gob-smacking to us at our university that only a handful of students
are studying Indonesian and they are our closest neighbour to the north and
a big trading partner," she said, referring to the University of Queensland
where she also works as an Associate Professor.
Can Technology Just Do The Work For Us?

There are two leading products in the artificial intelligence translation
space. Both Google’s Pixel Earbuds and Waverly Lab Pilots were released
late last  year.
Google Earbuds and Waverly Labs Pilots. (Image: Supplied)

Waverly Labs is a 20-person Brooklyn-based company that specialises in
real-time translation through a pair of Bluetooth earbuds. They have big
ambitions, but are still grappling with the bulky size of the product and a
delay in the translation -- which is currently not real-time.

The earbuds aren’t tethered together and are meant be. When you need help
translating, you can hand the other bud to someone and have them sync it up
with the own phone

The tech start up concedes, “
<https://www.waverlylabs.com/2017/12/pilot-now-shipping/>We have a lot more
work to do, but now is the time to get the Pilot in your ears” in order to
get consumer feedback.

Tech behemoth Google haven’t hit the linguistic spot with its Pixel Earbud.
The Guardian saw the “flawed” earbuds as “a missed opportunity.” Gizmodo
said “it’s not even close to being good.”
Business And Human Touch Get Overlooked

Even if AI engineers make considerable improvements in technology lead
multi-linguistic technology, Mushin says it will always miss certain marks.

"There are huge cognitive benefits when you learn another language. It's
similar to learning music. And you don't even need to be fluent in it to
get these benefits," she told ten daily.

*READ MORE:* Australia Is Better Of With Immigration

As a practical aid for a tourist, she said it would be a huge help but it
is, "Not going capture nuances of languages that can only be done with
human interaction."

“It adds value if you understand how politeness works and the language used
in jokes. Also metaphorical and figurative language like 'I'm going to
knock your socks off' -- how would that work in Mandarin?"
"Asia is home to the fastest growing middle class on earth," Plibersek
said.  (Image: Getty)

Mushin also says that cross-cultural competence in a global society is so

And this is the line the Opposition is towing.

Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek has promised to inject $32
million in to policies aimed towards taking advantage of a burgeoning Asian
middle class.

If Labor wins the election they will roll out intensive training for 5000
principals and senior teachers, improving Asian language curriculum
material from pre-school to Year 12, and a whole-of-government audit of
Australian and state government literacy and language education policies.

"Asia is home to the fastest growing middle class on earth," Plibersek said.

"And Australia is right on its doorstep. The jobs of the future are in our
region. Nine out of ten of the next billion people in the middle class live
in our region.”

The policy would also see additional online teaching resources created for
Hindi -- one of the most widely-spoken languages in India.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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