Big news from Google Translate: you can now point your smartphone camera at French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, or Spanish text — and immediately get an English translation. (Thanks to Danielle Villegas — @TechCommGeekMom — for pointing me to the original article by Pete Pachal on Mashable.)
As Pachal writes, “Star Trek‘s universal translator is here, and it’s on your phone.”
It’s very cool, and incredibly useful.
However, as someone who used a slide rule before pocket calculators came into vogue, I have a question.
Just as calculators (and then personal computers) eroded people’s skill at doing long division, will easy translation software make people less likely to learn foreign languages? If I can navigate around Lisbon or Moscow using my smartphone, will I bother to learn anything at all of Portuguese or Russian?
And if that’s true, won’t something be lost? After all, learning a language is more than just learning vocabulary and syntax. It’s gaining a bit of insight into the culture that produced the language, and it’s opening up a way for me to connect with people in that culture.
So, hooray for easy translation software. In the short run it’ll certainly make our lives easier. But will it prove to be a double-edged sword?
Tell me what you think in the comments.